The Story Behind Cottonmouth’s Tongue Thing On Luke Cage

Cottonmouth Luke Cage

In the new Marvel/Netflix series Luke Cage, many of the actions taken by the villainous Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes could be described as snake-like -- but the character's nickname even seems to influence the physicality created by Mahershala Ali. Watching the actor's performance, you may find yourself noticing that he tends to flick his tongue a lot, similar to a reptile. It's so prominent that you might think it was something Ali did specifically to help embody the role... but it turns out he was doing it completely unintentionally.

Back at San Diego Comic-Con this past summer, I had the pleasure of being a part of roundtable interviews with the cast and filmmakers behind Luke Cage - and when Mahershala Ali sat down alongside co-star Alfre Woodard, I took the opportunity to ask about Cottonmouth's protruding tongue. Convinced that it was a chosen part of his performance, I asked him and Woodard about crafting the physicality for their performances, and Ali revealed that the tongue flicking wasn't actually something he purposefully brought to the character:

It's funny, you're the second person that mentioned the tongue thing. I didn't even know I was doing it. I think it's, again, I always use the term hearing it, like when I read it, if I can hear the character, I always know that that's a positive sign, like I can, it's something about like the tuning fork thing, going oh, I can hear those notes.

I'm totally fine admitting that this completely caught me by surprise. If you haven't noticed it yet in his performance -- pay more attention, because you will. You can even see Cottonmouth flicking his tongue in the very first shot in which he's introduced. Just check out the Luke Cage clip below (skip to about the 1:00 mark if you want to see the tongue flick)

Purposeful as the tongue flicking may seem, it is worth mentioning that Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes' nickname doesn't actually have anything to do with snakes. While Luke Cage eventually makes the connection when Diamondback arrives on the scene later in the first season, the reason the Harlem crime lord is called Cottonmouth is because he got a few teeth knocked out when he was an up-and-comer. Because of this origin story, Cornell actually hates the moniker (he probably would have embraced it if it had anything to do with being snake-like).

Are you as surprised as I was that the tongue-flicking thing is a complete accident? Head to the comments section below with your thoughts on the matter -- as well as your general thoughts on Mahershala Ali's turn as Cornell "Cottonmouth" Stokes (we couldn't get enough).

The first season of Luke Cage is now available to stream on Netflix.

Eric Eisenberg
Assistant Managing Editor

Eric Eisenberg is the Assistant Managing Editor at CinemaBlend. After graduating Boston University and earning a bachelor’s degree in journalism, he took a part-time job as a staff writer for CinemaBlend, and after six months was offered the opportunity to move to Los Angeles and take on a newly created West Coast Editor position. Over a decade later, he's continuing to advance his interests and expertise. In addition to conducting filmmaker interviews and contributing to the news and feature content of the site, Eric also oversees the Movie Reviews section, writes the the weekend box office report (published Sundays), and is the site's resident Stephen King expert. He has two King-related columns.