In the original Marvel comics, Isaiah Bradley received the same Super Soldier Serum that transformed Steve Rogers into the infamous Captain America. Yet, Bradley’s participation in the program met with less popular results. Bradley became a tool for the American military, eventually deploying him to the Korean War where he fought the Winter Soldier. Bradley was later captured and experimented upon for 30 years, recalling the real-life Tuskegee Study.
That experience naturally embittered Bradley who gave up on the United States. He then became a cultural icon for fans of the comic, Black and white alike.
This year, the Marvel Cinematic Universe continued to explore the Captain America legacy on television with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. As the series resulted in Sam Wilson (formerly the Falcon) becoming the first Black Captain America, the story of Isaiah Bradley became a critical component of the series. To embody Isaiah Bradley, casting went to storied actor Carl Lumbly who brings the perfectly haunting, wearied aura to the role.
Here, Lumbly talks to AwardsDaily TV about embodying this critically important character in the MCU. He shares what drew him to the project. Additionally, he reveals how he relied on his own history to inform his performance. Finally, he talks about the importance of the character and audiences’ reaction to him in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
AwardsDaily: To play Isaiah Bradley, what kind of research did you undertake to determine who this person was based on his legacy in the comics?
Carl Lumbly: I did the minimal research that I could do having not been familiar with the comics but the information that was out there. I also had a conversation with my son who was more familiar. I think the rest of it is just the work you do as an actor in creating backstory for a character based, primarily for me, what was in the text since so much of what has happened to him is what he carries in his present.
AD: What is it about Isaiah Bradley that spoke to you as an actor and made you think that this is a role that you wanted to undertake?
CL: I guess the strength of character, the survival skills, the fact that he started out wanting to contribute. He wanted to defend principles in which he believed. Whatever happened, whatever decisions he made along the way, or whatever circumstances he found, he kept moving forward. At the point where we find him, he is able to live a quiet life with his family, especially his grandson, and pass on whatever it is we feel as one generation we can pass on to the generation coming behind.
AD: Given Isaiah, his history, given the struggles and all the things that have happened to him, how do you as an actor build that legacy into your performance?
CL: Well, I guess in my case, I go into the resource that I have, which is the life that I’ve lived in this republic under certain circumstances that are quite similar to Isaiah’s and other circumstances that allow me a perspective, something that for Isaiah had a forced perspective for much of his time. So, I have the luxury of being able to sit both inside and outside the character. The rest of it is just adhering to what’s in the text, since the only thing that really exists is what exists in the moment for me whenever I’m playing anyone.
AD: Given that history and, of course, the series ending with the Falcon becoming the first Black Captain America, how important is it to our current real world political and social climate to have that representation?
CL: I’m somewhat conflicted in certain ways. These designations that come about because of gender or color of skin and ethnicity are all arbitrary. For practical purposes in terms of living a life with faults, I was not born as a Black baby. Moving through my life, I move through my life as a human being. Qualifiers that are placed on you have an awful lot to do with how you have to move about in the world but not with how you define yourself. That definition is the one place of complete freedom. So Sam follows his own set of experiences and his own instinct to be committed to what he wants to do, which is bring good to the world and the community in which he lives.
His becoming Captain America, his Captain America, I think that speaks to certain realizations that have come about. It’s a young Republic. It’s a young culture when you look around at the rest of the world. So, in my view, mistakes that my son made when he was four years old, or mistakes made very awesome out of ignorance and the corrections he made, helped turn him into what I consider a fine, fine young man. It’s not the fact that his situation was perfect. It’s not the fact that he understood everything at first blush. But it has to do with a kind of persistence and a set of standards that have nothing to do with color but have everything to do with following your ideals, living at the top of your intelligence. Under that definition, Sam is as qualified as Steve Rogers was.
AD: Obviously, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier does not visually explore Isaiah Bradley’s story. Would you like to see a Disney+ series that does?
CL: To tell you the honest truth, man, I’m just so happy for what has taken place to this point. I’ll tell you that it’s an interesting moment to be talking to you because I have been somewhat surprised by the response to this particular piece of work. The Marvel Universe is perhaps a much stronger one than I was really, really aware of. I think there’s something about this that’s jumped into people’s imaginations, and I won’t deny that, in doing his backstory, I’m interested in how he does move through certain things. However, I have my backstory to answer those questions right now, and whatever else doesn’t take place, I’ll always have Isaiah.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier streams on Disney+.