Anthony Mackie is in many, very different films out this season. He has two holiday movies, which are both different: the nice “Love the Coopers” (also out this week) and the raunchy “The Night Before,” with Seth Rogen. He was just seen in the political satire “Our Brand is Crisis.” And he’s in “Shelter,” a small, intimate drama in which he plays Tahir, an African emigre who’s currently homeless. He joins up with Hannah (Jennifer Connelly), a junkie trying to escape past trauma. The film was directed by Paul Bettany, Connelly’s husband, and it made the onetime New York City resident look closer at a part of his former city he tended to ignore.
This was a film shot on the fly in New York, using real locations, sometimes exploring heavily populated areas, sometimes areas most people ignore.
New York is always a character in any movie that’s shot here. What Paul did was capture the essence of the city. We’ve become so smart in sound mixing and technology that when you watch a movie about this city you don’t hear the city. You don’t hear the cabs, you don’t hear the noise. New York is one of those cities where you walk outside and are inundated with noise. It’s funny watching this movie: you get the feel, that claustrophobic feel. [The characters are] just engulfed by the noise of the city.
Are you a full-time New Orleans resident now? You no longer live here, right?
I don’t. I’m 100 percent in New Orleans. If I’m not working I’m in New Orleans. I just sold my restaurants [including No Bar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn] and just completely checked out of New York. I realized I worked a lot. When I have two or three days off, what do I want to do? Come to New York and check on the restaurant? Or go to New Orleans and go to my son’s soccer game? I want to go to New Orleans and teach my son fishing. I want to take him to the track and race go-carts. I don’t want to come here and have people complaining about having to wash mats.
What kind of preparation did this entail? How did you ingratiate yourself into this world?
There was a homeless shelter at the end of my block in Brooklyn. I didn’t get a haircut for three weeks. I would put on my baseball cap and put on my hoodie, and I would just sit on the corner. I didn’t talk to anybody. I would just sit there and watch guys walk back and forth, just listening to them: how they would talk to each other, how they were addressing each other, the stories they were telling. And lo and behold, after about a week one guy talks to me, another guy talks to me. Then I get invited to a card game. And then all of a sudden people are asking me, “How come I never see you at the shelter? When are you coming to the shelter?” The drug dealers thought I was an undercover cop, so they started shooing me off the corner. It was interesting to realize there’s a different world right there. We don’t have to make movies about outer space. We have outer space right here on this planet. It’s a completely different planet, a completely different vocabulary, a completely different world. And we live right in the midst of it.