Frank Whaley discusses Scarfe’s complicated arc through Luke Cage, and what it was like to work with the series’ biggest stars. Spoilers ahead!
“There’s never been a more timely show than Luke Cage,” Whaley says of the newest Marvel/Netflix collaboration. Whaley plays Rafe Scarfe, Misty Knight’s detective partner, and he plays a small but critical part in the series’ profound relevance.
A man with a blithe attitude and plenty of dark secrets, Scarfe traces a brief but dense arc through Luke Cage. At first painted harmless, Scarfe is revealed to be murderously corrupt, and comfortable abetting the crimes of Harlem’s most accomplished villains for the right price.
“It was exciting,” Frank Whaley says of the switch, while noting that the prospect was also “a little bit scary” to perform.
“As an actor, it’s kind of a real challenge to play one thing and then have it turn into another. Fortunately — or unfortunately! — you never really knew week to week what’s gonna happen in this show.”
The process of filming Luke Cage heightened the intensity of Scarfe’s arc for Whaley. “We read the scripts when we were about to shoot them,” he reveals, “And people would be like, gasping, and like, “Aww, man!” Because they’re so well-written, you don’t see what’s coming… I think the audience will feel the same way when they’re watching it, probably even more so than when we were sitting at the table reads.”
But, ever in touch with even its cruelest characters’ humanity, Luke Cage adds a touching depth to Scarfe’s arc with his death. Accompanied by the tragic revelation of his lost son, Scarfe offers to help bring Cottonmouth to justice after being shot. Aided by Luke and Rosario Dawson’s Claire Temple, Scarfe clings to life through an entire episode, only succumbing as Misty begs him to pull through.
“I think that’s part of the tension,” Whaley says of his character’s final act. “I’m hoping the audience at some point will find some redemption for Scarfe, and be hoping that he does pull through!”
In addition to Dawson, Scarfe’s arc gave Whaley the opportunity to work closely with Luke Cage‘s central stars, Mike Colter and Simone Missick. Whaley has an extensive filmography, including Pulp Fiction and a recurring role on Ray Donovan, but says that his experience on Luke Cage is a career highlight.
“Rosario… is so talented, so intense,” he says. “It was great working with her… I can’t say enough about these people. I’ve been doing this for thirty years, this was like the best acting partners I’ve had. It was so exciting each day, coming to work.”
Marvel’s Luke Cage is now streaming on Netflix.