MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we'd like to learn more about a rising star whom you probably already know from supporting, but meaty roles, in films like "8 Mile" and the Oscar winners, "Million Dollar Baby" and "The Hurt Locker."
But now, Anthony Mackie tries out the Hollywood blockbuster. He's heading to the Marvel universe alongside costar Chris Evans in the new action film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER")
FALCON: Hey, Cap. I found those bad guys you were talking about.
CAPTAIN AMERICA: You OK?
FALCON: I'm not dead yet.
MARTIN: That was Anthony Mackie as the Falcon. He's also known as Sam Wilson. He's a former military paratrooper skilled in air combat. He teams up with Captain America and the Black Widow to unravel a new conspiracy and face the legendary assassin known as the Winter Soldier. And Anthony Mackie joins us now to talk about his latest role on some of his other projects. He's with us now from our bureau in New York. Anthony Mackie, welcome. Congratulations on everything.
ANTHONY MACKIE: Yay. You're supposed to have like, the fake audio clap button that you hit.
MARTIN: No, no fake here. This is NPR. A, we couldn't afford it, B, we don't do fake. So, you're just too much time in front of the green screen. I think you think we can all conjure up - well, congratulations. It's not enough...
MACKIE: Thank you.
MARTIN: ...My congratulations aren't sufficient?
MACKIE: No, that's so much more than a fake clap. Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.
MARTIN: You know, I was digging into prepare for this conversation and talking to my colleagues just here in the office, I was learning how much this character means to so many people.
I mean, he was the first African American superhero in mainstream comics. He was the first superhero of color to get his own action figure. A co-headliner with Captain America, you know, not the black friend sidekick, but kind of a coequal player. Did you know any - all this before you started shooting this?
MACKIE: I found out a lot about the Falcon once I got cast in the role. The interesting thing about the character is he kind of is the embodiment of what African American culture is in this country throughout the course of his comic book life. He was first introduced in 1969, and he was a hustler in Harlem.
You know, and if you look African American culture at that time, you know, we were coming out of the war, we had a lot of stuff going on with us where we were trying to figure out how to move on as a people from desegregation and things like that. And then, if you look at his second incarnation, late '70s, they moved him to LA, and he was a pimp drug dealer. And that was in the midst of the black exploitation period. So basically, they took what we consider to be a strong black figure and made this, you know, comic book hero, this action hero, him.
MARTIN: So what did you like about the role and why did you want to do it?
MACKIE: I feel like Marvel has a way of bringing a level of humanity to all their characters. I think superheroes are superheroes, but a superhero with flaws and failures and disappointments makes him human and relatable. I wanted to be part of the continuing evolution of the film industry.
I feel like if you look at, it used to be date night where older people, parents, grandparents would go to the movies and watch a movie on the weekends and things like that. People would dress up to go to the movies. But now it's more of a kid-friendly, youth-friendly medium where parents don't go to the movies, they watch Netflix and send their kids to the movies. So I feel like in order to evolve as an actor in this business of film, you have to be able to grow with the continuously evolving market.
MARTIN: Oh, and you just want to wear the spandex, come on.
MACKIE: And I wanted spandex from head to toe. Spandex it, all spandex, everything.
MARTIN: You wanted to show off your cut. You wanted to show off the six pack, come on.
MACKIE: Well, I mean, I worked out - I worked out for six months before this movie, so I made it very clear to them that if I'm going to get six months in a gym, I want everybody to know I was in the gym.
MARTIN: All right, well, congratulations. I think they do. I think they do. But the fact is, you know, you are a Julliard trained actor and you have made your mark in the kinds of films that may not be on, you know, 500 screens, but that people remember and that they talk about for years afterward.
And you've also been part of some very important plays on and off Broadway. I'm just wondering, what does this mean to you in terms of your career? Do you feel like this is something that - is it just fun to do? Is it necessary to do? Is it - do you know what I mean? Where does this fit in to how you see yourself?
MACKIE: No, it's - it's monumental for me because when I started in this business, I said I wanted to be a superhero and I wanted to do a Western, preferably with Clint Eastwood. When Morgan Freeman took my role in "Unforgiven," I was like, you know, it leaves me with a superhero, so I kind of chased it and went after it. And, you know, my career started with an independent movie called, "Brother to Brother" that we made for like $150,000 in Harlem with just a group of actors and great director.
And from that, I went to a movie that nobody thought would succeed called "8 Mile." And from that I did small roles in larger films and, you know, even my two successful movies, you know, "Hurt Locker" and "Half Nelson" were both independent movies. So I've kind of forged my way through this business unorthodoxly. Very early on in my career I was up for a role that was the lead of a very important movie. If I would have got it, I think it would have stalled my career and I wouldn't be where I am today. I'm glad I've had the 30 some odd movies that I've had to do to get to this point. And I'm very lucky that my representation gave me the opportunity to take that 12 years and do those 30 some odd movies so when I got this opportunity, I was ready for it.
MARTIN: You are so busy. And how...
MACKIE: Well, if you don't work, you don't eat.
MARTIN: I hear you. But how do you - and as I understand it, you have a, kind of an entrepreneurial background. I mean, your dad - you grow up in New Orleans, do I have it right?
MARTIN: And then your dad was a roofer and your mom...
MACKIE: My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I have a brother who's a motivational speaker...
MARTIN: Motivational, yeah, so you kind of...
MACKIE: ...I have a brother who owns a restaurant in New - a bar restaurant in New Orleans. And I have three sisters, so I come from a very large family.
MARTIN: But entrepreneurial...
MARTIN: I mean, like people kind of making their own luck, as it were, right?
MACKIE: Very much so, very much so.
MARTIN: How do you go about creating your own career? Picking your roles?
MACKIE: It's all about taste. I don't live outside my means, therefore my representatives don't have to stick me in movies that we know are a long shot to be good. There's no one who has representation that's better than mine - how I feel, because I look at other people's careers and I see the stuff that I turned down that they do that stalls their career. So I'm very fortunate that I'm not a fly-by-night situation for my representatives so I don't have to do that stuff.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with actor Anthony Mackie. He plays the Falcon in the new film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." So can we talk about the film for a minute because...
MARTIN: ...People are going to be jazzed by the technology. But there are also a lot of ideas in the film. And I hope it doesn't sound pretentious when I say that, but the film really does ask some tough questions.
MACKIE: This movie picks up where "The Avengers" left off. Cap leaves New York, comes to D.C., and basically tries to figure out how he fits into modern society. And he meets with Nick Fury through S.H.I.E.L.D. and he starts to work with S.H.I.E.L.D. at the top of the film and then he meets me and we become friends through this solidarity of soldier kindredship. He's just come back from war, I've come back from war. He lost a kindred spirit in war, I lost a kindred spirit in war.
And we bond through the idea of what now is our reality? Which I've seen from a lot of soldiers who've come back from war and I've fortunately had the opportunity of talking to a lot of them since I know so many since "Hurt Locker" and things like that. But the movie really deals with the ideas, how do you keep society safe when the bad guys have more liberties? It raises questions about the whole government reading e-mails.
It raises questions about, you know, how much about your personal life should the government be able to look into? It raises the whole big brother question. What is social freedom? What is individual access? What is that?
MARTIN: And what's the price of freedom?
MARTIN: What price are you willing to pay for your freedom and security?
MACKIE: And sacrifice...
MARTIN: And sacrifice, yeah.
MACKIE: ...I mean, if you look at it, you know, it's funny you bring up the stuff that I did and where I am in my career. My representatives went after this role for 5 years before I got it. I mean, we literally e-mailed Marvel every six months for 5 years.
MACKIE: Because I wanted to be in a Marvel movie. And we knew that the rate in which my career was going, that sooner or later they were going to be making a movie that I would be right for. So it's better to send a shot across the bow to let them know we mean business, than to wait and be retroactive and have them find us.
We're going to let them know we're here. And I think that's kind of what Steve Rogers deals with in this movie, taking initiative with your ploy on how to control your life. You know, he's a pawn for S.H.I.E.L.D. and he turns it around to where he makes S.H.I.E.L.D. his pawn. And I think that's something in this film that a lot of movies - a lot of directors don't have the cojones to deal with.
MARTIN: Well, congratulations. Hopefully you'll come back and see us now that you're big and major. You know, you're the Falcon.
MACKIE: I'm just a superhero from New Orleans.
MARTIN: Before we let you go, I read a quote from you in one interview saying you don't think you could be a superhero in real life. Instead, you'd be the bad guy. And if you could actually fly, it would be a big problem for everybody involved. I have a hard time - what is - what's up with that? You seem like a pretty nice guy.
MACKIE: I'm definitely a nice guy. I'm a pushover. But I would love to be a bad guy. There's nothing more fun, nothing more easy. I would sleep well every night knowing that I'm a bad guy.
MARTIN: All right, bad guy. Anthony Mackie plays the Falcon in the new film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." It opens today. And he joined us from our bureau in New York. Congratulations, continued success to you. Come back and see us.
MACKIE: Thank you so much for having me. I appreciate it.