by Carlos Matias
Photography by Andy Schwartz/Universal Pictures
Anthony Mackie isn’t funny at all. At least in his movies he isn’t. The Juilliard-trained actor, who was discovered after portraying Tupac Shakur in a play while still a student (he would later play the controversial rapper again in Notorious B.I.G.’s biopic, Notorious), has graced everything from off-off-Broadway stages (2001’s Up Against the Wind) to the big screen opposite platinum-selling rapper Eminem (8 Mile) to the Oscar-winning The Hurt Locker.
This year, the New Orleans native will star in the sci-fi romance-thriller The Adjustment Bureau alongside Matt Damon. While Damon plays a slick-talking congressman who jeopardizes his career over a sudden love interest, Mackie tries to put him in check as part of an organization assigned to stop him from interrupting his destiny. The up-and-comer can steal the smallest part in a big way, but the only thing he’s still looking to get a fair shot at is a comedy role. Judd Apatow, holler at ya boy.
YRB: You got discovered while playing Tupac in a play and you played him again in Notorious. How did he inspire you?
Anthony: In every way. I grew up with strong parenting so I didn’t have the opportunity to hang in the streets and do things that my friends were doing, so ‘Pac introduced me to the rest of the world. He introduced me to a lifestyle I wasn’t able to be a part of, so I lived vicariously through him, in a way. I listened to what was going on, the stuff that he was saying and I would see him on the news, so I tried to stay away from that – as far as possible while hearing it and living through him as he was going through it.
YRB: So he kept you away from the streets because he was living that for you.
Anthony: My dad always said, ‘Let someone else be a damn fool and you learn from that.’
YRB: In 8 Mile you played another rapper. Did you ever think you were typecasting yourself?
Anthony: No, I was fortunate enough to go to Juilliard, and when I got out of school I had great representation and my rep was very smart about placing me in these positions. As soon as I finished 8 Mile, I was doing plays. I played a young gay artist who was trying to find his voice. That’s completely different than those two movies. I’ve been fortunate to have people around me to see the bigger picture, as opposed to me just getting jobs.
YRB: Is it hard for you to be on the big screen and then go and do smaller productions like plays?
Anthony: It’s drastically different. Every time I go back to a movie I have to remember it’s a 20-foot movie screen. The first day it’s just really bad overreacting. But I love doing plays. It gives me the opportunity to kick up my chops to figure out how to work so when I go down to a minuscule way of working in film, I have everything behind me that I need.
YRB: So plays are more challenging?
Anthony: Hell yeah. Movies are hard because you shoot out of sequence, so you have to do a lot of homework to figure out where you are at that point in the movie. But with a play, it’s a marathon and if the audience doesn’t like it, they let you know right there. But, if they like it, it’s instant gratification. If you’re a person that needs people to like you, the theater is the way to go.
YRB: Do you need people to like you?
Anthony: No, not at all. I need people to come see me, though.
YRB: You’ve contributed to many major movies. What is it about independent movies that keeps you coming back?
Anthony: I feel like a lot of the times when you’re doing independent films, the characters are more flushed out. They’re more three-dimensional and better written. So, as an actor, you get an opportunity to delve into the character and explore different styles of acting.
YRB: Were you surprised that The Hurt Locker did so well?
Anthony: I really was. We were in the Middle East so it’s a completely different world over there. Shooting a movie like that in the Middle East… It could’ve been done in 10 different ways. The editor just happened to find the best movie in the cut.
YRB: Was it hard getting adjusted when you came back?
Anthony: The shoot took four to five months. It was a hard adjustment being in the Middle East for so long and living in that aspect of faith and then coming back here and seeing the way we perceive the Middle East and the way the Middle East really is. It was a huge learning experience. I’m a huge fan of travel. After 9/11, I got my passport and I try to travel as much as I can.
YRB: What’s your favorite place to go?
Anthony: As actors in Juilliard, we learned this breathing muscle technique called the Alexander technique, and my friend went to Austria and started an Alexander movement studio. I went to visit him and he was trying to teach and I was just sitting in the corner drinking beer. The amount of beer we drank was amazing! We would pub hop, and I liked the glasses so much I would put the glasses in my jacket and walk out. I have a cabinet in my house of Austrian beer glasses.
YRB: Can you explain your role in The Adjustment Bureau?
Anthony: I enjoyed doing it, and it was a great script, but I was looking forward to working with Matt Damon because he is one of my favorite actors. I had fun working with him. The Adjustment Bureau is a bureau of agents that go around and fight the war between the free world and fate. Everyone on this planet is fated towards something and our job is to stop your free will from getting in the way of your fate.
YRB: You had your second sex scene with Kerry Washington in Night Catches Us. Will you ever get tired of simulated sex with Miss Washington?
Anthony: Everyone likes to see me and Kerry together besides me and Kerry. She is like my sister. We graduated school at the same time and have the same friends and [have] known each other for so long.
YRB: Can you tell me about your work with Global Green?
Anthony: Basically, my green work has to do with solar energy, clean water and biodiesel energy fuel. It’s important for me and something I’ve been trying to focus on and let people know that I’m green and the ways of being green. It’s something that, once you start doing, once you start recycling [and] using the same water bottle and get away from non-combustible materials and material that don’t break down, we’ll be better for it.
YRB: How important is it that everyone is aware about going green?
Anthony: We’ve been trying to make people aware of what’s going on with green energy and how important the footprint is that you leave on the planet when you’re no longer here.
YRB: What else are you working on?
Anthony: I just go out of New Mexico… I was shooting Ten Year with Channing Tatum, Rosario Dawson and Brian Geraghty. A friend of mine, Jamie Linden, wrote and directed it. So, yeah, I knocked it out. You know, just keeping it real. I was in New York but I left because it’s too cold. I think it’s Bloomberg’s fault. He’s rich enough to stop this.
YRB: You play serious roles but you seem like a pretty funny guy.
Anthony: I would love to do comedies. I think I’m really funny. They make so few comedies, and when they do make them, it’s all comedians. It’s really hard to get placed in one of those Judd Apatow or Ben Stiller movies, but that’s something I would love to do and look forward to doing if I’m given the opportunity.