Anthony Mackie made his Hollywood debut as rival rapper Papa Doc in the Eminem film 8 Mile. After small roles in Hollywood films like Million Dollar Baby, We Are Marshall, and Notorious, he made his true breakthrough in 2009 as Sergeant JT Sanborn in the then-little-seen The Hurt Locker, which went on to win the Oscar for Best Picture.
Now the 31 year-old hopes to broaden his horizons even further with a role as Harry Mitchell in the science fiction action/thriller The Adjustment Bureau.
Harry is the member of a group of fedora-clad, otherworldly controllers of fate known as The Adjustment Bureau who must keep a congressman, played by Matt Damon, and a modern dancer, played by Emily Blunt, apart. Mackie talks about how he first got the role.
“I was doing Shakespeare In The Park and my management called me,” Anthony remembers, “And he was like, ‘Yo, I found it!’ I was like, ‘Word?’ So I got the script and I read it. And we were really looking for something where I’ve been working on subtlety and just being calm and that’s in classes and stuff and we were looking for a role where I could venture further into that. And when we read it, it was unlike anything we had read before and it was unique in the way that the story was being told. So it was kind of like two things that I like.”
“So we made a call and I auditioned and met [director] George [Nolfi] and it kind of worked out,” he adds, “But little did I know, he had seen The Hurt Locker and he was like, ‘Yo, I need to meet this dude!’ So I didn’t know that. If I had known that, I’d be like, no, I ain’t reading for you. I ain’t reading, you know what I mean? No, I’m joking. But I went over to his place and read for him and did some scenes and he gave me some notes and we did it again and it was just like a regular audition. And it kind of worked out.”
Anthony talked about how he approached the unusual story.
“Well, the great thing about Harry is that he’s kind of regular,” he says, “I didn’t want to be like, oh, well, he’s an angel, so I need to put on wings and pantyhose…because angels wear pantyhose. The thing that I loved about the character is he’s so three dimensional and usually as an actor, unless you’re the lead character, you don’t get that opportunity.”
“And when I read the script, I was floored by the idea of humanity that George brought to Harry,” Mackie says, “And that was something that I was interested in, and I like I said, something that we were looking for. So I really just prepared for him like I would any other character, because he’s kind of human in a way. He has the emotion of an everyday man. He just has higher powers.”
Mackie says that Harry serves a different purpose in the story than the other members of The Adjustment Bureau.
“I think the word that comes to mind is humanity,” he says, “I think we would all like to think that we are perfect, well-rounded, sensible beings, but in actuality, our flaws are what make us human. I think with Harry, he says, ‘We’re just like humans. We just live a lot longer.’ And when you look at that level of humanity that Nolfi has placed on this character, it gives him the ability to be the vantage point of the audience. Because the sci-fi aspect of any movie can sometimes displace an audience and make them feel like they’re sitting there watching something that they can’t relate to.”
“But when you look at Harry, he gives you the opportunity to fit in, to understand, to feel like you know what the bureau’s going through,” Anthony adds, “You can identify with him. I think that’s why he’s such an important character to the film because he gives the emotions of regular people with the powers of the supernatural people, so he’s like the middleman.”
Anthony was asked why he believed angels wore pantyhose.
“Because all the movies I saw growing up, all the angels had pantyhose,” Mackie claims, “And every time I saw someone, I was like, that’s an angel! She had on pantyhose!”
Mackie shared what he believed when it came to the themes of predestination that The Adjustment Bureau espouses in the film.
“I’m a firm believer in that we’re all fated for something great,” Anthony says, “I believe that our free will is what fucks it up. I think I’m sitting here today because I’m fated to be here. If you look at my background at everything I’ve done and everything I’ve been through, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t be sitting where I am. But it was fortunate that I needed a village to raise me.”
“And every time I got off-path or every time something went wrong or my free will didn’t work out, which was 99% of the time, I have two great brothers,” he continues, “And my brothers were in line with where they wanted me to be once I got to this point in my life. So every time something happened, like when I almost got kicked out of school, my brother drove to North Carolina and punched me in the face. When I almost got kicked out of Julliard [School], my brother flew to New York and punched me in the face. So I’m very fortunate.”
In the end, Harry sacrifices himself for Matt Damon’s character David Norris. Anthony shared whether or not he’d be able to sacrifice himself for someone like Norris.
“I think in those conditions, I could,” he believes, “I think if you look at what Harry was going through with everything that had transpired between him and Norris, he had taken a lot away from this dude. He not only took his dad and his brother from him and altered every aspect of his life for the greater good. It wasn’t even for his individual good. It was for his greater good.”
“It weighed on him and I think that’s where the burden of what made him change his mind to help him came from,” Mackie continues, “You can only initiate so much fate on someone till you want to take a crack at free will. You’ve earned the right to take a crack at free will for how much shit I put on you. So I definitely don’t think I would be able to sacrifice everything I have and everything I am for one person’s happiness.”
Mackie had this to say on the idea of a greater power knowing better than the common man and imposing their will on people to keep bad things from happening, as The Adjustment Bureau exists to do in the film.
“I think the idea of there being a greater power that knows better is completely different than the idea of there being a greater power helping you to find better, you know what I mean?” Anthony says, “I think a lot of times, you would be hard pressed to find ten people right now that are truly happy, like dipshit happy. I’ve been thinking about it for a week. I know two people. One of them is just like cuckoo and Cuban and the other is like as schoolteacher friend of mine, who had an amazing job, who was making damn near seven figures a year and quit to become a schoolteacher. Boom! I mean, got a dog, got a house, teach kids, that’s it, and she’s happy. She likes the headaches that these kids put her through. And my other friend is like, he’s living the life. He has a girlfriend, he has a ’76 Cadillac, and he has a tattoo now, and a job. He’s happy.”
“But everybody else I know is desperately unhappy in one and that’s because we place too much on fate and not enough on free will,” he continues, “As human beings, we have the ability to change any aspect of our lives we want to, any aspect, and that’s just the way I was raised. I mean, my daddy was like, ‘If you ain’t have it, don’t do it.’ Every time I go to a governmental office like the post office of the DMV, I’m like, I hate everybody in here! You know what I mean? Because everybody is just working to make your life a living hell! (sigh of relief) Sorry, went to the DMV this week. So to have that being said, I think we place too much power on the unknown and not enough power on the active known right now.”
Anthony was then asked to reveal about what he himself felt unhappy about.
“I’m unhappy about the fact that it was snowing outside,” Mackie replies, “Did you see that? I’m unhappy about that. I’m unhappy about the fact the Saints didn’t go to the Super Bowl. That’s about it. Those are my two things.”
Having had his character make a difficult sacrifice by the end of The Adjustment Bureau, Mackie talked about what he felt was the difficult decision of his life.
“The most difficult decision I’ve made, I feel, was I left home at a very, very young age,” he says, “And that was for multiple reasons, but the main reason was I realized what I wanted to do, I couldn’t do in New Orleans. So when I was 16, I saved a little money. I had my own business. I sold my business. I packed up my Sentra and went to boarding school. And I never realized how big of a sacrifice that was until 11 years later when I went back to New Orleans.”
“And it’s amazing how important those little things in a kid’s life become monumental things,” Anthony continues, “When I talk to my friends and they’re like, ‘Yo, we’re going to the ten-year reunion,’ and I’m like, ‘Word,’ because I can’t, you know what I mean? Or when you go back home and you see the girl that you would have took to prom and she’s like 225 and married and ergh, got a bad weave job and it’s just awful. So, yeah, (laughing) that was a huge sacrifice. Nothing worse than a bad weave.”
One of Anthony’s biggest roles before making his big breakthrough in The Hurt Locker was playing slain rapper & actor Tupac Shakur in The Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious. He was asked if he would ever reprise the role in a pending biopic film being financed by the late rapper/actor’s mother Afeni, who has long run the estate of Tupac Shakur.
“If [Afeni Shakur] didn’t [endorse it], it wouldn’t make it because she’d have them dizzowned,” he replies, “The 2Pac thing was something that I heard about and something I would love to be a part of. 2Pac was a monumental figure in my life. I grew up with two hardcore parents and five amazing siblings. And because of that, my ventures into the outside world were limited.”
“So the only access I had to the streets and to that lifestyle was 2Pac,” Mackie adds,” My first album was a 2Pac CD that I spent $17.99 at a Tower Records store. And my very first job, I played 2Pac. And playing 2Pac in Notorious is something that if done wrong will be a great disservice to our generation. Boom!”
Mackie was asked to compare his role last year in the film Night Catches Us, in which he plays an anti-establishment Black Panther to playing essentially an otherworldly establishment figure in this film.
“The Black Panther movie Night Catches Us was very important to me,” Anthony says, “Because I feel that it’s a travesty how wrongly represented and how under-recognized that time in American history has become. I feel like now that the FBI has come out and admitted to the things that they did to those organizations at the time.”
“And what we know from people in the neighborhood from what The Black Panthers were doing at that time, it’s a travesty that it’s overlooked,” he continues, “In this movie, the idea of being Big Brother is something completely different because we’re here as ushers. I’m [John] Stockton and the chairman is Karl Malone. It’s more of a helper of fate as it is Big Brother having his hand on every aspect of your reality.”
Anthony was also asked if his roles in Night Catches Us and The Hurt Locker made him interested in doing political films.
“I do,” Mackie replies, “I think politics is something that should be read, acknowledged, and left alone. I feel like we have too many people having their hand in politics that know nothing about politics. So the idea of political films are something that I stay away from because it’s not my job to throw my politics and my beliefs in your face, but it is my job to point out and tell stories that relate to your beliefs and understandings about where we are as a people.”
“And that’s why I did The Hurt Locker as opposed to any other war movie,” he adds, “Because of you believed the war was a good thing, it’s a good for you, if you believed it was a bad thing, good for you, but there’s a bunch of men and women over there dying for your beliefs and you should be aware of that.”
Finally, Mackie shared what is the next film he plans on doing, which is scheduled for release sometime next year.
“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” Anthony reveals, “I’m a slave that get to kill a man.”