Interview: Anthony Mackie

Published December 28, 2010

From a virtual unknown to standing on the stage at the Oscars in less than eight years, New Orleans native Anthony Mackie  has taken Hollywood by storm.  BET.com sat down with the tenacious thespian to discuss his latest film, “Night Catches Us,” in which he teams up again with his “She Hate Me” co-star, Kerry Washington. Never known to bite his tongue, Mackie  talks openly about 2Pac, the reason he believes Angelina Jolie is being cast as women of color, and why the '90s was an important decade for Black cinema.

"Night Catches Us" is based in Philly post the Black Panthers era. Do you think you would have joined the Black Panthers had you been around back in the day?
I think I would have. If you look at the true essence of the Black Panthers, they were more of a community protection group. They get a bad rap because of the incidents that transpired with the police officers, but for the most part they had neighborhood protection groups, they had feeding of the hungry groups and they would feed kids in the morning on their way to school. They were protecting the neighborhood and that is something that I truly believe in. If everyone invested in the neighborhood they lived in, the United States would be a magical place.

What attracted you to this film?
The script. When I read the script, I thought Marcus was such a three-dimensional, complex character. There is something that I really admire about people facing their demons, people coming face to face with their past and dealing with it in the present. That is something that I have not had the opportunity to do as an actor. So when I read that, I was gung ho.

Do you prefer indie or big-budget films?
That’s hard! Most of my movies are indies. The best scripts I can find are independent films. But I love big-budget movies, I love craft services! [Laughs] I love going to make a little coffee, I love it! [Laughs] There is something about independent film that is really great. There is something about taking away all of the “fluff” and just coming to work every day and being a blue collar guy making a movie. It is a 60/40 shop. I 60 percent love independent films, but I love craft services! [Laughs] I love string cheeses! The movie I’m doing now, we have Blow Pops and I am like, “I love this!“ [Laughs]

How was it pairing up again with your “She Hate Me” co-star Kerry Washington?
[Laughs] It was great! Kerry is my muse. We work really well together and we know each other extremely well. Kerry is the only person I can say that when something isn’t right with me, she can look at me and tell. She knows my shortcomings. [Laughs] It is interesting, she knows how to put me in place on a professional level and that is something I have never experienced before. If I go to battle, she has my back! No bullsh**, no pretense. Just show up every day, roll up our sleeves and go at it. I admire her and appreciate her for that. So when this project came up, I was like, “We have to call Kerry!” I think a lot of the success of this film has to do with that chemistry that she brings to the set every day. She is just a sweetheart!

Angelina Jolie has been chosen to portray Cleopatra in an upcoming biopic. Having just spent an evening in a room full of wonderful Black actresses at the “For Colored Girls” premiere, what are your thoughts on this casting choice?
I think filmmaking is a very interesting process.  In order to understand the casting of Angelina Jolie you have to understand the business aspect of getting that movie made.  We have a wide variety of dynamic, amazing, talented, outright beautiful Black actresses. Until we create work for those actresses, we cannot look to someone else to create work for us. I feel as if we have a whole decade of movies to draw from. If you look at the movies in the ‘90s, Morris Chestnut and Vivica Fox were in every movie and we loved all of those movies. “Love Jones,” one of the best movies ever made! “Love and Basketball,” one of my favorite movies! These were great movies and we got to see ourselves in a way that was beautiful, poetic and suave. We invented swagger in the ‘90s. But all of those people stopped making movies. So when those people stand up because they have the power and the leverage to make movies, we won’t have to depend on Tyler Perry to be our sole solace in Hollywood. We won’t have to depend on someone to try and cast us as Cleopatra because we will be casting ourselves. So don’t talk about it, be about it!

You are a Julliard-trained actor. I am also an actor. My actor friends and I have been engaged in an ongoing debate. In your opinion, is going to school to study the craft necessary?
I think it is very necessary. If you can do the classics, you can do anything. Everybody you look at in any aspect of creativity, everyone who is a beacon of that genre has mastered the classics. Wynton Marsalis would not be able to do what he is doing in Lincoln Center if he couldn’t play Brahms’ "Third Symphony." Look at anybody in fashion, if they hadn’t mastered the Elizabethan period, they wouldn’t know what type of lace went well with a certain type of satin. Acting is the only medium were people think they can just stand up and do it because they can say lines, but that is not so much the case. You have to study styles and techniques. You may think that you can do something, but you have to realize when you sit down to watch a movie, that one scene may have taken two days to film. So every time you watch that scene you have to think about doing that over and over for two days. That takes technique! If you go see “For Colored Girls,” what Kimberly Elise did was not some fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type work. That’s technique! Now you can get that on the job or you can get that through school, but one in the same, both of those are processes that you have to take heed of.

I recently interviewed Kimberly Elise for “Colored Girls.”
Did you ask her if she wanted to work with me? [Laughs]

No! Everyone wants to work with you Mackie; that’s a given! [Laughs] Okay!

Antoine Fuqua is making the 2Pac biopic. You played 2Pac in “Notorious.” Is there any possibility you will play 2Pac again for the biopic?
I have no idea. I love Fuqua. I love Fuqua’s work. I am sure Fuqua has a very precise vision that he has for that film. So, I don’t know. I haven’t talked to him. I have not seen him. The first I’d heard of it was a few weeks ago. It is still early in the process, I don’t even know if they have a script. By the time it comes around I will probably be too old, but Black don’t crack! [Laughs]

"Night Catches Us" opens in select cities Friday, December 3rd. 

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 J’Nara Corbin is a New York City-based actress and model. For more of her work, you can read her commentary on Princess and the Frog and Chris Rock’s Good Hair.

Written by J'Nara Corbin

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