(LEFT TO RIGHT): ANTHONY MACKIE, BROOKE SHIELDS, JENNIFER ANISTON, AND DAVID CROSS IN THE 24 HOUR PLAYS ON BROADWAY, 2009. PHOTO COURTESY OF WIREIMAGE.
“If I become famous, I’ll remount Fences on Broadway and buy out the Wednesday matinees so kids can come and see the play. And I’ll buy them ice cream,” actor Anthony Mackie told Interview in 2004.
While most famous for his film roles, theater remains the Julliard-trained actor’s favorite medium. Tonight he will take the stage as part of Montblanc’s 12th annual 24 Hour Plays on Broadway, a charitable event in support of the Urban Arts Partnership and the promotion of the arts in underserved schools. It is not Mackie’s first time participating. “I heard about the Urban Arts Partnership through a friend of mine… and once you do it, you definitely want to do it again, ” he explains.
Amidst a cast including Sam Rockwell, Gabourey Sidibe, Olivia Wilde, and various SNL alumni, Mackie seems particularly suited to tonight’s task. With a series of high-profile films due out in 2013 and 2014, Mackie’s famous enough to entice the public; and critics love to gush about his dramatic turns in as Eminem’s rapping rival in 8 Mile (2002), a gay teen in Brother to Brother (2004), Tupac Shakur in the play Up Against the Wind and the film Notorious (2009), a local dealer in Half Nelson (2006), and a bomb-squad soldier in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winning Hurt Locker (2008). Perhaps Mackie’s biggest asset, however, is his mischievous, gleeful humor. Mackie is the sort of man who relishes in describing his co-stars as “the most delicious little petit four I could ever experience in my life… [a] little vanilla mocha fudge blossom” (Ryan Gosling), having “the ass of 25-year-old black woman” (Channing Tatum), and “a guy you just want to smack around” (Chris Evans). It is this sort of blithesome spirit that you want an actor to have on hand in a fast-paced, semi-improvised production.
Here, Interview and Mackie discuss how you put on a play in 24 hours, the difference between art school and “regular school” girls, standing up to Spike Lee, hanging out with Robert Pattinson, and his current superhero diet for his role as Falcon in the Captain America sequel.
ANTHONY MACKIE: Hi Emma, how are you?
EMMA BROWN: Fine, thanks. How are you?
MACKIE: I’m good, good, good. Can’t be bad.
BROWN: Are you in New York?
MACKIE: Oh no, who’s in New York? I’m in New Orleans. Friends don’t let friends be in New York at this time.
BROWN: Yes, not a good time.
MACKIE: No, not at all. And I don’t do well in the snow, so…
BROWN: You’ve done the 24 Hour Plays four or five times before.
MACKIE: Yeah, I think it’s five times. Let’s say five.
BROWN: Is that enough to make you a regular? I know some people do it every year.
MACKIE: I think I’m a veteran. [laughs] I’m trying to do it every year. I’m trying to get them to let me do the one in LA and London, but they’re trying to keep me pigeonholed in New York.
BROWN: The one in London is so great, at the Old Vic.
MACKIE: I know, I know, that’s why I want to do it! I feel like anytime you’ve done more than five, you should be able to call the shots on which ones you want to do.
BROWN: How did you get involved the first time?
MACKIE: I was at a theater event and someone came up to me and just started talking about it. I heard about the Urban Arts Partnership through a friend of mine, and they called and asked me if I wanted to do it, and I was like, “Sure.” And once you do it, you definitely want to do it again.
BROWN: Did you ever do that sort of thing at Julliard, write and perform a play within 24 hours?
MACKIE: No, not within 24 hours, though we wrote and performed a lot of stuff. Julliard was one of those places that appreciated and encouraged spontaneous performance.
BROWN: Is there a hazing process for new people joining the 24 Hour Plays?
MACKIE: No, not at all. The people who have done it a lot, we always welcome the new people, because we know how nerve-wracking it is the first time you do it.
BROWN: Do you have any advice to offer to actors performing in the Plays for their first time?
MACKIE: Practice your improv more than learn your lines. [laughs] ‘Cause there’s no way you’ll be able to learn all those lines in such a short time. You have to realize what you know and what you don’t know—and what you don’t know, just come up with three alternate lines or improv that you can put in that spot.
BROWN: Do the plays ever deviate completely from the script?
MACKIE: Not at all. Actually, surprisingly enough, because they cast such tremendous actors, everyone takes is very seriously. So everyone focuses on learning their lines and giving it to the show and doing everything they can do to make it work.
BROWN: When do you find out which play you’re going to be in and who you’re going to work with? Do they pick it out of a hat?
MACKIE: When we all show up Sunday night, and we introduce ourselves and we bring a prop, and we say what we would love to do in a play. Then the writers go away to the hotel and write overnight. That’s when we come back in the morning and the directors are given the plays, and the directors kind of lobby and veto and pick who they want in their shows. So it’s definitely a congressional caucus style, ’cause they’re filibustering everybody.
BROWN: Oh, that sounds sort of awful, like teams in middle school.
MACKIE: [laughs] It’s all good. People fight for their regulars. It gets dirty sometimes. You know, some writers want certain actors to do their play, so they’ll write specifically for that purpose and work with the director to get that person in their play. So it can get tricky. If you have a friend that’s directing, nine times out of 10, you’ll be in your friend’s play.
BROWN: Do you have any friends directing this year?
MACKIE: Not that I know of. I haven’t looked at the directors’ list, [but] I haven’t heard from anybody.
BROWN: What is the most recent play you’ve seen?
MACKIE: I was in California and I saw Two Trains Running. It was a great production. Do you remember the TV show Night Court? There’s this older—I guess older now—actor who was on this TV show Night Court in the ’80s. He was in this play and he blew my mind, and he made me realize how good actors used to have to be to make a living at what we do.
BROWN: You think that’s not true anymore?
MACKIE: I don’t think it’s as true as it used to be.
BROWN: Because there are more acting opportunities and television shows now? Or because viewers have become more focused on looks?
MACKIE: I think there’s definitely fewer television shows [now]; it’s just that audiences are more prone to want to see a person play a character, as opposed to seeing a good show. There were no stars in those old shows, there were just a bunch of great actors. That’s why the shows were so good. But now, people will watch a TV show because you put a Housewife in. It was just a different audience.
BROWN: What’s the worst thing that’s ever happened to you onstage? Do you ever forget your lines outside of the 24 Hour Plays?
MACKIE: Oh, yeah. I was doing this play at The Public, this little two-week workshop, and it was like 230 pages, and I had a line on every page. I got to the final scene of play and I realized, I had never rehearsed the final scene. Not only did I never rehearse it, I never looked at the lines. [laughs] So I was working with François [Battiste], this really good actor from Julliard, and we just improvised our way through it.
BROWN: When I told other people at the Interview offices that I was going to interview you, everyone told me that they’ve loved you ever since Half Nelson. Do you get that a lot? Do people pick out that film?
MACKIE: [laughs] Well, first of all, tell them thank you. And, funny enough, I do. I get 8 Mile, Half Nelson, and Adjustment Bureau a lot. If it’s a football fan, of course I get We Are Marshall. It just depends on where I am.
BROWN: Do you have so a favorite role to date?
MACKIE: I did this movie with Spike Lee called Sucker Free City, and that would have to be my favorite role by far. It was just so much fun to work with Spike and shoot in San Francisco. It was my first time really in California. It was just an all-around great experience.
BROWN: What was Spike Lee like to work with? I imagine him as quite intimidating, at least on the first day.
MACKIE: Not so much intimidating—he was definitely intimidating if you let him [be]. Spike is one of those guys where, once you know him, it’s easy to deal with it ’cause he’s not the mean, bossy kind of guy that he comes across [as]. He’s very cooperative, he knows how to compromise. He’s very good at compromising and working with you.
BROWN: Is he just testing you at the beginning?
MACKIE: Always. Yes, definitely, and if he can push you around, he’ll push you around. But if you put him in his place first, he won’t push you around anymore.
BROWN: In past interviews, you’ve said some nice things about your costars, like Ryan Gosling and Channing Tatum. What’s the nicest thing that a fellow cast member has said to you?
MACKIE: I don’t know. Usually when I work with someone, they don’t have too many nice things to say about me. [laughs] I don’t really read too many interviews. I think the coolest thing is, I just saw an interview with Robert Pattinson where he said he wanted to hang out with me. That’s exciting.
BROWN: Are you going to call him?
MACKIE: I am. I definitely want to do a pub-crawl with him.
BROWN: [laughs] The 24 Hour Plays are hosted by Montblanc to benefit Urban Arts, which is all about increasing access to the arts in schools that might not have the resources. I know that you went to an arts high school in New Orleans—how was it different from a regular high school?
MACKIE: Well, it’s hard sometimes when you’re in a regular high school, you just feel like the odd kid out. The great thing about going to an art school [is] it’s kind of like it’s all the odd kids. It’s all the kids that don’t fit in at their regular schools, because you’re into something and excited about something that other kids really aren’t into. It’s like being on the fencing team at a public high school. You can’t relate to anybody. When you go to art school, everybody’s kind of on the same page. And the girls aren’t as mean. Art-school girls are very nice. [laughs]
BROWN: I’ve never heard that comment before.
MACKIE: They’re very nice. Those regular-school girls? Ugh, they’re so mean.
BROWN: [laughs] Is that because they don’t think theater is cool enough?
MACKIE: It’s because the idea of what’s cool is different. When you talk to a girl who goes to regular school, what’s cool is whether or not you’ve been to jail, or if you have a car. If you talk to a girl who goes to art school, what’s cool to her is if you do art projects on the weekend with your dad, if you can build something—out-of-the-norm stuff.
BROWN: I heard that you do build things. What’s the last thing you made?
MACKIE: I built a fireplace and a mantle today. You make a fireplace: you take bricks and you pile them up, and then you take wood and surround the brick, and then you put the copings and the mantle on top of that, and then you stain it and polyurethane it.
BROWN: You can do that all in one day?
MACKIE: I did that in one day. I started at 6 a.m. and I just finished. I just had a big hole in my wall and I didn’t know what to do, so I was like, “I’ll put a fireplace in it.” Who doesn’t like a fireplace?
BROWN: You seem like an outgoing person. Are you?
MACKIE: It depends. I think you can only be outgoing when the person you’re talking to is outgoing. You know, a lot of times you’ll meet people—like when you meet a girl—[laughs] and she expects you to come up with conversation and keep her intrigued. And that’s pretty difficult. So I can be outgoing if I want to be, if you meet me halfway.
BROWN: I hear that you are on a crazy diet to prepare for playing about to play Falcon in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
MACKIE: [laughs] It’s not a crazy diet. I’m just eating six huge meals a day, like 7,000 calories, and just working out twice a day.
BROWN: That sounds crazy to me…
MACKIE: [laughs] It’s a lot of eating.
BROWN: Are you going to be huge onstage tonight?
MACKIE: No, no, no, no. You actually have to eat that much to get smaller.
MACKIE: That’s the plan, that’s the plan. A friend of mine has taken to calling me the chocolate Ryan Gosling, so that’s what I’m going for.
BROWN: You should have them write in a scene where you take off your shirt. Someone can say that your abs look airbrushed.
MACKIE: That’s what I said: no airbrushing. But definitely, every movie I do for the next two years, there’s gonna be a scene with me in my boxers. [jokingly] That’s in my contract.
THE 12TH ANNUAL 24 HOUR PLAYS ON BROADWAY TAKE PLACE TONIGHT AT THE AMERICAN AIRLINES THEATER IN NEW YORK. ANTHONY MACKIE’S NEXT FILM, GANGSTER SQUAD, COMES OUT IN JANUARY 13, 2013.