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Interview : Anthony Mackie – star of Detroit

Anthony Mackie has been in a number of huge films, from “8 Mile”, “The Hurt Locker”, “Triple 9”, “The Night Before” and all the way to “The Avengers” series, playing Falcon.

“Detroit” is his latest release, an American period crime drama that is set in 1967, in the midst of the Detroit riots. The film is directed by Kathryn Bigelow, who directed such classics as “The Hurt Locker” and “Zero Dark Thirty”. “Detroit” focuses on one event in particular – known as the Algiers Motel incident – and the film marks the 50th anniversary of the event, which resulted in the loss of 3 lives, all African Americans.

Mackie plays Greene, a Vietnam war veteran who gets caught up in the events at the Algiers Motel. The film also stars John Boyega, Will Poulter, Algee Smith, Jason Mitchell, and John Krasinski.

Katie sat down with Mackie to discuss “Detroit”, American football and of course…Vegemite.

Congratulations on “Detroit”. Absolutely amazing film, I loved it. 

Anthony: Thank you!

Can you tell me what drew you to the role of the film?

Anthony: Just the story, when I first heard Kathryn was doing a movie about the Detroit riots I thought it was going to be like a crazy smoke, midnight, riot, hip-hop, movie and then I was very impressed when I read the script and saw it was about this one incident in the middle of this riot, and how it was just overlooked and glossed over. And when I learned about Greene and read about Greene I was very impressed about the man he was and the amount of dignity he carried with him so I begged her to be a part of it.

Yeah absolutely, so you have worked with Kathryn before on The Hurt Locker, how is she to work with? 

Anthony: It was great, I love Kathryn, I love her as a person, an individual, director, being – all of the above. We get along extremely well together, and she gets me. I feel like she puts me in the best position to succeed as an actor, so I just…I try to work with good people because I feel that makes you a good person. And she is a very good person, she just gives me everything I need to win.

Yeah absolutely, sounds great. It’s certainly a confronting film in terms of the subject matter, what was it like been on set day-to-day?

Anthony: You know what? It wasn’t as troubling and the hard part about this movie was Kathryn wanted to shoot night for night inside which makes everybody upset because we are inside, we are like “tarp the house and we can shoot during the day and sleep at night”. That was the only problem on the set of this movie.

Everybody, all the guys and young ladies came to the set with an understanding, a level of respect for what was going on and there was good times had, there was playing around, laughing and joking but everybody was very serious about the story we were telling and the characters we were trying to portray and the point that we were trying to get across. So, once you know everyone is coming from a good place it takes all of the other stuff off the table.

So how do you unwind at the end of each day filming?

Anthony: A nice cigar, I usually take a walk like, a mile or 2, smoke a good cigar, play some Thelonious Monk or Cannonball Adderley and just enjoy the evening. Just to let it go, like when I was at Julliard I learned my process for letting the work stuff go. And not bringing it home and that’s my process just getting away from everybody.

Good advice for all careers really – not to bring that home.

Anthony: [laughs] Take a walk!

Yeah take a walk that’s it. So how long was the production, was a gruelling process? 

Anthony: It was a hard process, I was there a month or 5 weeks and everybody else was there like 2 months, 2 and a half months. It wasn’t an overwhelming process, Kathryn was very good with sectioning people all off to get the best amount of time out of them but it was…she is very good about not punishing people for doing her movies, so she boards you in and out to where you…she can get the best bang for her buck.

Yeah great. Now, your character got a bit of a knocking around, for lack of a better term.  Did you sustain any physical injuries? 

Anthony: [laughs] No, no we… we had a great stunt coordinator where we were pretty much a bunch of pretty good athletic guys, I was old, but all the young guys were pretty nimble so, we took care of each other. There was Will and the rest of the guys- Ben – they were very eager to stop if someone was uncomfortable or was hurt, it wasn’t like “oh I am in it I am going to keep going”, no everybody was very appreciative of other people been willing to go through these experience to tell the story. So there were no actors hurt during the filming of this movie.

Great, that’s good! And did you undertake a lot of training for the role or…

Anthony: No, I have…I spend a lot of time with vets and military personal just in day-to-day life. And when I have played so many vets that I have done a lot of research and studying and reading about the experiences of vets when they come home in different periods, so I just did all the way where I played Martin Luther King, so that really helped and informed me with the 1960s and what black soldiers were going through when they got back to America.

Yeah absolutely, so this story in particular were you familiar with the events?

Anthony: No, I was familiar with the Detroit riots because I had a family that I moved up to Detroit looking for work but I have never heard of the Algiers Hotel.

Okay, did you do a bit of research for it? 

Anthony: I did, I read a lot. Read all the news articles, the press clippings, the court stuff. I have a bunch of, from shooting so many movies in Detroit, I have a bunch of older friends who live there and no one likes to talk more than an old black dude, like you…I mean, they just…they talk. If they know it they will tell you.

So I called all my friends who were around at that time and just ask them – black and white – and the difference in perspective of about what happened was really interesting and really informative for the development of the character.

Great, so do you have any other exciting projects coming up?

Anthony: Everything is pretty exciting [laughs]…well it is “Avengers 3” and “4″ that we are filming now, I just finished this movie called “The Hate U Give” which is an amazing novel about a young lady trying to find herself being a young black lady living in a white society and finding her voice as an individual and it was a New York Times bestseller and just a phenomenal story, a great screen play, directed by George Tillman, who I work with on “Mister & Pete” and “Notorious”, that’s one I am very excited about. It’s just a different story type of story and I love to see and do movies about young people finding their voices

So when you look for roles, do you pick them based on what the story is or do you want to have some personal connection to it?

Anthony: It’s all about the story I mean, there is no way I can have a personal connection with everything I do but I feel like everyone’s story deserves to be told. And as an actor it’s my job to get into your story and tell your story from your own perspective. So, it’s more so about the times and the story that’s been told.

Absolutely, so do you have any career highlights?

Anthony: You know what’s funny? It’s funny you ask that, that’s a great question. last night I was watching TV and “We Are Marshall” was on TV and I don’t care what anybody said that’s a great fucking movie and it went off and I was like “I am really proud of that”, like I was extremely emotional, I was very proud one of the work that I did but the story that we told. It’s the movie about the 1970 plane crash that killed basically 75 people in Hunnington, West Virginia coming back from a football game with the martial, thunder and harry football team and I played this character Nate Ruffin and I hadn’t seen it in years and up until now I was just excited that I got to play football every day and got paid for it but watching it now I am extremely proud of that movie.

Good, that’s good. It’s good you got to reflect on…

Anthony: Yeah. Especially just lying in bed looking for American football and just like hey! Look at that!

Was that here?

Anthony: Yeah, yeah

Oh wow. You don’t get much American football here, I will tell you.

Anthony: None, none. No American football

Unless you want to get into AFL.

Anthony: No – American Football! Australian football is too aggressive.

It is, isn’t it?

Anthony: Those dudes they clobber each other. Why would anybody play that?

I have no idea.

Anthony: Not a good idea. They just destroy each other.

No, so we’ve got all the different types of football here.

Anthony: I get rugby I am like rugby is not that bad, I have played rugby before with some Samoan and Tongan dudes who were huge, and it hurt, but Australian football is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen. I would never…it’s insane. You have to be insane to play Australian football no way around it.

I would like to know if you have any inspirations – in actors, people in your life that inspire you? 

Anthony: Well of course, I mean Don Cheadle is a huge inspiration to me just because of the scope of his career and the work he has been able to do over his career and how he has done it in a very intelligent, classy way and he is the reason I started acting and now that I am able to work with him in the Marvel universe, it’s pretty cool because I get to see him every day. One of my first jobs was understudying him off Broadway when he did “Though dog Underdog” and he always makes fun of me as his sidekick, as his understudy but I carry it like a badge of honour. If somebody was willing to say that I am second only to Don Cheadle, I can live with that [laughs].

Not a bad place to be!

Anthony: Exactly! So he is…he and Sam Jackson have been huge inspirations as far as how to do it and the way to do it

Absolutely, what made you want to get into acting, was it a long life dream?

Anthony: No, not at all. I wanted to be an engineer, and I did a play and at the end of the play I was supposed to die , so this kid – Tristian Kedresque – had this huge sword and he stabbed me with the sword like under my arm and about 4 girls in the audience jumped up and screamed “Anthony no!” And I was falling to the floor and I was like “I am going to do this forever” and that was it after that I gave up everything and focused on acting

Great, that’s great following your dream.

Anthony: Yeah, yeah, yeah

Awesome, so how long are you here in Australia for?

Anthony: 4 days. 2 here and 2 in Sydney

Okay, so fly in fly out is it.

Anthony: Lot of…mighty milk, mighty mix, mighty…

Mighty?

Anthony: Chocolate, chocolate… vegemite! Lot of vegemite yummy. If someone says “mite” in Australia it is vegemite.

Vegemite, yeah we’ve got Promite too. 

We don’t talk about it [laughs]

Have you tried it?

Anthony: I have, I love how apologetic you are already [laughs]

It’s like an acquired taste, see we’ve grown up by eating it.

Anthony: How do you acquire it, I feel like that’s one of the things, like when you do something bad as a kid your mom’s like “here’s the Vegemite, eat it!” Like with us it’s Castro Oil.  When I was kid, my Mum used to like “there, Castro Oil!” and I would never do that again, so now I am going to take some Vegemite back to the states so every time my kids do something bad I am going to be like “Vegemite and toast!”

Yeah…you will have the best behaved kids on the planet. So I grew up eating it, so I’m used to it.

Anthony: So you like it?

Yeah but I rarely eat it, I say I like it but I don’t really eat it.

Anthony: When you travel do you take some with you?

No I don’t.

Anthony: You sure?

I am sure!

Anthony: Have you ever thought about it?

No, I haven’t.

Anthony: Okay, alright okay I believe you, I believe you.

I am more of a fan of Promite to be honest. 

Anthony: We got to find Promite today, we got to find Promite today…alright I am going to find some pro… Promite is the English one, right?

I think Marmite.

Anthony: Marmite! There is a lot of ‘mites, so it’s Promite, is it chocolate…chocolate-looking as well?

It’s chocolate looking yeah. It’s a lot more … like Vegemite is kind of…

Anthony: Salty?

Very salty, yes. But it’s like hard, whereas Promite is kind of…

Anthony: ….Soupy?

Like soupy, yes… it’s more spreadable.

Anthony: Is it the same taste?

No is different taste. It’s not that salty. It doesn’t taste like Vegemite.

Anthony: So it does not taste like…balls?

It doesn’t taste like balls, no. 

Anthony: [laughs] Okay good. It’s like some guy been in gym for 2 hours, it’s like balls after a marathon.

See now I am never going to eat vegemite again. [Anthony laughs]. My partner eats vegemite and now I’m gonna be like “do you like the taste of balls”?

Anthony: [laughs] There you go there, balls after a marathon.

Well thank you so much for talking to me it’s been a pleasure.

Anthony: Thank you!

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