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Celebrity interview: Anthony Mackie is the “black friend” of Hollywood

Jenna Milly is a screenwriter. She co-created the TBS microseries "Gillian in Georgia." She earned her B.A. in Journalism from the University of Georgia and a M.F.A. in Screenwriting from UCLAs School of Theater, Film and Television. She...

Real Steel is just the beginning

With a recent rise to fame, actor Anthony Mackie is reaping the benefits of being everybody's new best friend.


Real Steel is just the beginning

in a vampire movie

SheKnows: Can you talk a little about your upcoming role in Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter?

Anthony Mackie: I play Abraham Lincoln. [laughs] No, Abraham Lincoln's best friend was this guy named William H. Johnson. They grew up together. He was a freed man of color. His father worked on a plantation with Abraham Lincoln's father. When Abraham Lincoln went to law school and became a politician, he hired William H. Johnson as his caddy, chauffeur and bodyguard. They went down to Gettysburg, to give the Gettysburg's address, on the way back he died. Abraham Lincoln took money out of his own pocket and had him buried in Arlington Cemetery and on his headstone, it read, "William H. Johnson, Citizen."

SheKnows: Why was it important for you to play this character?

Anthony Mackie: I'm excited by the idea of people going back and reading about who he was and how he contributed to this country's history. He was an amazing man. He was the original pilgrim in African American culture today.

SheKnows: Had you heard about this project before getting involved?

Anthony Mackie: I read the book, just because I thought it was such a ridiculous concept. When I read it, I was really blown away with the idea of resurfacing of the history. I feel like the educational system in America is still on a factory setting. Kids go home and they play with their iPads and 3D plasma craziness, and then you go to school, and it's some old lady with a chalkboard. Nothing against old ladies – I love old ladies – but how am I supposed to learn when I'm going home and all my sensors are being overloaded? Then, I come to school and I want to take a nap. So, I feel like if you can reinvent our history to make people go back and read about it because they are interested in it. I think that's a way to get everybody involved. And, I'd rather have some cool-ass vampires as opposed to some of these other vampires we're watching… [laughs] 

Going toe-to-toe with Ryan Gosling and Sean Penn

SheKnows: Can you talk about your other project, Gangster Squad, with Ryan Gosling, Josh Brolin and Sean Penn? What's it like to do a period piece in the gangster era?

Anthony Mackie: I love the 1940s/1950s of American history. I think guys wore great hats. Women were size 10s. You had amazing cars. That was the beginning of the American muscle period. It was just an amazing time in this country. And, I feel like the gangsters, like Al Capone, coming along at that time, were fascinating fictional characters. Who would take over a city? Really? If you tried to do that today, really.

SheKnows: You're becoming quite the superstar, several movies out recently and coming up. Was this planned?

Anthony Mackie: No. [laughs] The idea is to just to quality work. I feel like a lot of people don't get it. If you associate yourself with good things, only good things will be said about you.

SheKnows: Being black, is it uncomfortable to step back into the '40s or '50s, to an era where African Americans often had to look down to survive? Do you have discussions about how your character would act, being that life was different or more restricted at the time?

Anthony Mackie: It depends on what part of that time period you're looking into. I think if you're looking at the '40s and '50s, there was also an element of people who were not looking away or looking down. I think there was an element of pride. There was an element of community. There was an element of steadfast growth within a group of people that we don't have today. I think when you look back at that time period, we can all learn from it. When you Google what the Black Panther party was doing. If you Google what Medgar Evers or Thurgood Marshall, if you Google black Wall Street… At that period, from the early 1900s to the mid 1900s, it was a cultural explosion.

On Christopher Walken

SheKnows: You were in a play with Christopher Walken, and it's known that when people are working with him, other actors do impressions of him. Did you partake?

Anthony Mackie: You fall into it. We all found ourselves during the course of the play, doing some bad Christopher Walken.

SheKnows: Can we hear your impression?

Anthony Mackie: I can't. I'm too ethnic. I try, but it just ends up turning into James Earl Jones and Billy Dee Williams. It's really weird. I did it and he was like, "You are awful."

On the great Eddie Murphy

Eddie Murphy is the Academy Awards host >>

SheKnows: Were you a big fan of Eddie Murphy when you were a kid?

Anthony Mackie: I loved Eddie Murphy. My favorite actor of all time, up until 1992… 

SheKnows: What happened in 1992?

Anthony Mackie: I don't know. [laughs] Actually, after 1996. Harlem Nights was '89. Yeah, '92.

SheKnows: What do you think about him hosting the Oscars?

Anthony Mackie: I think it's great. Eddie Murphy is like one of the last icons in Hollywood. I think he's given us so much from Saturday Night Live until now that it's only fitting that he would host the Oscars. It's about time that we give Eddie some shine. We should.

Man on a ledge

Real Steel is just the beginning

Sam Worthington goes criminal in Man on a Ledge  >>

SheKnows: Can you talk about your role in Man on a Ledge with Sam Worthington?

Anthony Mackie: I'm the black friend. Seriously, Man on a Ledge is with Sam Worthington, and it's about this guy who is basically trying to prove his innocence and he goes out on a ledge of a hotel to set up the whole scene so that he can get the press and the attention of everyone so he can prove his innocence. He has a girlfriend, and he has a black friend. And he has a brother. We all try to help him free his name and get off the ledge. Much like the other Australian guy's movie called The Ledge. His friend was Terrance Howard, though. Not as black, but… [laughs]

SheKnows: Isn't having a black friend and a brother a little redundant?

Anthony Mackie: No, no no, see that's the thing. You can have a sibling as well as a brother. You understand what I'm saying. Like Serena Williams and Venus Williams. They're sisters, but they're also siblings. [laughs]

Photos courtesy: Wenn, DreamWorks.

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