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Anthony Mackie Makes His Mark In Hollywood


You may remember Anthony Mackie as the uptight sergeant who defused bombs in Baghdad with Jeremy Renner in the Oscar-winner "The Hurt Locker."


JEREMY RENNER: (as Sergeant First Class William James) That wasn't so bad. First time working together. What do you think?

ANTHONY MACKIE: (as Sergeant J.T. Sanborn) I think us working together means I talk to you and you talk to me.

RENNER: (as Sergeant First Class William James) We going on a date, Sanborn?

MACKIE: (as Sergeant J.T. Sanborn) No. We're going on a mission, and my job is to keep you safe so we can keep going on missions.

RENNER: (as Sergeant First Class William James) It's combat, buddy. Hey, it's just 39 days.

MACKIE: (as Sergeant J.T. Sanborn) Thirty-eight if we survive today.

CONAN: Then in "The Adjustment Bureau," Mackie played a mysterious agent who challenged Matt Damon's perceptions of fate and free will.


MATT DAMON: (as David Norris) You freeze people. You froze my friend.

MACKIE: (as Harry Mitchell) We need special authorization to do.

DAMON: (as David Norris) You poke around in people's brain to make them think whatever you want.

MACKIE: (as Harry Mitchell) Be quite, David.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Can I get you something?

DAMON: (as David Norris) Just some water, please.

MACKIE: (as Harry Mitchell) We can't talk here. Meet me on the 4 p.m. boat and I'll answer what I can.

CONAN: And you can catch Anthony Mackie right now at your local Megaplex as a cop caught up in the midst of a diamond heist in "Man on a Ledge." And Anthony Mackie joins us now from a studio in New Orleans. Nice to have you with us today.

MACKIE: Thank you for having me.

CONAN: And I think in something of a coincidence, didn't you star in a film about Langston Hughes?

MACKIE: I did. I starred in a film called "Brother to Brother," which was about a young poet trying to find his way and his voice through literature, and Langston Hughes was one of the variety of actors we used to help him understand what it meant to be a Harlem Renaissance poet.

CONAN: And following up on our question, so you're familiar with the poet. What do you think - what did you take away from that experience?

MACKIE: From the film?

CONAN: Yeah.

MACKIE: Well, doing "Brother to Brother" was kind of magical because living in Harlem at the time, I learned so much about culture and history that I didn't learn in school. I think being an actor, I'm blessed with the opportunity to look at different facets of life in a completely different way. I'm able to be voyeuristic in a very supported, nurtured environment when it comes to different aspects of culture. So I learned so much about myself and really about where I come from. And I think it garnered a certain amount of pride when it comes to, you know, my history and my culture, specifically being from New Orleans and all the great artists that have come before me and put me in the plate, given me the ability to be where I am.

CONAN: We'll talk more about that in just a minute. I wanted to talk a little bit, though, about your film, "Man on a Ledge." You get to play one of the bad guys.



MACKIE: Not necessary. Everybody is a little bit of a bad guy. I get to play Mike Ackerman, and basically, I think he's a good guy. His best friend on the police force, Nick Cassidy, who is played by Sam Worthington, was pinched for a off-duty detail and given 25 years in prison. So, Nick goes up on a ledge to proclaim his innocence, and my job as his friend, his old friend and old partner, is to help him out find clues and, you know, basically drive the plot along to help the audience figure out why the hell would somebody get on a ledge.

CONAN: Two years ago, you were waiting for "Hurt Locker," which at that point had been nominated for best picture. Last year, you were in "The Adjustment Bureau," which got some very good reviews, too. You go opened the paper to read reviews of "Man on a Ledge," not so good.


MACKIE: You know what, this is a hit-or-miss business. I think every project you do, it's, you know, six one way, half a dozen the next. I actually enjoyed the movie. I feel like we've gotten away from what good movies used to be. I think it's a action/suspense/thriller. And the last time I saw a, quote, unquote, "suspenseful movie," I was so confused by the end of it, I had to idea what was going on.


MACKIE: And I feel like this is a movie that actually gives you what you go to the movies for. You know, you get a Slurpee. You get some popcorn. You sit down, and you can actually enjoy a movie and follow it to the end. And I think for every one bad review, you have three very good, very positive reviews. And I counted it, so I can definitely say that.


CONAN: We can go to Rotten Tomatoes and check you out.


CONAN: I wanted to ask you, there was a quote you once said that - I think it was after "Night Catches Us," where you impressed so many people. You said you get offered so many scripts to do exactly what you had done before, and you constantly look for new things to do. You have been the star in some smaller films. You are a supporting player in some of these bigger productions in Hollywood. You're sort of on that cusp. How much choice do you have?

MACKIE: I have all the choice. I'm at a - I think as actors we're all at a great place to where we have the ability to say no. I say no, you know, 10 times more than I say yes. And I think I'm fortunate in a way where, you know, I choose projects for a specific reason. This project I chose because I wanted to be a plot device. I wanted to work on that type of character that drives the plot all the way to the end of the film. I've never really played that before, and I wanted to see if I could hold that on my shoulders - allow the audience to be interested in me as a character throughout the course of a film. And I feel like I did that in this film. I'm very proud of it. I'm very proud of the work that I was able to do with Sam. You know, he's a "Avatar." So...


MACKIE: So I really enjoyed it. And I think the movie is really good and it's fun. And by the time you get to the end of it, you definitely are fulfilled. It's a ride.

CONAN: Anthony Mackie is with us. "Man on a Ledge" is the movie. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News. And I have to also ask you about some controversy that you stirred up, talking about how the African-Americans in the movie business, you feel, have not done enough to tell their stories.

MACKIE: Mm-hmm. Well, I think that statement was blown completely out of proportion because of one phrase I used in particular. And that was a bad choice of words by me. But I do think that if you look at some of the pioneers in this business, you know, you know, God rest his soul, Don Cornelius started "Soul Train," you know, with what, $200? If you look at Robert Townsend, he started his career by producing and directing a film on a credit card. If you look at what Bill Cosby was able to do with his career.

If you look at all of these people from the analogs of African-American history in entertainment, they gave us a blueprint on how to make money, and how to make it work. And I feel like, you know, you get out in the L.A. life. You're laying in the sun. You're being invited to parties. You're having a good time. You have girlfriends, boyfriends. You have expensive cars. You forget the idea of hustle. And I think right now, our hustle game is way behind.

I think if you look at what Judd Apatow has done, what Seth Rogen has done, if you look at, you know, what Latino film stars have done with, you know, their five major Latino networks right now. I think we have to work harder towards our own demographic and telling our own stories. I think it's preposterous that we have to look back to George Lucas to tell the story of some of the greatest American - figures in history with the film "Red Tails." You know, I think if we want that story to be told, that's something that we can tell and something that we can do.

CONAN: And I know you've read your critics and your critics say, where is the Anthony Mackie movie? Where is the film he's going to make?

MACKIE: Yeah. I read that all the time, and I'm asked that question all the time. And, you know, I have projects that I'm working on and things I want to get done. You know, but at the end of the day, this is a business, and I don't want to put myself out there until I'm ready to be put out there. You know, now it's a slow burn. You know, Morgan Freeman didn't pop in this business until he was well over 40. You know, if you look at Sam Jackson, Sam Jackson didn't pop in this business until he was, you know, damn near 40.

So I'm in a position now where I'm allowing myself to grow. I don't want to jump out and then do something that people don't appreciate or don't like, and that I'm a one-hit wonder that you'll never hear from again. You have to allow yourself that aspect of nurturing and growing until you're ready to pop out there on the scene. And that's why I try to diversify my portfolio of roles. So when it's time for me to do that, I can bring a modicum of ideas and cultural references to a role to have people interested and have people want to see more of me. I think that's why Denzel is where he is. I think that's why Will Smith is where he is.

CONAN: I've read you wanted to make a film about Jesse Owens...

MACKIE: 100 percent.

CONAN: There's a limited window.


MACKIE: Well, I'm lucky. Black don't crack. So I got about...


MACKIE: I got about six more years as long as I drink a lot of water and use facial moisturizer. But, you know, I mean, I feel like if you look at it, you know, Jesse Owens is, I feel, the greatest American figure ever. Because you have to look at what was going on in 1936. Schmeling had just knocked out Joe Louis, you know, and that was the Brown Bomber. You know, and Hitler is going around talking about I've developed the ultimate race. And for somebody to come into New York and knock out Joe Louis, everybody kind of thought he had something. Everybody was afraid. So Jesse Owens winning those four gold medals kind of kept him at bay and gave the world the courage to take him on.

CONAN: We can't wait to see the movie. Anthony Mackie, "Man on a Ledge," thanks very much.

MACKIE: Thank you, sir.

CONAN: Anthony Mackie joined us from a studio in New Orleans. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.