Since playing Eminem’s arch-nemesis in “8 Mile,” Anthony Mackie has been one of America’s most exciting actors. Juggling stage and screen work, he’s also juggled small films and bigger productions, impressing in “Half Nelson,” “The Hurt Locker” and “Night Catches Us,” plus biggies like “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and “Pain & Gain.”
In the thriller “Runner Runner,” he plays a small but pivotal role as a ethics-challenged FBI agent trying to coax Justin Timberlake’s online poker exec into ratting on his shady boss (Ben Affleck).
Your character isn’t a villain, but he is a fed who has a certain evil quality.
I feel like every good guy has a tinge of bad. Even if you are a good guy, sometimes you gotta do a little bad to get the job done. I don’t necessarily think that’s wrong. We changed the character a little bit to make him more of headcracker. He was more of a mild-mannered neutral detective like, "Ooh I’m going to take you down." He’s now more of a bad guy.
Is it fun playing bad?
It is. Because you get to justify all the evil thoughts you have every day. [Laughs] Living in New York, driving around the city or simply just going to the grocery store, you always want to crack somebody in the head. I feel like being the bad guy allows you to take up that aggression you get just simply walking around New York.
Was it fun pushing around Justin Timberlake?
It was the highlight of my year. None of that was in the script, so I told Justin that I took the job just so I could smack him around. I feel like he and Ben are the luckiest guys in the world. They can do no wrong. Ben goes around and wins poker tournaments and s—. I was like, “I’m going to bring these guys down to earth.”
You get a lot of Hollywood work despite living in Brooklyn, not L.A.
I’ve been very fortunate. I love doing theater. I feel there’s a certain cachet that comes with saying “I’m a New York actor.” If you look at the list of actors that live in New York and primarily work in New York, it’s a pretty remarkable list.
Do you not like L.A.?
No, no, L.A.’s cool. It’s just kind of like “Groundhog Day.” Every day you wake up, you go to the same coffee shop, you see the same people. It’s very relaxing. New York is more about interaction with different people and bad food and just trying to maintain your sanity. In L.A., it’s more about you, whereas in New York it’s more about you interacting with everyone else. I need a rainy day every now and then.
How much do you have to change up your style for theater versus big films like this?
It’s vastly different. Movies like this take so long to do. There’s so many people involved. The thing about theater that I love so much is once the curtain goes up, no one has control over your performance. There’s no editor, there’s no director, there’s no producer, there’s no one telling you what you can and can’t do. It’s all about the integrity of the show.
You try to bring personality to roles in big films. I’m assuming the same thing happens with Falcon, the first African-American superhero, in the “Captain America” sequel?
The Falcon has been introduced into the comic book world in three incarnations. The big challenge for [director Anthony and Joe Russo] and I was which one do we choose and which direction do we go with the character. So they allowed me luckily enough to be very involved in that and make him more of a human being, as opposed to a caricature of what people wanted Falcon to be.
You’ve been prepping a Jesse Owens film for awhile. How do you prep for that?
Run, run and run. That’s the biggest thing for that movie. Since he was so lean and so fast, it’s been just about training with the best trainer. He had such an interesting running style and most of it is me trying to find and match that.
It seems like it’s been overly difficult to find someone to get that project off the ground?
The thing about it developing a project is it takes so long because in Hollywood there’s no longer a business of doing projects that you think are good. Everything now is a passion project. If you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, your passion is everyone’s passion. If you’re Anthony Mackie, your passion is your passion. So I have to find someone with the same passion.
Do you find it hard to do physically demanding roles like that and “Pain & Gain,” where you bulked up to 215 pounds?
It’s not difficult to do, it’s just difficult to maintain. I feel like when you’re doing press interviews in the morning, then you’re shooting for 13 hours, you’re doing phoners in between, it’s hard to find time to just maintain it. I’m getting old, so I have to find ways to look like I’m still in my 20s. You have one beer and all of a sudden you’re 20 pounds heavier.
That must be difficult since you own a bar (NoBar in Crown Heights, Brooklyn).
Every time I open a new bar, I’m like, “Why am I doing this?” Because every time you go in people are like, “Hey, let me buy you a drink!” It’s hard not to drink Jack Daniels when you own it. I have a bar of free alcohol to drink.