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Anthony Mackie: Marvel Brings Humanity To Its Characters


Now you might have heard recently that comic book giant Marvel is making some changes to one of its biggest characters. The blonde haired, blue-eyed Steve Rogers will be stepping down as Captain America. Taking his place is his trusty partner Sam Wilson - also known as The Falcon. He was the first African American superhero in mainstream comics, and the first superhero of color to get his own action figure.

The duo's latest film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" is this year's blockbuster hit. So we thought this significant moment in comic book history was a good opportunity to revisit my conversation with actor Anthony Mackie, who played The Falcon.

He started by telling me about his character.


ANTHONY MACKIE: The interesting thing about the character is he kind of is the embodiment of what African American culture is in this country throughout the course of his comic book life. He was first introduced in 1969, and he was a hustler in Harlem.

You know, and if you look at African American culture at that time, we were coming out of the war, we had a lot of stuff going on with us where we were trying to figure out how to move on as a people from desegregation, and things like that. And then, if you look at his second incarnation, late '70s, they moved him to LA, and he was a pimp drug dealer. And that was in the midst of the black exploitation period. So basically, they took what we consider to be a strong black figure and made this, you know, comic book hero, this action hero, him.

MARTIN: So what did you like about the role and why did you want to do it?

MACKIE: I feel like Marvel has a way of bringing a level of humanity to all their characters. I think superheroes are superheroes, but a superhero with flaws, and failures, and disappointments makes him human, and relatable. I wanted to be part of the continuing evolution of the film industry.

I feel like, if you look at, it used to be date night where older people, parents, grandparents would go to the movies and watch a movie on the weekends, and things like that. People would dress up to go to the movies. But now, it's more of a kid-friendly, youth-friendly medium where parents don't go to the movies, they watch Netflix and send their kids to the movies. So I feel like, in order to evolve as an actor in this business of film, you have to be able to grow with the continuously evolving market.

MARTIN: Oh, and you just want to wear the spandex, come on.

MACKIE: And I wanted spandex from head to toe. Spandex it, all spandex, everything (laughing).

MARTIN: You wanted to show off your cut. You wanted to show off the six pack, come on.

MACKIE: Well, I mean, I worked out - I worked out for six months before this movie. So I made it very clear to them that if I'm going to get six months in a gym, I want everybody to know I was in the gym.

MARTIN: (Laughing) All right. Well, congratulations. I think they do. I think they do. But the fact is, you know, you are a Julliard trained actor, and you have made your mark in the kinds of films that may not be on, you know, 500 screens, but that people remember, and that they talk about for years afterward.

And you've also been part of some very important plays on and off Broadway.

You are so busy. And how...

MACKIE: Well, if you don't work, you don't eat.

MARTIN: I hear you. But how do you - and as I understand it, you have a, kind of an entrepreneurial background. I mean, your dad - you grow up in New Orleans, do I have it right?

MACKIE: Right.

MARTIN: And then your dad was a roofer and your mom...

MACKIE: My mom was a stay-at-home mom. I have a brother who's a motivational speaker...

MARTIN: Motivational, yeah, so you kind of...

MACKIE: ...I have a brother who owns a restaurant in New - a bar restaurant in New Orleans. And I have three sisters, so I come from a very large family.

MARTIN: But entrepreneurial...


MARTIN: I mean, like people kind of making their own luck, as it were, right?

MACKIE: Very much so, very much so.

MARTIN: How do you go about creating your own career? Picking your roles?

MACKIE: It's funny you bring up the stuff that I did and where I am in my career. My representatives went after this role for 5 years before I got it. I mean, we literally e-mailed Marvel every six months for 5 years.

MARTIN: Because?

MACKIE: Because I wanted to be in a Marvel movie. And we knew that the rate in which my career was going, that sooner or later they were going to be making a movie that I would be right for. So it's better to send a shot across the bow to let them know we mean business, than to wait and be retroactive and have them find us.

We're going to let them know we're here.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations. Hopefully you'll come back and see us now that you're big and major. You know, you're the Falcon.

MACKIE: I'm just a superhero from New Orleans.

MARTIN: Before we let you go, I read a quote from you in one interview saying you don't think you could be a superhero in real life. Instead, you'd be the bad guy. And if you could actually fly, it would be a big problem for everybody involved. I have a hard time - what is - what's up with that? You seem like a pretty nice guy.

MACKIE: I'm definitely a nice guy. I'm a pushover. But I would love to be a bad guy. There's nothing more fun, nothing more easy. I would sleep well every night knowing that I'm a bad guy.

MARTIN: Anthony Mackie plays The Falcon in the film, "Captain America: The Winter Soldier." He spoke to me in April, this year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.