If 2Pac and The Notorious B.I.G. were hardcore rappers than Anthony Mackie is a hardcore actor. The New Orleans-native has brought his Julliard-trained skills as 2Pac in the highly anticipated Notorious, the life story of legendary rapper Notorious B.I.G., which is in theatres Friday, January 16. The film brings the black A-list such as Derek Luke and Oscar nominee Angela Bassett.
Here, the 30-year-old sounded off on playing 2Pac, the current state of hip-hop, and the future for African-Americans in Hollywood.
You are playing 2pac in a Biggie movie. Whose music did you feel a deeper connection with?
Outside of New York, everybody had a huge connection with Pac. The idea is that he was a street poet. The great thing about Pac was he really spoke to everybody; he spoke to the common man in a common man language about world issues. Biggie spoke in a common man language about Brooklyn issues—huge difference. Biggy had two albums, Pac had more albums dead than Biggie had alive. I think that says a lot. If two albums makes you the greatest rapper of all time then MC Hammer is the greatest rapper that ever lived because everybody was doing the Chinese Typewriter. Weren't you?
Yeah—with the big pants and everything!
See! There you go! [Laughs]
How did you go about capturing the essence of 2Pac?
I read as much as I could. I went back and read all the stuff that I knew 2Pac was reading early on like "Soul On Ice," "Manchild in the Promise Land," Frederick Douglas' memoirs. Just really got that education and that tutelage. You can only go as far as the writer has taken you, so I just read the script over and over and got a huge amount of information from the script. The 2Pac in the script is very different than the 2Pac we eventually got to know. This is him at his height, this is him before "Poetic Justice," right after "Juice," right after Strictly for My N.I.G.G.A.Z., right after "I Get Around"—you know what I mean? He was an icon already; he was the biggest cat in hip-hop at the moment of this film. He was enjoying life, spending money, and chasing bitches—that is what he was doing.
What do you think 2Pac would think about the current state of hip-hop?
Bill Withers was asked about the current state of R&B and he said, "What R&B?" If 2Pac was alive, half of the people in hip-hop wouldn't have careers. If 2Pac was alive 95% of the people in hip-hop wouldn't have careers. When 2Pac was alive they didn't have careers. 2Pac came out and said, "F**k you! F**k your girl! F**k your momma! F**k everybody involved with you!" And everybody was like, "You know what? F**k you dog!" Junior M.A.F.I.A. never made another album. You know what I mean? Pac had the ability to shut cat's careers down. That's what he was doing. Everybody's got beef nowadays with somebody. 2Pac said f**k you to everybody except Suge Knight. Nobody ever said nothing back to 2Pac—ever. That is just respect. Nobody was getting tatted up until Pac was getting tatted up. Nobody released a double CD until Pac released a double CD. He reinvented the game; therefore, he was the godfather as a kid.
You are a stone cold actor, Julliard trained. For the most part, this movie is basically actors who are actors. What do you think about this wave of singers and rappers turning into actors?
The thing is—I don't go to the hospital and ask the garbage man to perform surgery on me. I go to a doctor and ask him to perform surgery. I think the problem is we've gotten so used to mediocrity that we start to accept the mediocrity as the norm. Just because you say lines does not make you an actor. Just because you can write does not make you a writer. You put a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where you are at. Just because the boss's daughter can write in a complete sentence that doesn’t mean that she should have your job. I think we have a whole lot of busters infiltrating the game. But, sooner or later, one movie, two movies and you are gone. Everybody realizes their shelf life is really short so they are trying to get whatever they can while they are on the top. I understand that; just don't come in my direction.
I could see you gaining a whole bunch of weight and playing Biggie. Do you feel like there is a role you can't play?
[Laughs] No! The way I look at the game is I just want to be offered all the roles that Don Cheadle turns down. He and Jeffrey Wright are probably the most dynamic and prolific actors of our generation. He is kind of like a godfather; I'm trying to do what Don did in a way that Samuel L. Jackson did it. Just go out and keep hitting base hits—everybody's in the game trying to hit a home run, just keep getting base hits.
Do you see things changing for African-Americans in Hollywood or do you see it being stagnant?
It's very stagnant now. We're not telling our stories. Have you ever seen a black hobbit? Have you ever seen a black Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe? Have you ever seen a black dude in Narnia? Other than Sam Jackson was there a black dude in Star Wars?
Billy Dee Williams—the early Star Wars! [Laughs]
Okay, Sam Jackson took his place! The idea is until we start making our movies, until we start supporting our movies—if you look at what Latinos do, if there is anything with Latinos in the box they are there, by the droves. Until we do that and stop judging ourselves—that will never change the stagnation of our entertainment industry, specifically film, will never change.
Notorious is in theatres Friday, January 16.