Anthony Mackie's Very Good Year
from the 12/8/04 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
At the Tribecca Film Fest and with Brother to Brother co-star Roger Robinson
Anthony Mackie is missing in action. Half an hour after our scheduled phone interview to talk about his leading
roles this year in Brother to Brother and She Hate Me there’s no sign of him. “Perhaps he’s off
drinking champagne, celebrating,” the film’s publicist hopefully offers. Which would make perfect sense as
earlier in the day Mackie had learned that he’d garnered a Best Debut Performance nomination for an
Independent Spirit Award for Brother to Brother (other nominations are for Best First Feature, Best First
Screenplay, and Best Supporting Male).
“Let’s just give it the afternoon and see if he calls,” I say to the publicist. Clearly, an actor who has played a
gay poet (in Brother to Brother), a man who impregnates 19 lesbians (in She Hate Me) and a cocky, heartless
boxer (in the upcoming Million Dollar Baby) – all in the same year – is a guy worth waiting to interview.
When my phone rings 45 minutes later Mackie, calling from New York where he’s in rehearsal for an Off
Broadway play, immediately apologizes for the delay – and begs my indulgence as he grabs some take out
Caribbean food while we talk.
WCT: First of all congratulations on the nomination.
AM: Thank you so much, thank you. There’s a lot going on.
WCT: How are you feeling about all this?
AM: It’s crazy, it’s an amazing time; it’s a good time to be me (HE LAUGHS).
WCT: You know, when I spoke to Spike Lee earlier this year when She Hate Me came out he had a lot of good
things to say about you. Right now I’d like to talk a little bit about Brother to Brother while you eat. What are
you eating by the way?
AM: I have some oxtails with yams and cabbage and peas and rice.
WCT: Oh my goodness – that is quite a feast, isn’t it?
AM: Yeah, yeah, I’m a growing boy.
WCT: I know; I saw some of that this year. (WE BOTH LAUGH) Maybe I should just jump right to that – so,
now that you’ve been openly objectified by lesbians in She Hate Me and gay men in Brother To Brother – are
you ready to become an honorary member of our tribe?
AM: (LAUGHS) Yes, you could say I’ve done my justice to gay and lesbian society.
WCT: Boy, you have absolutely carried the torch this year. You and Colin Farrell.
AM: Brother to Brother was an amazing experience. Not just because of everything that’s come out of it. You
know to start it and come back two years later and finish it – nobody expected all of this. We all were doing it
as a love project – there was no vanity involved – and I learned a lot as far as homosexuality and as far as –
not gay love – but love in general – is concerned. I learned a lot as a straight man in how to love a woman by
playing this role.
WCT: Do you know anyone who’s gone through what happens to Perry in the film? Being kicked out and
banished from their family simply for being gay?
AM: Yeah. Many people. Growing up in the South you grow up homophobic, sexist and racist. Those three
things, other than anything else, are ingrained in you. When I took on this role – a lot of my friends are gay –
and when I took on this role my homophobia was really something that I wanted to conquer by looking at it
through myself. So the role was very therapeutic for me. When I got to the part of having to kiss this guy;
having to kiss Alex Burns (WHO PLAYS HIS WHITE LOVER IN THE MOVIE) – it was a very hard moment for
me. Not for me as the actor but for me as the individual, Anthony. I had to face a lot of demons but I wanted
to do that through this role because a lot of my friends who are gay felt like I didn’t respect them as gay men.
Our relationships were suffering because of my homophobia and having looked at that and faced it head on
and dealt with it I feel like a stronger human being now and I’m glad people are recognizing that.
WCT: Absolutely. You know I didn’t realize until – maybe I had a sense of this – but when I interviewed
Spike Lee for She Hate Me he talked a lot about how homophobia is so prevalent in African-American culture.
AM: Oh without a doubt.
WCT: That whole “going on the down low” thing had just hit and he said he knew many men in that situation.
AM: It was amazing working with Spike. Not only on She Hate Me but working with him as an individual. I
learned so much from Spike that I will carry with me as an actor for the rest of my life. He just taught me so
much about humanity. Like being an actor has a lot to do with capturing the human aspect of people.
WCT: You saw a lot of that in both She Hate Me and Brother to Brother. What was the difference between
working with Spike Lee and Rodney Evans, director of Brother to Brother?
AM: It’s interesting – Spike is huge but he has a very independent style of working. It’s almost like you’re
working on a movie for $35 dollars a day cause Spike’s not given the big budget movies but at the same time I
feel that both he and Rodney were very similar because they both bring an honesty to the projects that they
do. I feel that they don’t do it unless they believe in it and when you believe in something you bring yourself
wholeheartedly to it. Spike just works so hard, too. You know, I feel like I’m a hard worker but working with
Spike was the first time in my career I felt lazy. I would come to the set and he would be there, I would leave
and he would still be there. He don’t have a trailer, he don’t have nothing. He’s just working. I’m like, “Damn
Spike, when do you rest!?”
WCT: What about Rodney Evans?
AM: The thing that I love about Rodney is that he’s very diligent about the story he wants to tell. He’s very
specific; he’s a very charismatic director. Spike is really about the actor’s process. Spike casts people
because of who you are and then directs you into the performance that he wants out of you. Whereas, Rodney
is really about actor’s creating.
WCT: How did you get involved with Brother to Brother?
AM: I was at school, at Julliard and Rodney saw me in a play and he approached me about it. He originally
approached me for the friend and then I went to him and told him that I wanted to play Perry and we
auditioned and met and it went really well.
WCT: Can you tell me a little bit about the filming?
AM: It was amazing. You know, Harlem is like a living, breathing museum. When you don’t have money you
have to improvise, you have to make things seem real and when you do that it’s that much easier for the
acting because you’re not on a set with an open roof and people yelling. Everybody was being stimulated by
everything around them. Walking down the streets of Harlem and seeing all those brownstones you felt like
you were back in the Harlem Renaissance period. And acting with Roger Robinson was a gift because he’s
such a phenomenal actor. (ROBINSON PLAYS MACKIE’S CREATIVE MENTOR IN THE FILM.)
WCT: What a heartfelt performance.
AM: And he’s such a beautiful human being and I just love him to death. Working on this project and knowing
how much I love him as a man, as Roger. Looking at him as Bruce (the character) wasn’t hard because I love
what’s already there.
WCT: That’s probably one of my favorite aspects of the movie – the mentor, generational relationship. That
his character recognizes the talent in Perry and sees that he has the gift and needs to encourage it.
AM: That was interesting to me, too. I feel like from the older generation we don’t really have that anymore.
WCT: Was there any hesitation from a commercial standpoint about taking on the role of a gay character?
AM: Of course. I mean, look at all the red states.
WE BOTH START LAUGHING HARD
WCT: Boy that was a dumb ass question. Throw that one out with the rest of the oxtail. Duh. Gee. No, I
didn't hesitate at all.
AM: (GETS SERIOUS) No, of course there was hesitation. Being homosexual is one thing but being
homosexual and black is a completely different thing because it’s something that we’ve scorned and turned
our eye upon for so long and ignored in a way. The reason I wanted to do this role is because, of course, you
do have the snap queens and you do have the drag queens and you do have all these different aspects of
homosexuality but some men just happen to be men that are gay that love and desire those things from other
men. It’s no different from a man desiring and needing love from a woman.
WCT: Well you’re preaching to the choir here. (CALLING OUT TO MY PARTNER JIM) Honey, I can’t come eat
dinner right now because I’m interviewing this really cool straight guy that “gets us.”
AM: (LAUGHS HARD) See – that’s what was so weird for me doing this movie because now I get it. I was
brought to tears many times by the aspect of humanity that Rodney gave to this character because so many
people equate homosexuality with sexuality. You know, you can’t separate the two. I had a teacher at
Julliard who was gay and his relationship with his boyfriend was something that really opened my eyes to a
different aspect of reality that I’d never experienced because they had a very loving, nurturing relationship
and I’d never allowed myself to see that before.
WCT: That’s great. So now that you have all this newfound insight and empathy maybe you can take it and
make one of those big comic book action movies. You could add some depth to one of those mainstream,
superhero roles, right?
AM: Right! When it happens, you’ll be the first to know. You know, I love what I do and I’m lucky to wake up
and be excited about my day at work. Right now I’m getting ready to do a play Off-Broadway at the
Roundabout Theatre Company. It’s called “For Reele” and it’s about this death row prisoner that’s exonerated
and because of his wealth of knowledge that he’s learned while in prison he comes out and he runs for senate
against this older, white, Republican incumbent. It’s a phenomenal piece that deals on so many levels with
morality and humanity and love and understanding and I’m very excited about that.
WCT: When does it open?
AM: At the end of January.
WCT: Good luck with that. I want to backtrack for just a second – cause you know my editor’s a big ‘ole
AM: (LAUGHS) So am I!
WCT: Good, you have that in common. So, can you please talk about doing all those baby making scenes with
the lesbians in She Hate Me? I suspect many of our sisters astral projected themselves into your position in
front of those women.
AM: (LAUGHS) Well, She Hate Me was a very interesting movie. In the baby making scenes we tried to
make it very clear that these women were not enjoying having sex with me, they were having sex with me to
have a baby. The scenes were fun and it was a respectful, loving and nurturing environment. We really
wanted to capture the essence of how important that was. The aspect of baby making in sex has been lost.
You know, there’s a reason why they wanted Jack’s sperm, he was very successful, very smart. (THE
CHARACTER THAT MACKIE PLAYED). I mean, if you go to a sperm bank and they offer you Truck Driver #2
sperm or Tom Cruise sperm, whose sperm would you take?
WCT: Well you’re talking to a gay man here, so…of course I’d take the truck driver because I’d rather have an
openly gay…no, don’t go there, Richard, don’t go there. You had to say that name as an example, didn’t ya?
AM IS LAUGHING
WCT: Well, listen, I just want to wish you continued success. These have been two amazing performances
and I wish you all the best. Thank you for representing this year for us – now go enjoy your oxtail
AM: (LAUGHING): You’re welcome.
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