For Anthony Mackie, shuttling between worlds has been an everyday thing, not as a superhero but as a working actor. Six years ago, he opened in a new Broadway play; days later he was in Hollywood at the Academy Awards, on stage celebrating as one of the actors who powered “The Hurt Locker” to a Best Picture Oscar.
Call it an actor’s versatility: the ability to hold multiple roles in the mind and heart at (or about) the same time and still be able to function. As one of Hollywood’s busiest performers, the 37-year-old New Orleans native does it more than most, parlaying impressive chops as a theatrical actor into an equally stellar film career.
He’s currently on the big screen as Sam Wilson/The Falcon in “Captain America: Civil War,” and makes a star turn as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in Jay Roach‘s HBO drama “All the Way,” which premieres Sunday.
The biggest challenge may have been the physical demands of leaping between the two roles. “Unfortunately, I did ‘Captain America’ before I did ‘All the Way,’” Mackie told TheWrap. “Jay Roach wanted me to gain a few pounds, so it was a little bit of a change. The weight was the biggest headache. I put on 10, 15 pounds.”
“It got to the point to where my wife was calling me ‘Fat Mackie,’” said the actor, who wed childhood sweetheart Sheletta Chapital in 2014. “Ah, marriage.”
The King role also required significant research. Mackie visited Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, to see the famed collection of papers and letters from Morehouse’s most illustrious graduate.
Then the actor hit the books. “The first conversation I had with Jay,” Mackie said, “he sent me tons and tons of clippings and writing and essays about Dr. King. I read this book called ‘Bearing the Cross’ [by Pulitzer Prize-winning King biographer David J. Garrow]. And Tavis Smiley wrote a book called ‘Death of a King,’ which was a really amazing look at the last 365 days of Dr. King’s life. It was probably my most important piece of source material.”
For Mackie, “All the Way” is a chance to set the record straight about Lyndon B. Johnson, the 36th president of the United States, a man who inherited much of his legacy from the man who preceded him in the Oval Office.
The actor recalls a childhood when “all I heard was how Lyndon B. Johnson got us into the Vietnam War, Lyndon B. Johnson was a wasted president. Ironically, the more I learned about him and read about him, I saw he was a great president. The Emancipation Proclamation would just be a piece of paper if not for the Civil Rights Act of 1964. There was no president who did what he did in eight months. He was a phenomenal president and I think that shouldn’t be overlooked.”
“All the Way” studies diversity as a principle in practice rather in theory; for Mackie, his fourth appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe in “Civil War” is very much about the same thing.
“I think Marvel has its own ship going,” said Mackie, who’s joined by Chadwick Boseman and Don Cheadle in “Civil War” as one of three African American male leads. “It’s very important. They have a bunch of Latinos, Asians and black people who work under the Marvel umbrella,” he said. “And that’s how it should be … bringing in the best person for the job.”
Given his past stage experience, theatrical productions are never completely off Mackie’s radar. He’s always circling Broadway or Off Broadway productions, but with two school-age sons, “my Broadway and Off Broadway schedule is difficult because it’s surrounded by the summer. I’m not a single man anymore.”
He expressed hope that the current Broadway megahit “Hamilton” won’t follow the example of an earlier show that won early praise but turned out to be less transformative as some hoped: “Bring in Da Noise, Bring in Da Funk.”
“Everybody was calling it the future of the theater and then we went back to the same boring…” Mackie said. “Now, ‘Hamilton’ is that new show. I hope it sticks this time. I hope it’s not just used to advance an individual director or composer. I hope it leads to more culturally interesting shows.
“The great thing about ‘Hamilton’ that I think is way more important than shaking up American history is that there are no stars in that show. Talent still prevails. You can still take talented [lesser-known] actors and directs and make a profitable show.”
Lamenting the “dog-eat-dog” aspect of Hollywood, Mackie spoke of the shift of film and TV actors from Hollywood to Broadway and Off Broadway productions. Movie actors such as Jeff Daniels, Lupita N’yongo, Joe Morton, Sean Hayes and Frank Langella are some of those who’ve made the leap.
“With the rapid decrease of money for films, unless it’s a tentpole film, actors need to find new outlets,” he said. “That’s why so many actors are coming to Broadway. Bryan Cranston, Tom Hanks, Denzel — the new benchmark for celebrity now is to be on Broadway.”
Mackie said he’s at work on two movies that — “knock on wood” — will be produced later this year. In “Make a Wish,” Mackie will produce and star as Butchie Jones, a pro football player contacted by the Make-A-Wish foundation to grant the wish of a dying teenager: the teen wants to meet the football star he idolizes. Justin Simien, director of “Dear White People,” is in line to direct the comedy for Paramount from newcomer Zach Frankel’s script.
And Mackie is also set to portray Johnnie Cochran, the flamboyant trial lawyer whose claim to fame has been his role in the defense of O.J. Simpson in his 1994 murder trial. “It’s a huge opportunity,” Mackie said. “People know Johnnie Cochran as the O.J. lawyer, but Cochran changed the face of civil dissent, he brought theatrics to the courtroom. It’s a honor to be able to play him.”
And no, Mackie didn’t watch the recent hit FX production, “The People vs O.J. Simpson,” which starred Mackie’s friend Courtney B. Vance as Cochran. “I couldn’t watch Courtney ’cause he’s too good,” Mackie said. “I call Courtney ‘the black Gene Hackman.’ He’s never done a bad role.”