Actor Anthony Mackie

Busy actor discusses the business side of filmmaking and explains why African Americans must create their own film projects.

Anthony Mackie's feature credits include 8 Mile, Million Dollar Baby and The Hurt Locker—a performance that won him an Independent Spirit Award best supporting actor nod. He's also acted in several Broadway and Off-Broadway plays, including such high-profile productions as Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Talk, for which he won an Obie Award. Mackie first studied acting at the Center for Creative Arts in his native New Orleans and completed his studies at Juilliard. This month, he's on the gatefold cover of Vanity Fair's "Hollywood issue."


Tavis: Anthony Mackie is a talented actor who has two film projects out this month. One is the independent film “Desert Flower,” which opens in New York and L.A. on March 18th, and starting this weekend you can see him opposite Matt Damon in “The Adjustment Bureau.” Here now, a scene from “The Adjustment Bureau.”
Tavis: There’s a whole lot going on in this one, so I’m going to let you explain “The Adjustment Bureau.” (Laughter)
Anthony Mackie: Well basically, “The Adjustment Bureau” deals with a group of guys who are messengers of fate. We go around and help people stay on their fated course. We can’t affect their free will, but we can put obstacles in their way to help them make the right choices to reach their fated destiny.
Tavis: So Matt Damon is a congressman with a very promising future.
Mackie: Matt Damon is a congressman who is on the right path. He’s on the fast track. He’s our chosen one. He’s our golden boy, and being a member of the adjustment bureau, the task was given to me to watch out for him and make sure he doesn’t get confused about what his ultimate goal is in life.
Tavis: So you’re like an angel of sorts.
Mackie: I’m a messenger.
Tavis: A messenger watching over this (unintelligible).
Mackie: Don’t want to use the angel word, because that leads to the “G” word and you got a whole bunch of problems. (Laughter)
Tavis: Okay, messenger, I got it.
Mackie: There you go.
Tavis: You’ve got to protect the guy.
Mackie: There you go. (Laughter)
Tavis: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. I was saying to Kim, our producer, we were teasing, but last time you were on this program a couple of years ago I remember distinctly introducing you as a brother now in two films, right now. (Laughter) Now you’re back again – catch this brother in two films. Actually three films at the moment, you have one still out now.
What is your problem? You can’t go sit down somewhere? Why you got to have two or three films out every time you come by?
Mackie: It’s my work release program, man. I stop working, all kind of stuff go wrong. (Laughter)
Tavis: Do you like working that much?
Mackie: I love what I do. I do it because I love it, and I’ve been afforded the opportunity to work on some great projects. I feel like there are a lot of things out there that I haven’t been able to do that I still would like to conquer, so it seems like at every step of my career those opportunities continue to present themselves.
So I feel like success is opportunity plus preparation, so work begets work, and as long as you’re prepared it’s going to continue to come your way. So I just try to take it as it comes.
Tavis: I’m going to ask you to set your humility aside for just a second. (Laughter) When you walked on the set quoting the lyrics to one of my favorite R&B songs, “Return of the Mack,” I said, so first of all tonight we have the return of the Mack. That’s number one. But I could very easily have said, as others have said, this is the year of the Mack.
Everywhere I look, whether it’s “Ebony” or “Essence” or this week’s “People,” the cover of the Hollywood issue, the cover of “Vanity Fair.” Seriously, what’s happening or what’s been happening since I saw you last on this show that’s making all this stuff really start to flow for you?
Mackie: “Hurt Locker” blew up.
Tavis: “Hurt Locker,” yeah.
Mackie: You know what I mean? A lot of people made gripes about me not being nominated for “Hurt Locker” for best supporting actor, but in a way, I was. I feel like if you’re on a team when one person on that team wins, everyone wins.
Tavis: And a woman wins.
Mackie: You know what I mean?
Tavis: The director wins.
Mackie: That’s a big story. So the thing about it was when “Hurt Locker” caught fire, my team was very specific about what we wanted to do and how we wanted to use that fire, how we wanted to use that opportunity, and I was doing Shakespeare in the Park and “Adjustment Bureau” came my way. Once “Adjustment Bureau” came my way it was like the perfect storm – it was a cacophony of events that kind of just slow burned and slow burned to where we are today.
Tavis: First of all, just as a human being and one who was on that team – I like your phrase you were on the “Hurt Locker” team – but you happen to be, obviously, a person of color; Kathryn Bigelow, the first woman to win the Academy Award for best director. How proud were you in that moment of that victory for her and for the film?
Mackie: It was huge. Even if you look at us at the Oscars, the celebration started there. (Laughter)
Tavis: In the seat, huh?
Mackie: You know what I mean? It was monumental, just simply because my background with my family, I have three sisters, I have a mother, I have nieces that I love dearly. I feel like we’re at a point as a country and as a people where one cannot be held back by their sex or their race or anything, for that matter.
It’s just it’s kind of cool to say that I was a part of that, for people to look back and say, “Oh, well, when Kathryn won the Oscar, who was in her cast?” Boom, boom, boom. To be on that list is a huge testament, I feel, to the work I’ve been trying to do.
Tavis: That answer is a nice segue to the blue card, which I never use, but I had to get this quote right. We’ll put it up on the screen so you can follow me. So Anthony and I are boys, we’ve known each other for years, but he said something in print the other day that made me stop and look like, “Did Anthony say that?” If he did, I want to make sure he said it and give you a chance to explain to me, your boy, what you meant by this comment.
Mackie: Right, right. Thank you so much.
Tavis: So I’m clear about this.
Mackie: I appreciate it.
Tavis: I quote my friend Anthony Mackie: “I think right now Blacks are being kind of lazy on our game. My thoughts on the Oscars with no Blacks nominated, I think we just need to make more films. There are enough brothers with distribution deals and production deals where we should be making our own movies.
“To be honest, I think the barriers have been broken down. Oprah got her own network, Michael Jordan owns a franchise, we got Black money. So there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be able to tell the stories that we want to tell and portray ourselves the way we want to be portrayed.”
You said all that?
Mackie: I said all of that, except the term “Blacks.” I said “We are lazy on our game.”
Tavis: We, OK.
Mackie: I would never categorize or limit myself with a terms as a “Black.”
Tavis: When you said we’re lazy on our game, you mean by that what?
Mackie: We need to be making movies. If you look at from 1989 to 1997, even 1989 to 2004, we had an explosion of Black films. First started with the crack epidemic, we had all the movies about the boys in the ‘hoods and the menace to societies. That’s when you had the middle class, educated Black person who felt neglected, and that person wanted their story to be told.
So we got every Morris Chestnut, Vivica Fox movie – you understand what I’m saying? (Laughter) We got every beautiful beat Black woman and every chocolate gym-working-out Black man on the screen we could find, right?
Tavis: Right, I’m with you.
Mackie: So from that we had two aspects of Black culture, but now we’re lost because we don’t know what that in-between is. We have more Black people graduating from college than ever before, we have a Black president. So who are we, and what are the stories that we’re going to tell to represent ourselves?
Because we’re no longer gang-banging drug dealers, and we’re no longer upper middle class, beat suburban socialites, so what are we? If we don’t tell those stories, then we can’t expect someone else to tell them for us. We have an amazing number of directors. Look at all the directors that came out of those movies? Where are the Hughes brothers? Where’s John Singleton? What’s Spike doing?
Who’s telling those stories for us? Who’s writing those stories? Where are the Black writers? You can’t – the biggest actor in the world is a Black dude. So how –
Tavis: Big Willie.
Mackie: How are we being limited?
Tavis: Does that mean that we are lazy on our game or does it mean, as “The New York Times” suggested, that 10 years after Halle and Denzel win the Academy Award, the same night Mr. Poitier gets an honorary Oscar – of course he’d won one earlier in his career – but he gets an Oscar for lifetime achievement, so you got three Black folk on the stage the same night.
The “New York Times” article that everybody’s been talking about points out that ain’t nothing really happened since then in terms of opening up the game the way that people thought that moment was going to represent.
Mackie: One hundred percent.
Tavis: So is that us being lazy on our game or the business of Hollywood still not really opening up, giving that moment, and even with a Black president? It’s easier to be – here’s the bottom line. This year, the numbers are clear – it’s easier to be the president of the – let me take your formulation.
Mackie: Mm-hmm.
Tavis: It’s easier this year for a Black man to be president of the United States than it is to get on stage at the Academy Awards.
Mackie: Well, let’s keep it real. Let’s 100 percent keep it real.
Tavis: Okay.
Mackie: The most important word you used in that sentence was “business.” This is a business.
Tavis: Fair enough.
Mackie: We cannot show up with a script that has a $20 million budget and Denzel ain’t in it and expect for that movie to be made, because the studio ain’t going to get that money back. That’s bad business. But at the end of the day we can make independent films. If you look at somebody like Seth –
Tavis: You’ve done that.
Mackie: Yeah. If you look at somebody like Seth Rogen, if you look at most of the people who – most of the young filmmakers who are in the business now, they make movies for a price point and they get huge stars in those movies.
Look at Matt Damon and what they did with “Good Will Hunting.” There’s no reason why Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, being students out of Harvard, should be able to get a script and give it to Robin Williams and get that movie made for the price point that they made it at.
Tavis: And they won an Academy Award for it.
Mackie: And it won an Academy Award. So my thing is this – let’s be smart about our business. We can’t make a $20 million movie. We can definitely make a $2.5 million movie. We can definitely make a $5 million movie. Why is everybody – you can’t look at the business from a Black perspective and be, like, I want to make all my money up front now. No. I believe in myself, so I’ll bet on myself.
I’ll do “Half Nelson” for $35 a day because I know in the long run it’s going to pay off, and I know in the long run that that’s a movie that needs to be made. I’ll do “Desert Flower” for $20 a day because I know that’s a story that needs to be told, and in the long run, it’ll pay off.
Tavis: You’re just not throwing numbers out – these are real numbers.
Mackie: No, those are real numbers, dude. Those are real numbers.
Tavis: Yeah.
Mackie: So that’s why I feel like we’re being lazy and we’re being greedy, and if we don’t make those movies, if we don’t tell our stories, we cannot expect someone to tell those stories for us.
Tavis: Although he got some credit for “Colored Girls,” a lot of criticism, as we both know, has been leveled at Tyler Perry.
Mackie: Right.
Tavis: For making movies, for being the one Black guy who can greenlight something. But the stories that he’s telling turn a lot of people off.
Mackie: Right.
Tavis: So how much of that – I’m not talking about Tyler per se – how much of this problem has to do with us maybe not being lazy on our game, but not trying to tell the right stories, or at least showing the complexity of our experience, as you are attempting to do?
Mackie: It’s a yin and a yang.
Tavis: Okay.
Mackie: I feel like Tyler Perry is the perfect example. Those first bunch of movies he made he made for nothing, and they made buckets of money. So since we’re in this position now we have to start here, and it might take Denzel doing a small, low-budget, cheap movie with two unknown actors, so those actors can get their shine to where that movie can make more money, to where we can take that little bit of money we make from that small movie and make more movies. That’s how the business works. You make one movie to make five movies.
Tavis: Here’s the last part of that equation, then. So the first part is, is it Hollywood? We’ve talked about that. Is it us being lazy? We’ve talked about that. Is it the kind of films we’re making? We’re talking about that. Finally, is it Black people? Sometimes when these movies come out, we don’t support them.
Mackie: We don’t support them, exactly. This is what I love. I moved back to New Orleans and I realized something that was amazing – we don’t go to the movies. Like, I have a friend who have a bootleg collection and a DVD collection. (Laughter) So my boy go to the barber shop, he buy a bootleg. If he like it, he’ll wait till the DVD come out and then watch it at home on his couch.
But that’s the business of it. So knowing that, we have to be smart about our business, and I’m not saying that Black people are being lazy. I’m saying we’re being lazy in the game.
Tavis: I got you.
Mackie: That’s completely different.
Tavis: Fair enough.
Mackie: You understand what I’m saying?
Tavis: I’m with you.
Mackie: So until we stop neglecting ourselves in the game, we will continue to try to find a way to own up to the lack of Academy Award nominations.
Tavis: So he’s not just a fine thespian. The brother can go deep as well. (Laughter)
Mackie: I’m just saying.
Tavis: No, I’m with you.
Mackie: I’m just saying.
Tavis: That’s why this year is the year of the Mack. (Laughter) That’s why tonight we had the return of the Mack. The movie that he’s in right now with Matt Damon is called “The Adjustment Bureau,” but he got two or three things out, so just Google Anthony Mackie and you’ll see all the stuff he’s doing now. Anthony, good to have you on the show again.
Mackie: It’s good to see you, man.
Tavis: Always good to see you, man.
Mackie: Thank you so much.
Tavis: Take care of yourself.
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Last modified: April 26, 2011 at 12:29 pm