Anthony Mackie has enjoyed a robust film career since his debut in Curtis Hanson’s 2002 hip-hop drama 8 Mile. He’s had roles in Spike Lee’s She Hate Me and Clint Eastwood’s Million Dollar Baby, but he’s perhaps best known for his star-making turn as Sergeant JT Sanborn in Kathryn Bigelow’s The Hurt Locker. Since then, Mackie has appeared alongside Matt Damon in The Adjustment Bureau and Sam Worthington in Man on a Ledge, and he’ll be featured this fall in Ruben Fleischer’s highly anticipated Gangster Squad.
It’s safe to say we’ll be seeing a lot more of Mackie, and we can count his turn as William H. Johnson, personal valet and undead-killing assistant to the 16th president, in director Timur Bekmambetov’s Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter as yet another role that solidifies his rising-star status. We had met Mackie earlier this year, when he served on the Sundance Film Festival jury, so we picked up the conversation about his Brooklyn bar, favorite whiskeys and New Orleans roots. We also managed to fit in some discussion about the real-life inspiration behind his Abraham Lincoln character, his choreography experiences on the set, the film’s most memorable action sequences, and his upcoming part in Michael Bay’s Pain and Gain.
You may not remember, but I actually first met you at Sundance this year.
Oh, really? Oh, yeah, I met you at the Marriott bar! You and your friend! I remember you.
We ended up having a nice chat about the fact that I live close to your bar in Brooklyn, but I have to apologize, because I was really cranky when I saw you. It was like a five-screening day, and I was super-hungry.
You were pretty spicy. Because you live in Brooklyn! I was like, wow, so pretty, so mean. Your friend was nice!
That’s my colleague Jenni Miller. She’ll be pleased to hear you say that. I’m going to spend the rest of this interview trying to make amends now. I need to visit NoBar. You still bartend there when you’re in town, right?
I do, I was there two nights ago! Whenever I’m not working I try to be there.
I hear the house cocktail features bourbon.
The NoBar is a play on a caipirinha, but it’s a bourbon-based cocktail. Instead of Cachaca we use bourbon.
Love it. I’m a whiskey/bourbon girl. I’m Irish-Italian, I was born knowing no other way.
I’m Haitian-Sicilian, so we’re even! [laughs] You’re not a Jameson drinker, are you?
I’m afraid to answer that. I am, but I have a whiskey for everything. I usually drink Maker’s Mark or Bulleit.
Oh, cheap. I like it.
What? Cheap? Those are high-end for me! I’m not a fancy rich actor!
[laughs hysterically] If you want good, there’s Van Winkle. There’s Basil Hayden. I mean, those are good whiskeys.
So … Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter! I love that it’s this really in-depth, fantastical alterna-history story. What drew you to the role?
I was really excited about working with Timur, and when I heard the name William H. Johnson I was so excited. Because I feel like he’s kind of a forgotten hero.
There are factual and made-up characters in this movie, and I actually didn’t realize Will was a real person!
Yeah, and I feel like he’s kinda the reason why the Gettysburg Address was given, the Emancipation Proclamation was written. He’s pretty important!
I love the idea that this movie is an interesting spin on history. Like a new way to teach kids about real-life people and events.
I mean, education is the only thing that hasn’t evolved in this country. We still expect kids to go to school and learn in a factory-based educational system. When you go home and you look at three-dimensional video games and you go to the movie theaters and you wear 3D glasses! So you know, you have to spice it up a little bit. Make it interesting.
Speaking of 3D, have you seen it yet? I’m always curious to know how actors feel about viewing themselves in that format.
I didn’t see it yet!
Have you even thought about what it’ll be like to see yourself in 3D?
I have not.
Well, I’m glad to be the one planting the idea into your brain. Because I bet you’re thinking about it now!
[laughing] See? Look at that! If it wasn’t for Katie! Oy vey.
You guys shot this in New Orleans, which is your hometown. Did you play host for the cast, show them around?
I tried. But you know, these movie-star dudes. [laughs] I was just like, “Hey, come by my house Saturday and I’ll take you guys out!” “Okay!” On Saturday I’m like, “Where are you?” “I dunno, we can’t find Dominic [Cooper]!” It always turned out to, “We can’t find Dominic!” Always. By 8 p.m., he was missing.
It’s too bad I already talked to him today, because I would’ve teased him about that. New Orleans is number one on my list of places to visit. I’m dying to go.
New Orleans is the best city in the world. If you name any city and tell me why you think it’s the best city, I’ll give you three reasons why New Orleans is better. You can’t say food, we’ve got the best food. You can’t say drinks. You can’t even say religion! We have the number one Catholic church in America in New Orleans!
I’m a history dork, too. And there’s so much of that there.
Oh, yeah. Well, the oldest bar in the country is in New Orleans! It’s still running. It’s in the French Quarter, it’s had the longest outstanding liquor license in the history of the country.
See, now you’re speaking my language. Right, so back to the movie: Have you seen the final horse-stampede sequence in this yet? That and the train sequence are just out of bounds.
I haven’t! I saw a little bit of it — I saw some of the stunts. It’s crazy.
I mean, a horse gets used as a weapon. I was like, “From the producers of Luck!”
[laughs] Yeah! That’s the best part, when he picks up the horse and throws it. It’s like, are you serious? And the funny thing about it is when Timur signed on to do the movie, he was like, “Okay, this movie sounds great! I want to do a horse fight sequence and I want to do a train on a burning bridge sequence.”
No way! Makes sense — those are the two sequence we’re all talking about after the fact!
When I met with him here in New York, he brought his computer out and showed it to me, he was like, “Okay, this is you.” It was like a little cartoon version. And it used to be Ben [Walker], Dominic and I would jump off the train and the train would come rolling down the hill. So literally we would run and time the train to where it would roll right over us. But they cut that.
I can’t even imagine trying to physically prepare for that. What it is now is pretty impressive anyway. That scene where you and Ben throw the ax back and forth between each other — that was like ballet. How many times did Ben hit you with the ax?
He hit me once. But he hit the stunt guy — literally, like, he would just smack him in the face the entire time. The only time they gave Ben the real axe was when he was on set by himself.
Did they clear a 10-foot radius around him at all times?
[laughs] Exactly! But they actually built a four-car locomotive and they put it all on hydraulics, so when we were shooting that, the train was actually moving. And they put wind in our face, and dirt. And we shot it and tried not to fall off the train.
And you must’ve learned the choreography for that on solid ground, so to do it on the moving train parts had to be that much more jarring.
Well, it was funny because Ben was shooting so much, and I was shooting so much — he learned from his stunt guy and I learned from my stunt guy, and then we got together on the day we were shooting and ran through it three or four times and then shot it.
That’s crazy! I thought for sure you would’ve spent days on a lot of that choreography.
No, we had one 45-minute lesson and another 45-minute lesson, then we got together and shot it.
I have to ask you about Pain and Gain, because I cannot wait for that movie. How did you work on a set with Mark Wahlberg, The Rock and Michael Bay and not just goof off the whole time?
I pretty much goofed off the whole time! [laughs] It was a lot of fun! Michael Bay is a really interesting guy, and a very talented cinematographer. He sees the world in a different way.
And this is a much lower-budget movie than he’s used to working with!
This is like a third of the budget, yeah. He wanted to do something more character-driven. But he’s had this story for 10 years now. And those guys are still on death row. But you know, it’s Tony Shalhoub, it’s Ed Harris — I mean, it was a really cool cast.
I crack up every time I see the promo picture of you, The Rock and Wahlberg walking together, because you’re wearing these bright printed MC Hammer pants.
Right?! [laughs hysterically] The wardrobe is crazy. My wardrobe is unreal. That’s my character, and you know — it’s the early ‘90s, so we’re just coming out of MC Hammer and Boyz II Men and all those groups.
Admit it, you brought some of your own wardrobe to set. You totally still have those pants in rotation.
Hell, yeah! That’s what I do! [laughs]
Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter opens Friday nationwide.