Copyright ©2010 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

Here's an actor to keep your eye on: Anthony Mackie. In "The Hurt Locker," he was the tightly wound sergeant butting heads with a fellow soldier in his bomb deposal unit.

(Soundbite of movie, "The Hurt Locker")

Mr. JEREMY RENNER (Actor): (as Sergeant First Class William James) That wasn't too bad, first time working together. What do you think?

Mr. ANTHONY MACKIE (Actor): (as Sergeant JT Sanborn) Huh. I think us working together means I talk to you, and you talk to me.

Mr. RENNER: (as Sergeant First Class William James) We going on a date, Sanborn?

Mr. MACKIE: (as Sergeant JT Sanborn) No. We're going on a mission. And my job is to keep you safe so we can keep going on missions.

Mr. RENNER: (as Sergeant First Class William James) It's combat, buddy. Hey, it's just 39 days.

Mr. MACKIE: (as Sergeant JT Sanborn) Thirty-eight, if we survive today.

INSKEEP: Since "The Hurt Locker," Mackie has gone on to other films, and the latest is in art house theaters now. It's called "Night Catches Us."

NPR's Neda Ulaby interviewed the actor in New York, where he's living part-time.

NEDA ULABY: I asked Anthony Mackie's agent if we could meet someplace special to him. We ended up at his favorite bar, where he was playful with the doorman.

Mr. MACKIE: Easy, don't call security.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Man #1: How are you? Good to see you.

Mr. MACKIE: Come and get some sangria.

ULABY: The place, Fig and Olive, is elegant, airy, tucked on a side street in the Meatpacking District. The people who run it sometimes let Mackie live a fantasy.

Mr. MACKIE: I've always wanted to be a bartender, so I started hanging out with my friends here. I'd go, and they'd let me get behind the bar and bartend.

ULABY: On screen, Mackie is playing a very different role. In the movie "Night catches Us," he's a former Black Panther. The film is set in the mid 1970s, and Mackie's character is suspected by everyone in his splintered Philadelphia neighborhood of informing to the FBI.

(Soundbite of movie, "Night catches Us")

Unidentified Man #2: I got a message from the brothers.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACKIE: (as Marcus Washington) They sent you?

Unidentified Man #2: Things have changed, snitch. I'm in charge now.

Mr. MACKIE: (as Marcus Washington) Got everybody fooled, huh? Go home.

ULABY: Mackie was drawn to this tiny, low-budget movie because it explores a moment in black history neglected by Hollywood. And he loved its richly regretful main character. He's a revolutionary disillusioned by the Panthers' collapse.

Mr. MACKIE: You know, you build this beautiful house of smoke and mirrors and cards, and then it just crumbles. And that's - I'm kind of in the place of rebuilding that crumbled card house.

ULABY: "Night Catches Us" got a lot of positive buzz when it opened at Sundance last year. It's the first film from director Tanya Hamilton. She says Mackie brought understated torment and fury to the role.

Ms. TANYA HAMILTON (Director, "Night Catches Us"): But the fury's very tempered, you know, and something that Mackie does really well. You know that there's warning under the surface. You know that the edge is so palpable and real, and yet he doesn't have to raise his voice. It's all in his eyes.

ULABY: It meant everything for this first-time filmmaker to work with such a seasoned veteran. Mackie's only 31 years old, but he's been directed by the likes of Clint Eastwood and Jonathan Demme.

Ms. HAMILTON: He kind of held my hand a little bit.

ULABY: Tanya Hamilton's two leads, Anthony Mackie and Kerry Washington, have co-starred before in Spike Lee's "She Hate Me." Still, when it came time to direct their love scene, Tanya Hamilton got nervous.

Ms. HAMILTON: Both of them said, okay, just step back. Here's how you do it. And they were, like, you go here. You go here. You know, on the chair, on the floor. That was, I think, how generous he was as an actor, to give me these little pieces that I didn't have.

ULABY: But Mackie is part of a lineage of artists dedicated to bringing intelligent, black stories to the screen. He's been mentored since high school by the actor Wendell Pearce, who played Bunk on "The Wire." Both are from New Orleans. When Mackie was 14, Pearce visited his school.

Mr. MACKIE: And I'd never seen this broad, statuesque black man in a pure white linen suit. Ever since then, I've just kind of been like running behind him, like I was a rabbit and he had a carrot in his butt.

ULABY: Mackie says Pearce is one of the forces who shaped his career. Another is his dad, who worked in construction.

Mr. MACKIE: Backwoods Louisiana, he didn't make it out of eight-grade.

ULABY: Anthony Mackie's dad died tragically during Hurricane Katrina. When Mackie was growing up, his summers were spent working on roofs with his dad mopping tar.

Mr. MACKIE: My dad would pay me by how many squares of shingles I could put down, and this was before nail guns, when we couldn't afford nail guns. So literally, you're walking across a roof all day, hundred-degree heat. And my dad would be like: You like this work? I would say, I hate it. And he would be like, well, that's why you have to go to college. And I'm like, you don't have to worry about me.

ULABY: One of Mackie's brothers went to law school. Another became a professor of engineering. Mackie went to Julliard - Wendell Pearce's alma mater. He got a work-study scholarship with the school's physical plant.

At first, he struggled. He even got put on probation after his first year. But he pulled himself together. Soon, he was outpacing his classmates. He starred in an off-off Broadway play before graduating. And when he did graduate, director Curtis Hansen cast Mackie as Eminem's enemy in the 2002 movie "8 Mile."

Mr. MACKIE: "8 Mile" was one of those things, I was a deer in headlights. You know, I showed up to set and Curtis Hansen was like, do this. And I was like, dude, I have no idea what you're talking about.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MACKIE: So we're on set, and I'm supposed to play a rapper, and there are all these real rappers on set. So I was like, I have to beef my machismo up. I can't let these dudes pump me. You know, 'cause people were saying this crazy stuff, like you don't deserve to be in this movie. You ain't real. So I was like, oh, I'm real - grrr. You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Papa Doc Battle It's Great")

EMINEM (Rapper): (Rapping) I put a hole in your head like a 12-gauge. Looking like Kris Kross jiggity jump your (bleep) on stage...

ULABY: These days, the project that's keeping Mackie's cell phone ringing is not a movie. It's his own bar. He's opening one in Bed-Stuy, New York. Guess who's building the furniture?

Mr. MACKIE: I built a counter like this, 16-feet long. I built 24-inch by 20-inch two tops. That's my therapy. I bought a saw. I bought a router, bought all my bits. So now I just go around the neighborhood, find wood, make it into stuff

ULABY: I'm processing of this guy in Academy Award-winning movies...

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: ...scavenging.

The bar should open next year. Mackie lives in Bed-Stuy and New Orleans, where his girlfriend stays with their son. He says when he's back in New Orleans, there's one chore he will never do.

Mr. MACKIE: If there's a leak on my roof today, I never - I don't care. I'll burn the house down before I get on the roof.

(Soundbite of laughter)

ULABY: In the next year, Anthony Mackie's slate of films includes one with Matt Damon, called "The Adjustment Bureau," based on a Philip K. Dick short story.

More than anything, he'd love to play Jesse Owens, the Olympic athlete who defied Hitler. He's got a script. He's looking for a producer.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

INSKEEP: You know, you can find a review of Anthony Mackie's new film "Night Catches Us" at npr.org.

Don, I can give you a review right now, because I saw it the other day.

DON GONYEA, host:

Yes.

INSKEEP: Oh, you got a sense on the radio here of his presence. He's really got a great presence on screen, as well. It's a good movie. Good movie.

It's MORNING EDITION, from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.

GONYEA: And I'm Don Gonyea.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.