Anthony Mackie on Making Triple 9 vs Getting Pampered by Marvel

Not many actors can claim they’ve played Tupac Shakur and Martin Luther King Jr. In fact only one can. Since his debut in 2002’s 8 Mile, Anthony Mackie has been quietly taking over Hollywood. With almost 50 feature films now under his belt, his credits range from prestigious Oscar winners like Million Dollar Baby and Hurt Locker, to his reoccurring Avenger role as Falcon, to studio comedies like last year’s The Night Before.

The Juilliard-trained actor’s latest film, Triple 9, is a gritty crime flick in which Mackie plays one of several dirty cops involved in a high stakes heist. John Hillcoat directs this ensemble piece with Mackie costarring alongside Casey Affleck, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Clifton Collins Jr., Aaron Paul, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson.

Dork Shelf had a chance to sit down with Mackie to discuss how making something like Triple 9 is different from a Marvel movie, how things almost got too real on set, what makes him want to fight, and a new movement he’s seeing among young black actors in Hollywood.

There’s a real gritty 70s cop movie vibe in Triple 9. Did John Hillcoat discuss influences with the actors or show you any films? 

When we first talked about the movie his big thing was The French Connection. That was a big big influence on what he was wanting to do with this movie. And Heat. Those two. The thing I love about this movie and what he was so diligent on wanting to set up was those first ten minutes. When you go through that first heist it sets you up for the rest of this movie. It’s like being on a roller coaster. When you’re going up that first drop, that ‘tink tink tink’, that’s how that first heist is, and when you go over the cliff it just runs non stop til the end. That’s what we were working towards and I think he achieved it beautifully. 

That was an incredible opening scene. What was it like to shoot? 

It was fun at the beginning, then it just turned into fucking hell. We’re actors, it’s hot outside, we got a damn mask on, we don’t have to do this shit, get a stunt man! But John deliberately did that because he wanted to set up the energy for the rest of the movie. I think knowing that it’s us in those coats and skullies actually plays a very important role in that scene. All that was fun, it turned to shit when we get in the van and they decide to release this red smoke. So we’re like cool, it’s red smoke, we have masks on, so it’s masks and smoke so get us out of the van! Na. We’re in the van all day. The guy’s coming up to us are like ‘it’s just red vapours so it’s fine’. We’re puking… eyes red. It was awful. Every time we’d come out he’d just laugh at us “Haha. We have to do it again.” It was bad but I think it looks dope. I just never want to do it again.

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So a little different from working on a Marvel movie. 

The Marvel world is more a family atmosphere. It’s definitely much larger but we have so much fun making those movies it never feels like you’re going to work. I have a great stunt man and every time I try to do my stunts they laugh at me tell me how awful I look. They put my stunt man in and he fucking kills it every time. With this it was different because it was like that but on a smaller scale. On this movie, you have a budget, on a Marvel movie you don’t have a budget. They’re both still action movies but with something like Triple 9 what’s so great is it’s more of a character driven piece and the Marvel movies are more of a story driven piece because they intertwine movie to movie. That’s the only difference, but I love to be pampered on my Marvel movies, I love to be patted on the back, I love the ice cream breaks. I love all that shit, but on Triple 9 it was more about getting to work.

Hillcoat is clearly striving for a certain level of realism here, what were some methods used on set to achieve that level of believability? 

He went as far as to have gang unit cops, actual SWAT cops, actual ex military guys on set. He wanted to be so authentic he got all real gang members to be background. The messed up part was one day we had rival gangs on set. The gang unit captain comes over and he’s like “you guys have the wrong dudes on set together”. The guys are literally on opposite sides of the set like “he said what?!”, it was coming to head really fast. Luckily the fine gentlemen and women of the Atlanta police department took care of it and separated everybody and made sure one gang was shooting at one time, they left and the other gang was shooting late in the day, and everything was cool.

So while things like making you be the guys in the van with the masks and the smoke and having real gang members on set help you get into character, what can take you out of a scene while you’re on set? 

I don’t do well with negative people. I don’t do well with “I’m a celebrity”, that shit makes me want to fight. So luckily I tend to work with people who are over themselves. The great thing about this movie, we had academy award nominated actors, we academy award winning actors, and everybody was just making a movie. Those Academy awards were great, those Emmy awards were great, those SAG awards were great, but they’re not on set in this movie. Everybody was really just cool and everybody was there to go on this ride that John was taking us on. Which, outside of Marvel, I never ever experience that. I can’t do the “do you know I am?” thing, or “do you remember my last movie” thing, that just makes me want to fight. Dude, you put your pants on the same way. 

It’s never come to that though? 

Uh, it’s… you know, it makes me want to fight. (laughs) 

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You’ve shown up in such a wide array of movies over the last decade and a half, do people often have a tough time pinning down what they recognize you from? 

When The Wire was on TV, the joke was I was the most famous person on The Wire who was never on The Wire. This great actor who played Marlo, his name is Jamie Hector. Jamie and I are really good friends, it got to the point where I was out and people would stop me and I’d just take pictures as him and do all this shit and people would Tweet “Oh Jamie Hector’s such an asshole and he did this…” and I’m like “gotcha!”  Now because of the whole Iron Man thing I get Don Cheadle like once a day.

Does stuff like that make black actors competitive or add to the camaraderie? 

I don’t think there’s so much of a competition. I think there’s a huge understanding because we know how hard it is for us to be working in this business. When I first got in it the competition between black actors was cutthroat. It was crazy. You’d go to an audition and guys would just mean-mug you in the room. But now with there being so much work and so many actors working, the competition aspect of it is gone. At least I don’t feel it. Maybe I’m just fucking friendly and stupid (laughs). For me more so it’s the creation of content aspect of it that’s more important to us. 

There’s been a movement within young black actors, you see it with Nate Parker and his new movie that just was at Sundance, Birth of a Nation, there’s a movement of creation of content, telling our stories, creating our own characters, that’s becoming huge right now. That takes the competition aspect out of it. Because, fuck, I wanna work with Nate Parker as a director, I want him to direct me and I wanna act with him! I think that’s where the young, black Hollywood movement is going, if I could call it a movement. It might just be a bunch of young dudes hanging out.

All of my friends who are actors, who are young and black, that’s the conversations that we have now because Hollywood’s not telling their stories like they were before. If you look at the early 2000s and the 90s and the 80s, there were a litany of black stars. You had Wesley Snipes, you had Jim Brown, Robert Townsend, all these dudes were starring in movies and the movies were making money. You had a whole fifteen year span where Morris Chestnut and Vivica Fox was in every damn movie that came out. Now you don’t have that, you don’t have that black male love interest. The guy that all the women are like ‘shiit’. You don’t have that dude, and we’ve always had that guy. If they make Beverly Hills Cop right now, who’s that young Eddie Murphy guy? Hollywood’s not making that guy, so it’s something that we have to make for ourselves.

Is there a particular film you were in or performance you gave you feel is overlooked or that you’re proudest of?

I did this movie, a football movie which I just love and I never thought it got the attention it deserved. It’s We Are Marshall. I watch that movie and I’m like “I’m really fucking good in this movie. Way to go Anthony” (laughs). Every time it’s on TV I’m like “yes!” Just having been to Marshall, that little town in West Virginia, and knowing how that crash effected that community and that school, it was just a really important movie to me and Nate Ruffin was a really important man in bringing that school back to where it is today. So honouring him by doing a good job as him, it’s like my one little pat on the back. Call it whatever, arrogant, I don’t care, I was fucking good in that movie (laughs) and McConaughey was good, everybody was good in that movie. 

Read our review of Triple 9 here.