He may have been given the Captain America shield in Marvel blockbuster Avengers: Endgame, but Anthony Mackie shows a more serious side with Seberg. He plays Hakim Jamal, the real-life Black Panthers activist whose relationship with the French New Wave actress (Kristen Stewart) led to her being targeted by the FBI during the late 1960s. Mackie also produced and stars in The Banker—the true tale of the first African American banker in the U.S. Getting the latter financed taught him a lot about the industry, he says, while telling the story of the hounded Jean Seberg has made him grateful for his own privacy.
DEADLINE: What was it about this true story of Jean Seberg’s treatment by the FBI, because of her allegiance to the Black Panther organization that was so interesting to you?
ANTHONY MACKIE: I wasn’t familiar with her story at all, but once I read the script and started doing research, I became enthralled by the idea of this woman being tortured and manipulated by the U.S. government. I feel like as a Black man in America, nothing about that story was surprising. Especially if you look at what the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover were able to do to the Black Panther Party and with Dr. King. She just fell victim to a vicious system that we have been living in.
DEADLINE: You play activist Hakim Jamal in the film. Was there a lot of information out there for you?
MACKIE: There wasn’t, but he had written a book, and it was interesting because it talked a lot about his time with Malcolm X and his part in the Civil Rights Movement on the West Coast. For me, it’s more about his feel. I’m a firm believer not so much in what you say about yourself, but what other people say about you. I like to hear how your actions make other people feel, to give me an idea of who you are. With Hakim, it was about the conversations with people who spent time with him that I found the most helpful and most interesting. I try not to impersonate him or make a fake image, but more so just give the truth of who I thought that person was.
DEADLINE: Here’s an actress who follows her political passions but is then punished for her opinions. It feels surprisingly like nothing has changed since then.
MACKIE: Yeah. Everyone who went against the government and what he or she stood for, fell as a victim. I think that’s the most disturbing part, if you look at how the Black Panther Party was treated and how drugs were introduced into the community by the government, it’s really heartbreaking to think those types of people were in a position of power at that time.
The funny thing is, being in the public eye in this day and age is not very different. There’s a mass desire to see people become celebrities just so we can watch them crumble and fall, to applaud people just to watch them burn out, especially somebody like Kristen [Stewart]. I mean so much of her celebrity and fame came at a young age. We’ve basically watched her grow into the young woman that she is today. She’s faced all the public scrutiny and all of the problems that come along with people wanting your demise. I think she’s handled it pretty well.
DEADLINE: You’re very private when it comes to your personal life.
MACKIE: Well, I’m a very private person. I don’t allow people in my life who aren’t private people. I’ve been very fortunate to garner my celebrity through work, not appearance. I live in New Orleans. I live in a very simple neighborhood. I do simple stuff with simple people. I enjoy my anonymity, and I’ve always been that way since I was a kid. I’ve never wanted that kind of celebrity, that fame, that notoriety. That’s not the reason I joined the business. When I was in high school I went to art school because I loved acting. When I went to college I went to Juilliard because I loved acting. I didn’t love being a celebrity or having my picture taken, I just loved the idea of being an actor. I love words. I love creating. That’s how I’ve been able to stay out of the public eye, just by keeping my head down and staying out of those opportunities to be seen.
DEADLINE: But then you say yes to Marvel.
MACKIE: Well, Marvel really threw a monkey wrench in the idea of me not being recognized. The reality, for me, is more so about using that to get myself in finer positions of success. The great thing about being in the Marvel movies is it allows me a certain freedom and opportunity to really have fun in the business and do things that I otherwise wouldn’t be allowed to do.
When you look at something like Seberg, or even The Hate U Give, I had a very small role in The Hate U Give, but the fact that I’m in Marvel movies as The Falcon, the fact that people know who I am, I was able to lend my name to that project for that movie to be made, because I feel like it’s an important story and it’s a time that we deal with those issues as a country and as a community.
DEADLINE: Besides doing interesting character roles, you’ve also started to delve into producing. How did you get involved in The Banker?
MACKIE: Well, George Nolfi, who wrote it and directed it, is a dear friend of mine. His editing partner, Joel Viertel, was on set when we were doing Adjustment Bureau 10 years ago and pitched me the story. From that point on, I was literally harassing Joel for the past 10 years, [asking] what’s going on with this project. Finally, I got famous enough and Nolfi got time to write it, and we were able to make it happen.
DEADLINE: What was the experience like for you?
MACKIE: It wasn’t the easiest process. I was very surprised by how hard it was to get it made considering we had Samuel L. Jackson and Nicholas Hoult helping me along. I’m very proud of it. Nolfi and I and Joel really worked hard together to get the script right and tell the story.
DEADLINE: Besides producing, you also star as Bernard Garrett in the film.
MACKIE: Yeah. Bernard Garrett was a young man from nowhere Texas who is just a self-made, really intelligent man, and he wanted to get into real estate. He leaves Texas, goes out to California to get into real estate and realizes that it’s just as racist in California. With his business partner Joe Morris [Jackson], together they buy the largest commercial building in downtown LA. Through that purchase Bernard realizes that the power is not in owning the real estate, the power is in owning the bank, because the bank controls who can do what in their neighborhood and their communities. He decides to go back to Texas and buy a bank so he can lend to people of color in his community. Comedy ensues.
DEADLINE: For a film that is primarily about the financial takeover of companies and business loans, it’s highly entertaining.
MACKIE: That was all Nolfi. He’s brilliant in the way that he sees film and the way he tells stories. The one thing we said from the first rehearsal was we had to simplify these massive math speeches and cut it down to three sentences. He wasn’t precious. He knew that we needed to make the math as deliberate and as simple as possible to get the story across. We worked on that daily to make sure that we didn’t lose people in the web of math that we were spewing.
DEADLINE: There’s a moment in the film where Bernard, who’s spent his whole life fighting expectations of what the world wants him to be, finally caves and puts on a janitor suit. It was extremely powerful and it made me wonder if you’ve followed that mindset of always going against the kind of roles that Hollywood would like you to portray.
MACKIE: 100% from the beginning. Actually, there are two movies on my resume that I’m not proud of at all. I’m not going to say which ones they are, but they are f*cking awful.
But I am hyper aware of the roles I select and the way they’re portrayed. Even with movies like Eight Mile or The Hate U Give, where I played a wannabe bad boy, kick-ass drug dealer, they might not be the best of people character-wise, but I always talk to the director and the writer and I ask them for a moment of humanity. Because we’re all not the best people, but there’s a reason why we’re doing what we’re doing.
DEADLINE: It’s rare that a young actor has the drive to want to enhance their character narrative on studio films. Did you always have that confidence?
MACKIE: Well, the thing is my first big job was Eight Mile with Curtis Hanson. When I showed up, I only had like six lines in that movie. Every day I would meet with Curtis and we would develop stuff, so the character grew and grew and grew. I realized at that point you hire me because I’m good with character, I’m good with dialogue. If you want a person that’s not good at character development and script work, you can go hire that person. There are a lot of people out there who suck at character development and can’t do research. You know what I mean? But I know myself, so when I get offered a job, I have that conversation with the director up front. If you’re not interested in that, then I’m not the guy for you and that’s cool.
DEADLINE: Most people would be scared of not getting the job if they voiced their opinions.
MACKIE: I’ve pretty much always been like that. When I got The Hurt Locker, JT wasn’t written as a Black dude. I went in and I met with Kathryn [Bigelow] and I gave her my pitch on the script and what I can bring to that character. Fortunately, she bought it and cast me. I’ve always felt that filmmaking is collaboration. No one person can make a movie good. If you’re the director where it’s your way or the highway, I have a very good feeling about taking the highway.
DEADLINE: Is there room for that kind of collaboration on a Marvel film?
MACKIE: Oh, definitely. I mean that’s what we’re doing now with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. We’ve been doing three weeks of script work. We meet, we read the different scenes, go over it, rewrite it, tweak it to where it works. We’ve always done that. Marvel has always been very open-minded about letting us hone the scripts to our character. Because even from the first movie, Captain America: The Winter Soldier, the Russos were always very open to my feedback. It’s an ongoing, evolving process every day.
DEADLINE: Is it as fun as it looks? How does shooting on something big compare to smaller films like The Banker and Seberg?
MACKIE: It’s a sh*tload of fun, but I don’t take it for granted. I know being in these big movies is like an extravagance. When you go to something like Seberg or The Banker, you really have to hone in and work. You’re going to work longer hours because you’re shooting fewer days. It’s like going to the gym. Small movies are like working out, because you really have to flex your actor muscle to be able to get back into shape. So, when you come on to one of these big movies you can come with all the experience that you have from the smaller movies.
DEADLINE: I have to ask, have you been holding that Captain America shield? What has that been like to walk around with it?
MACKIE: You know what, to be honest, it’s very emotional. I’ve been in the business for 20 years and I’ve been fortunate to do some amazing stuff and work with amazing people. For me, to be a Black man in 2019 and be given the helm of Captain America with the history of Black men in this country is a monumental step, not only in entertainment, but also in my life. It’s been extremely emotional. Look, my grandfather was a sharecropper, you know what I mean? There’s a lot of history and pain and triumph and joy that comes along with me being Captain America.
DEADLINE: Have your children been able to share in that pride?
MACKIE: It’s more so about the conversation. I think the great thing about this project, and the reason I feel this is like winning a lifetime achievement award, is because now as fathers we can sit down with our sons and have a different conversation. In the past, it was always the conversation as Black fathers that we had with our kids about how to be safe when they left home, about how not to entice police officers, about how not to walk through certain neighborhoods. But now we can have the conversation with our sons about what it means for him to grow up and possibly be Captain America. It’s been a very emotional few months.
DEADLINE: Between Altered Carbon, The Banker and The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, you’re pretty much on every streaming platform! Have these new outlets opened up the kind of roles you want to take or the projects you want to produce?
MACKIE: That’s true! As far as The Falcon, I’ve never really done anything for television. Wait, I did one episode of Law & Order at the beginning of my career. Everyone says to be considered a real New York actor you have to do Law & Order. That was my only TV experience and it was the hardest 10 days of shooting in my entire career. It was long hours and it was damn hard work, so everybody on TV I applaud.
The streaming platforms have truly become a medium for artists to express themselves in a nontraditional way. I wanted to be a part of it because it’s the new wave, it’s the new opportunity to do movies like Hollywood used to do.
DEADLINE: As a producer, are you looking for projects that suit you as an actor, or are you looking to tell other stories too?
MACKIE: I feel like nowadays it’s so frustrating because people feel like they only can tell the stories of people that look like them. I want to take the mask off what we think is the populace of our business. Because right now there’s this overwhelming belief that if you have Black content, or female content, that people outside of those general descriptions won’t go see it. I’m just as interested in producing a movie about a young white woman as I am in producing a movie with a young Black man. I feel like I should have the right to be able to tell whatever story I want to tell.
It’s definitely an interesting business. I learned a lot by how hard it was to get The Banker financed. Hollywood is a very humbling giant. When you think you’ve arrived, they have an innate ability to let you know that you have not.
DEADLINE: Is directing a film something you’d like to work on?
MACKIE: I did find a book that I really love, and the story is unique and fun and different. I think when I’m ready to direct, this is the story I want to tell. I’m in the process of trying to develop that. It’s hard convincing people to give you the chance. I mean, when you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, your passion is everyone’s passion.
DEADLINE: I love the environment, what are you talking about?
MACKIE: See what I mean? When you’re Anthony Mackie, your passion is basically just your passion.