Conversations with . . . Anthony Mackie

26 02 2011


Two-time Black Reel Awards winner Anthony Mackie’s career is hotter than July. With star turns in films such as The Hurt Locker, Night Catches Us and the upcoming sci-fi romantic thriller, The Adjustment Bureau, Mackie is quickly transitioning from “next” to major movie star. He sat down with ComingSoon’s Edward Douglas for a conversation about his recent project and what’s ahead for this talented actor.
Starring in the Oscar-winning Best Picture The Hurt Locker was certainly a good start and on March 4, he can be seen opposite Matt Damon and Emily Blunt in George Nolfi’s The Adjustment Bureau, based on a Philip K. Dick short story, which ironically enough is about making one’s own destiny.

Damon plays failed New York Senatorial candidate David Norris who meets a beautiful dancer named Elise, played by Emily Blunt, on the night of his defeat, while Mackie plays Harry, an individual who always seems to be around whenever things are happening to David. When Harry slips up, David inadvertently uncovers Harry’s bosses in “The Adjustment Bureau,” a group of mysterious men in hats who literally control destiny and insist that things can never work out between David and Elise. That’s where Harry comes in as he’s assigned to make sure David continues on the path that’s been predetermined for him and make adjustments if necessary to keep him away from Elise.

How long ago were you contacted to do this and how did they contact you?
Anthony Mackie:
My manager got the script and my agent got it, and they read it and sent it over to me. I was doing Shakespeare in the Park at the time, and they told me about it, and when I read it, I was blown away. This was two summers ago.

So George already had a finished script at that point?
Mackie:
Nolfi had an idea of the movie he wanted to make so he wrote it really quickly, and when he sent me the script, it was great. I was really impressed by it, and it was something that we were looking for, the type of character, and the type of language that we were looking for, so it kind of fit right in our wheelhouse so it just all came together.

Are you a big fan of genre stuff? You’ve done scattered genre projects but not a lot.
Mackie:
Not really. I’m a fan of it but I never really had the opportunity to do it, and that’s why this movie was so exciting as well. I never had an opportunity to do anything like this. I feel the arc of this character was so unique and interesting, and the theme of a movie like this. It’s not often when you’re in a position to have such an amazing three-dimensional character and not be the lead of the movie, so when I read it, it was like every actor’s dream.

As you were reading it, was it very clear what was going on or did you have to ask George questions about what was going on behind the scenes?
Mackie:
No, no, it was very clear. The story is very straight to the point, straightforward, and the script was the exact same way. I didn’t know there was going to be so much running involved. (laughs)

Yeah, you do have a lot of running through the streets of New York.
Mackie:
Ohhhhh… I ran from 28th Street to 14th Street, like all day, in a sprint, so it was awful, but that was part of… Nofli didn’t tell me about that until the day before. He’s like, “Oh, you might want to take a hot bath tonight,” and I’m like, “Why?” He’s like, “Tomorrow, we run!” So it was awful, but it was a great opportunity, I’m really fortunate to be able to have it.

How cool is it to be able to shoot in New York in all these great places and really explore the city more than you’ve probably been able to do in any other movie you’ve done?
Mackie:
It was amazing. I love New York. The only city I love more than New York is New Orleans. New York I would say was the lead character in this movie, because it adds so much to the movie. Even the scene with Emily and Matt when they’re running down the street, the fact that they’re running on cobblestones instead of pavement just adds a completely different dimension to that scene. Little things like that about New York just gives you an atmosphere that you can’t build on a set or find in any other city other than New Orleans.

Where are there still cobblestone streets in New York?
Mackie:
Downtown!

Really? I thought they already paved over all of those streets in Soho.
Mackie:
No, if you go to Soho or if you go to the meat packing (district) or you go down to off Hudson over there on the West Side, Tribeca. If you go down by North Moore all the way to the West Side Highway is all cobblestone.

Those streets are probably in better shape than the paved streets right now since they’re full of potholes.
Mackie:
It looked like they tried to pave it but the pavement just gave up. (laughs)

Was the movie always set in New York, that was in the original script?
Mackie:
I think we were supposed to shoot it in Miami, because Matt lived in Miami up until recently, and then something happened… Oh, I guess the tax credit kicked into effect and it shifted to New York.

A movie like this you could really set it anywhere but I was really impressed that George went with New York and the movie really goes to every part of the city that it possibly can.
Mackie:
And that is what was funny. I mean, we had so many locations and every day was a different location and at the end of the day, it’s just like, “Where are we going to end up next?” (laughs) “Do we really have to shoot at the Statue of Liberty? Do we really have to shoot at the top of Rockefeller Center?” It was location after location after location. Now watching the movie, I saw what Nolfi was trying to capture, and (John) Toll (the cinematographer) was able to shoot New York in a beautiful way. That skyline shot from the top of Rockefeller Center was beautiful.

So was seeing New York like that the most impressive thing when you saw the movie despite having lived in New York for so many years?
Mackie:
You know, funny enough, I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty. (laughs)

You know, neither have I and I’m going for the first time next month when my nephews are in town.
Mackie:
Yeah, so I’m either going to go this spring or summer because after watching the movie I was like, “Wow, I’ve never been to the Statue of Liberty” and the day they shot at Yankee Stadium, I was supposed to go up and meet them and I wasn’t able to go.

That’s too bad.
Mackie:
Exactly. They got a tour of the stadium and got to walk out on the outfield and it was crazy, man. It was just things are just monumental New York things.

Pretty cool. I’m sure people have mentioned it, but your character has very angelic qualities, and he’s the “Adjustment Bureau” employee stepping forward and saying, “My boss is saying to keep them apart but I’m thinking maybe he’s wrong.”
Mackie:
Well, he’s more of an usher of fate, I think. When you look at Harry, he’s more of the guy who helps along your fated path. The great thing about the character and the way that Nolfi wrote it is that he has so many trials and tribulations that he has to overcome. He’s such a 3-dimensional character, he’s a real person, and that’s why I was so excited to play it, because he’s kind of like the eyes and ears of the audience. When you get into a lot of sci-fi movies or fictional characters, the audience kind of turns off in a way, because they can’t relate to him, but Harry was put there so that the audience could relate to the Adjustment Bureau, because he has the powers of the bureau but the emotions of the everyday man.

Do you have any insight of your own on why Harry decides to go against his bosses?
Mackie:
When I look at it with Harry, he had done so much towards Matt Damon’s character in the way of fated path that he just felt this huge burden as far as, “I’ve taken away this guy’s Dad, I’ve taken away his brother, I’ve taken away the girl this guy has loved.” Everything that has happened in his life, it feels that I’ve taken it away from him, so if I can get away with it, I should try and help him on the path of free will. Maybe he knows what’s right for him, and then there’s the one scene where I’m sitting in the library and (John) Slattery comes up to me and he says, “You wait for a case to make your mark as an agent and you find out it’s booby-trapped.” They were meant to be together, they were written to be together in many different versions of the plan and then all of a sudden, the plan changed so at that moment, Harry makes a decision of where the plan can change, I can change. Nothing’s written in stone, and I think that moment was the one specific moment that made him turn the whole thing on its head.

One of the craziest things about this movie, especially if you live in New York, is that you walk out of it and start looking around for people with hats. You start thinking, “Hmm, you don’t really see a lot of people with hats” so maybe there’s something to that.
Mackie:
(laughs) Right, right. I think the telling tale of a good movie is when you walk out of the movie theatre and you’ve related it to your own life. I think when I watched this movie, I came out of the theater and I started thinking about different people and different moments in my life that I could label as being “adjusted.” When I was a kid and I was supposed to go swimming with a friend and my friend drowned and I wasn’t there, or the kid who goes ice skating and his friend falls through the ice and they never see him again. Things like that where this movie is very poignant in a way that it makes you look at your own life and your own ups and downs and shortcomings and flaws and achievements.

When you talk about not doing a ton of genre, you went from this to “Real Steel” and now you’re going to do “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” with Timur Bekmambetov who is a fan-favorite in terms of genre films. Did you just get the bug for doing genre with this and wanted to continue going in that direction?
Mackie:
No, no, because I’ve never done it before, it’s an interesting little corner that I’m trying to notch out. I’m still very interested in doing my plays and doing my small independent films and things like that. With “Night Catches Us” coming out this year…

I loved seeing you and Kerry Washington on screen together again. I think you two should do a third movie together, because I think Spike had it right when he first put the two of you on-screen together.
Mackie:
(laughs) Right, you have to tell her that. I keep telling her that we should do a movie together every year and a half to two years. But you know, I love those small independent movies. I love movies that force you to pay attention and think. I feel like if you look at “Real Steel,” even though it’s a huge sci-fi movie, there’s still this through storyline of adventure and love and betrayal and overcoming obstacles. It’s not just a bunch of robots just beating the sh*t out of each other…

¬†…which is what most people are expecting it to be.
Mackie:
Exactly, exactly! So I feel like within those movies, there’s still a great story, and even with this movie, as adventurous and huge as it is, there’s still a great story underneath there.

What about this “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”? It’s really a movie title that sells itself, so is that going to happen pretty soon?
Mackie:
That starts in like four or five weeks now, we start shooting in New Orleans, so I get to go home for three months. The great thing about it and what I really loved about the movie is the idea that it’s the actual storyline. They took Abraham Lincoln’s biography moment by moment and put this sub-storyline of vampires in it, and I think that’s kind of interesting. It kind of entices the next generation to look at history in a way that’s new and creative. I feel like you watch this movie and if you talk about it, you’re talking about actual history just with new plotpoints in it.

Have you seen any of Timur Bekmambetov’s other movies?
Mackie:
Well I saw “Wanted” and I saw some of the stuff he did before he came to the U.S. It’s crazy.

I was wondering how he was going to mix all that crazy stuff he does into a historical piece.
Mackie:
Well, that’s why I’m so interested in doing the movie, not so much because of the vampires or the Abraham Lincoln, it’s the history aspect of it and I want to see just how far can he take it, because he’s such an interesting guy, his style of directing and way of working, and it’s unlike anything I’ve done in my career so far, so we’ll see.

Last time we spoke was for “Notorious” in which you played Tupac, and Antoine Fuqua is making a movie about Tupac, so do you have any interest in reprising the role? I don’t know how young they’re going with him.
Mackie:
I haven’t talked to Antoine. I mean, I would love to do it. I think whoever has the opportunity to play Tupac has the opportunity to literally define the voice of our generation, and that’s something I would love to be able to do, that’s an opportunity that I would love to have, but I haven’t talked to Antoine yet. I don’t know what story he is making out of it.

Have you worked with him before?
Mackie:
No, no, but I’ve met him a bunch of times. He’s a real cool cat, but I haven’t talked to him since this has come about.

Click here to read the rest of Mackie’s conversation

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2 responses

26 02 2011
jan niekamp

I’m glad they have at least someone black in this film. I will check it out, hope it’s good.

27 05 2011
THOMASBL

I’ll check it out as well. sounds great!!!!

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