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Posted at 4:11 PM ET, 12/20/2010

Anthony Mackie: 'I'm the most famous actor from The Wire who has never been on The Wire'

By Jen Chaney

Anthony Mackie alongside Kerry Washington in "Night Catches Us." (Anneke Schoneveld Photography via Associated Press)

You've seen Anthony Mackie in more movies, TV shows and plays than you can probably remember. His credits include everything from "Million Dollar Baby" to "Notorious" (in which he played the late Tupac Shakur) to "The Hurt Locker," the Best Picture winner that put him and his co-stars in the Oscar spotlight.

Now Mackie can be seen onscreen in "Night Catches Us," a Spirit Award-nominated indie drama directed by Silver Spring native Tanya Hamilton that focuses on the rekindling of a relationship between former members of the Black Panther movement.

Mackie recently talked via telephone about the film and pretty much any other subject that got thrown at him, including his fake love-making with co-star Kerry Washington ("we were, like, in a hallway on laundry"), his desire to appear fat and bald in a "Hurt Locker" sequel 30 years from now and his admiration for both "The Wire" and a certain Redd Foxx sitcom from the '70s. Our Q&A follows after the jump.

Jen Chaney: I wanted to ask first how the part in "Night Catches Us" came to you.

Anthony Mackie: My agent and manager read the script and sent it to me. And we had a long conversation because they were out to another actor, so we stayed the course and waited because we knew that actor wouldn't do a movie like this. Lo and behold, he turned it down.

[Note: Though Mackie did not mention them by name, Mos Def and Sophie Okonedo were both previously attached to star in "Night Catches Us."]

JC: Why did you think he wouldn't do a movie like this?

AM: Just because this type of film is not for everybody. The tone and feel of this movie is not something that fits in everyone's cup of tea. So knowing that, it was something that I knew if we were patient and waited, it would come back around to us. So when it did, we jumped on it automatically because there was something about the script that was very honest and very fulfilling for an actor to be able to go on that arc with that character. So I was excited when I got it and I was excited when I read it, because I hadn't seen a movie like this, touching on that time period or that theme.

JC: In terms of preparing for the role, did you already know a lot about that time period?

AM: I knew a good bit about the Panther movement, but I knew a good bit about the Oakland Panther movement. And the Oakland Panther movement and the East Coast Panther movement were one and the same, but very different. For the Philadelphia aspect, that was something I just had to read up on. I went online and read as much as I could, looked at a lot of visual art, some photos. I listened to some music from that time period. I feel like you can get a grasp on a certain era if you look at artists from that time because as artists we pull from the world around us and put it into our work.

JC: This film gave you an opportunity to work with some people you've worked with before, including Kerry Washington. What was it like to team up with her again?

AM: It was great. I mean, Kerry is truly my muse. She puts me in a position where I feel comfortable and supported. It's one of those things where, if I'm a boxer, she's kind of like my corner coach. You know? As far as I go, she knows how to calm me down, she knows when things aren't right with me -- she just knows me really well. We know each other really well.

Because of that, when I read the script, I thought, wow, this is a really great role. And the actress who was supposed to be on it, she fell out. She couldn't do it. Instantly when I heard she wasn't doing it, I picked up the phone and called Kerry. Kerry was like, "Oh my God, I read the script, it's amazing. I want to do it." So I was like, bet! My manager and I called the producer and were like, call Kerry today. And that's kind of how it came about. I guess I shouldn't have but I was like, they're not going to offer it to anyone else, not when I'm not working with Kerry. If I have two cents, I'm going to put 'em in.

So we just played it by ear and it worked out. I'm fortunate that Kerry's a good friend of mine and she's been a good friend of mine for 10 years now. We work really well together.

I've admired Wendell Pierce and Jamie Hector for a long time. I've known Wendell since I was 14. And Jamie, his work -- not only on "The Wire," but the work he did previously and the work he's done since -- he's just a really talented guy.

JC: I didn't realize you knew him as well.

AM: Yeah. I mean, we're both Brooklyn guys. And it's funny. I get confused for Jamie literally twice a day. I'm the most famous actor from "The Wire" who has never been on "The Wire." So I gave up. I was like, look, dude. I'm going to start signing autographs as you. You're just going to have to live with that.

JC: How come you weren't ever on "The Wire"? Why didn't the show runners ever call you?

AM: I mean, "The Wire" was its own thing and I was kind of on a different path. Usually during their season, I was working on something else so I never really had the free time to do it. I try to do a play a year, and that's six months out of your year. And if you're doing a play, you can't really do TV. You know, it's a blessing and a curse.

Believe me, I auditioned for it. I thought "The Wire," other than like "Sanford and Son," was some of the best TV I've ever seen.

The theme song from "The Wire," on the other hand? Not as good as "Sanford and Son."

AM: Not at all. I was like, somebody's got to get a red truck on this show.

JC: I want to ask you something else about Kerry Washington before we start talking about Wendell Pierce. I don't know if you read what she said about you to Essence magazine. Did you read it?

AM: No.

JC: She said that doing the love scene with you in this movie was even more awkward than what you did in "She Hate Me."

Mackie starts laughing.

JC: What did she mean by that?

AM: The love scene in this was so weird because we were, like, in a hallway on laundry. The one thing I love about Kerry and the reason I can do love scenes with Kerry and be so comfortable is there is no attraction whatsoever between me and Kerry.

JC: You've seen what she looks like, right?

AM: I think she's a beautiful little doe. I love her. But from the instant we met, we became really good friends. In 2000, we became very good friends. And that kind of killed the whole idea of us being romantically involved.

So when we got to this movie and we had to do the scene, I was like, so you know, we're just on the laundry rolling around? And they're like yeah. And Kerry's like, "Oh God." I said, "Kerry, you know me. You know I'm a passionate lover." So she's like, oh God, Anthony. You know, I just wanted to keep it light, so I made fun of it and we had a good time. And Tanya wouldn't say cut. So we'd just be rolling on the floor, fake love-making for, like, three minutes. After a minute and a half, it was like, all right so either you're going to say cut or I'm going to go home to my girlfriend. You tell me which one you want.

The awkwardness came out of the length of the takes. It was just over and over and over and over for three and four minutes. I was like, I'm sure you've got it by now, you know.

JC: So Wendell Pierce -- I didn't realize how long you had known each other until after I watched the movie and started reading more about your relationship. But I could sense that you must know one another well because there's a definite chemistry onscreen. And also--

AM: He's the man.

JC: He is the man. The minute you see him, you're just like: Bunk!

Mackie laughs.

JC: Talk to me about him. You said earlier he's been kind of a mentor for you.

AM: Every time we work together, it's like Ali/Frazier. It's great because no matter what I do, no matter how hard of a punch I throw, he punches back harder. And he keeps me on my toes. He makes me feel like I'm alive. He makes me feel like I'm working. Because when I look in his eyes, I can see that he's thinking of something to come at me with, so you have to constantly listen. It's really amazing to work with him because it's like taking a class in acting. That's why I love working with him. I told him, I don't care what it is. If there's a dude [in a movie I'm doing] you're that dude, man. Because we work and that's what makes it so fun. We work. I'm Robin and he's Batman.

JC: Don't sell yourself short like that.

AM: See, Robin had this really cool personal life that people don't know about. Nobody went to Robin's mansion.

JC: So how many times have you worked with Wendell then? I imagine you've done some theater work together, right?

AM: We've worked together three or four times. I met Wendell when I was 14. I went to the high school he went to and he came back to speak at my high school. And I just remember him being the coolest, well-dressed -- he was in this white linen suit with this white hat, and I had never seen a black dude just, like, handle the court like that. I ran up to him afterward and I introduced myself and I said, "I want to do everything you're doing. Everywhere you've been, everything you're doing, I want to do it." And he was like, "All right, little man," and I said, "No, no, no, I'm serious. You went to Juilliard, I'm going to go to Juilliard." He's like, all right, bro.

JC: And you did.

AM: Sure enough. I got into Juilliard and I bumped into him and I'm like, "You're Wendell. I told you, I told you I was going to get into Juilliard." He's like, "All right, man. All right. All right."

JC: Did he remember you?

AM: He did. A little bit later we were doing this film, I went up to him and he was like, "So you did it." I was like, "I did it, man. I'm here. I did it." Ever since then, he's been a huge supporter. And it's different. I have mentors in my life who I look up to and really admire, who helped me out in whatever way, shape and form. Like Sam Jackson, Isaiah Washington, people that in my mind, I can think of and on a dime's notice, they'll be there for me. But there's something about having a dude from home. There's something about having a dude who grew up less than a mile from where you grew up. There's something about that that gives a camaraderie. Every time I'm in New Orleans, when I got out, me and Wendell are having a drink. We always make sure we're in the city at the same time. It's just really great.

JC: Speaking of cities, where are you calling from today? L.A.?

AM: No, I'm in New York. I'm here working for a little bit.

JC: What are you doing?

AM: I'm doing this movie called "Man on a Ledge" with Sam Worthington and Elizabeth Banks -- the amazing Elizabeth Banks. And I'm opening a bar in Brooklyn.

JC: How the heck do you have time to do that?

AM: Movies are great because you don't work every day. When I'm working, I'm on set. When I'm not, I'm getting my construction finished and building my bar and getting it together.

JC: When's it going to open?

AM: January.

JC: What's it called?

AM: "Nobar." One word. N-o-b-a-r. It's on Nostrand, and NO is short for New Orleans so, boom-boom. Double entendre.

JC: Since the Oscars, has that changed anything for you day to day? Or are things just moving along as they were before that happened?

AM: Things are pretty much moving along the same way. I'm lucky. I have three sisters and two brothers and they keep me very grounded. So the fun part about it is family-wise, people now believe that, you know, I'm doing well at what I do. Before it was like, "Boy, you ain't doing nothing, blah, blah, blah." But now it's like, "Wow, you were at the Oscars. We saw you up there with Tom Hanks." So family-wise, it's been a huge bonus. But work is just, you know -- work is work.

JC: Do you still keep in touch with the guys from "Hurt Locker"?

AM: We talk all the time. I talked to Jeremy [Renner] a week ago, and I talked to Brian [Geraghty] two weeks ago. I hung out with [writer] Mark [Boal] and [director] Kathryn [Bigelow] last night. It's funny that movie was so hard to make that we've kind of become old friends in a matter of a year. Jeremy is one of those people I admired from the beginning, since I saw him in "Dahmer" and all the work he did post-"Dahmer." I feel like now, he's finally getting his just due. If you see "The Town" --

JC: I did see "The Town." He's excellent.

AM: He's absolutely astounding in "The Town." And I wouldn't be surprised if he got nominated again this year. And you know if you look at Brian and everything he's doing -- it's great. It's great to see my friends do well. I enjoy it. I enjoy watching their work and hanging out with them. We're old friends. We're going to do a reunion movie 30 years from now when we're all fat and bald. It's going to be called "Still Hurtin'."

JC: What would you like to do in your career that you haven't had an opportunity to do yet?

AM: I would like to do, not so much a romantic comedy, but a love story. I feel like a lot of times we don't really get to see -- people who look like me don't get to see people who look like us in love. You understand what I'm saying?

JC: I do.

AM: That's something I would like to do. I'd like to find a script and just make a true, simple and passionate love story.

JC: And then the movie version of "Sanford and Son."

AM: Then I would love to be Lamont on the movie version of "Sanford and Son." [Laughs heartily.] That's my dream!

By Jen Chaney  | December 20, 2010; 4:11 PM ET
Categories:  Celebrities, Movies  | Tags:  Q&As  
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he looks nothing like Jamie Hector (Marlo). He looks a lot more like the boy Fruit.

Posted by: plive202 | December 21, 2010 10:07 AM | Report abuse

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