Captain America is a great superhero, but he needs a foil. Someone who, if not his opposite, at least clashes with him in a way that sparks up what can occasionally be a slightly dry and humorless sense of patriotism. In “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Cap has several of these characters to deal with, perhaps none more important than The Falcon. And given his off-the-cuff sense of humor when he’s not filming, Anthony Mackie seems like the perfect actor to play this important role.
Comic Book Resources joined a small group of press to speak with Mackie and several of his co-stars on the set of “The Winter Soldier” to talk about the latest Marvel Studios film to follow in the wake of 2012’s “The Avengers.” After watching the actor take charge during a scene — cracking jokes as technicians around him made sure every doohickey and thingamabob around him worked perfectly — Mackie sat down to talk about his introduction to the character, and talked about how playing the role, one of the first black superheroes to appear on screen, was a dream come true, not to mention a dream he wants to keep going.
Anthony Mackie: Hello you guys, welcome to “Captain America 2.” I am Anthony Mackie playing The Falcon. All questions will be addressed to me and they will be answered in a timely fashion. First question.
Can you do the whole interview as the Falcon?
Speaking in Falcon? Caw, caw caw.
Can you give us a little context of the scene we just saw you guys shooting?
Sure. Yes, I can. The scene we were just shooting is basically we have decided to take down the bad guys. So we go into the lair of the bad guys and poison their diabolical plan to take over the world. That’s what you just saw. Next.
Were you familiar with this character before this opportunity arose?
I was. My brother was one of those comic book guys that had a bunch of comic books. And I always knew about The Falcon and Black Panther, but primarily The Falcon just simply because he was an African-American superhero and my brother was really big on like being black. So I knew about him.
What was your brother’s reaction to hearing you got this part?
Oh, he was super excited. He loved the character and he loved comic books. When I was a kid, I destroyed all his comic books so he was happy to think that I would be able to rebuy his comic books for him.
Why would you destroy his comics?
Because I was a kid and he wouldn’t let me in his room. So I went in his room and did some damage. I’ve been paying for it for the rest of my life.
Did he give you some key insights into how he thought you should play this character?
Nah. His big thing was, you know, The Falcon started off one way and then he became a character that was about dignity and respect and honor. So play it more as a strong man, as opposed to a comic book character.
What can you tell us about your wings?
I have no idea. I’ve seen as much of the wings as you have. I’m very interested to see — every now and then they bring up these three-foot wings that I am hoping are gonna turn into like a six-foot wings, but I’m not sure how that works. So they’re in a case on set and every now and then they break ’em out and flap them. Literally, some dude stands there like this. [Makes wing flapping motion] So I’m guessing they’re gonna put ’em on me, but I have no idea.
We’ve heard a lot about the tone of this movie and how it’s different than “Captain America: The First Avenger”. But as a first-timer, how would you describe it?
Wouldn’t it be bad if I’d never seen ’em. I’ve never — Marvel? I don’t know. Didn’t they make “Get Shorty?” No, it was — no. The great thing about this movie and the theme, it’s really come across to me as like “Avengers 1.5,” because if you look at the cast, I mean, we have Sam Jackson and Robert Redford. And what they’ve been able to do with the script, as well as with the Russo Brothers directing it, is ground the movie in a really humane three-dimensional reality. So, you have characters like me. You have characters like Frank Grillo and Robert Redford’s character that we, as normal people, can relate to. I feel like a lot of superhero movies, it’s hard to get in — a lot of the movies that Marvel does not do its hard to get into because it’s just a bunch of superheroes running around doing superhero shit. But I feel like with this movie, you can look at certain characters and identify with those characters, so it pulls you into the movie. And the way it’s written it’s just a very grounded actual kind of realistic story. Just with a dude in a blue suit running around with a shield.
And a guy with wings.
And this guy.
Was that a tough sell for you when you came on?
Not at all, ’cause I feel like with this — what’s so funny is it’s kind of in a theme, not so much “Bourne,” but like when you watch a “Bourne” movie that aspect of just intense action that you get as well as gritty dark story. That’s kind of how the vein of this movie works and the stories told. But, you know, with me, what I love is The Falcon kind of lived in three different incarnations. There was the first incarnation where he had on a black and green suit, and he was a drug-dealing pimp from Harlem that crashed going down to Brazil to pick up drugs and became a superhero. Okay. And then there was–
Wasn’t that the one you wanted to play?
That was the one. So when I heard they were using the latter one, I’m like, “Well, that’s not what I signed up — I want a bird in spandex and prostitutes and cocaine.” But, you know, that’s the Marvel Universe. But it changed and morphed in to, you know, the latter of the three characters, which I was really happy about. I feel like if you look at The Falcon now, he’s really a military tactical driven force. I mean, he works with Cap not so much out of like self-preservation, but more so out of respect and honor. You know, because they’re both military guys and they both share a common bond within the military. So he’s just a standup guy that can fight really well.
Other members of the cast and crew talked about the fact that your character is very contemporary, very modern. Captain America is obviously more an anachronistic in terms of his perception of–
Great word usage. This guy’s good.
In terms of the world and maybe in terms of race. How do you guys sort of interact with one another? Particularly since there were a couple of jokes in “The Avengers” about sort of his lack of familiarity with people of color.
Right. And that definitely comes up in this movie. I think what the writers have been able to do is go around the time difference. And there’s a whole scene geared towards us coming together as friends and Cap recognizing that and pulling me into his circle. For the two of us, it’s more so our relationship is built out of camaraderie within the military. My character is very intrigued, like everyone else is in the movie, by the fact that Captain America is here and he’s here to save the day, so what seems to be the problem. So our relationship kind of builds upon that. Is that vague enough for you?
Good. Good, good, good. Not getting me in trouble.
There’s word that you’re going to be in “Avengers 2.” Can you confirm or deny?
I hope that’s so true. But this is the best thing about Marvel as a whole. They tell you absolutely nothing. I mean, I didn’t even know I was shooting today until today. So it’s like they just — they’ve figured out a way to keep their stuff very private and in house. I hope I’m in “Avengers 2.” If I’m in “Avengers 2,” everyone will know it ’cause I’m gonna run through Times Square butt ass naked with “Avengers 2” tattooed across my chest. But I hope I am. I mean, I would love to be in “Avengers 2.” It’s a huge honor to be a part of the group of people they’ve put together. Because Marvel — they don’t go for like great looking people who could be superheroes, they go for good actors who can make superheroes come to life. So, to be a part of “Avengers” — and it made a bajillion dollars, you know — so, to be a part of “Avengers” would be really cool.
Does your character have much interaction with Black Widow?
Well, I’ve put in this interesting subplot that Black Widow and I are in love with each other. And it’s working really well. So when you see the movie, I hope you catch it. Because there are different scenes where I give it to her, you know, a little chocolate love, like bow. And I think I’ve seen her return it, but I’m not sure. So, I’ve been working on that subplot. I think it’s working out really well.
You didn’t share these notes you made?
No, no, no. You can’t tell her because the thing about it is if you do something like that for your character, and I come to you and I say, “Look, I’m working on this — work with me.” They have one of two options: they’ll say no, or they’ll tell the director and the directors will go to the producers and the producers will say no. So, we got two weeks left now. They can’t cut it out. So, that’s what I’ve been working on for the past three months.
For Chris and Scarlett [Johannsson], though, I think this is their third time each doing these characters. Did they have any pointers for you on playing a superhero?
Just their biggest thing was — ’cause, you know, my first superhero movie, so I show up I’m all excited. And the first day it’s like playing sports and a rookie shows up and you’re like, “Whoa, kid, it’s not what you think. It’s not that much fun. You’re gonna be hanging upside down; you’re gonna be long days, sweating in the heat.” And I’m like. “Well, I’m Falcon.” And they were right. It’s a lot of hard, hot work and heavy suits.
Have you done what will maybe the most challenging sort of physical stunt that you’ll have to do for the movie so far?
The first day we shot, they had me jumping backwards off of a 30-foot platform head first into the pavement. That was about it. And they’re like, “Don’t worry, we’ll catch you before you hit the ground.” I’m like, “All right.” So this is my first day. I didn’t have rehearsal. I didn’t have stunt training. I didn’t have anything. They’re like, “No, no, no, just stand back — run, turn around at the edge of a platform and jump backwards and shoot your guns over your head while you’re going back.” So I doubt if we’re using that footage. But that was definitely the hardest day I’ve had.
Chris has really come to embody this character, which is different from almost every other kind of superhero. What’s been fun about sharing the scenes with him when he’s playing that character?
I’ve known Chris for a long time. And we’ve been friends. He’s someone I really considered to be a friend outside of all of this. And he’s a very smart guy. I feel like a lot of actors aren’t smart. Well, a lot of people in the film business in general aren’t smart about different aspects of the film business. And he’s a guy that understands rigging, camerawork, directing, as well as acting. And I’ve never seen that side of him before. And he’s just a really smart intelligent guy and knows how to talk about film in depth. And it’s cool when you see your friend and he’s good at something, and you didn’t know that. So it’s been fun to watch him in his element and see him kind of transform and work to make this character come to life in a different way.
Can you talk a little bit about Falcon’s arc? Have they given you something specific to deal with, or are you just kind of Cap’s guy?
Cap’s guy. Drinks on me, Cap. It’s more so my arc is — it’s cool the way it comes about. I meet Cap; we become friends. He asked me to help him. I help him. And I’m not sure if we win or not at the end. Next question.
Actually, how much of the origin story do we actually get to see. Are you The Falcon right from the beginning?
In this movie, not so much Falcon, it’s more so Sam Wilson. They’ve — you know, because of the way it’s written in the comic book and him having so many incarnations — they kind of used this movie to establish my character and my relationship with Black Widow and, you know, Captain, and Sam Jackson’s character, Nick Fury. So, it’s more that I learn as I go. So, hopefully in part three, or “Avengers 2,” you’ll be able to see my character really become the three-dimensional part of the Avengers group. Note to Marvel.
What’s your character’s kind of interaction with Nick Fury?
Well, Nick Fury — it’s funny because, you know, when we first started this movie, I was like, “Oh, no, Sam Jackson’s in it. Sam Jackson has a goatee. Sam Jackson is gonna look like my dad.” So, the entire shoot of the movie, every time we do a scene with Sam like after the scene, I’ll go, “Dad?” ‘Cause I’m like, “Dude, come on.” Every scene I have with Nick Fury, I’m playing it like he’s my dad, and it worked. I watched it on the monitors and it worked. But our relationship is more so of a business relationship. Since I’m in the military, I know what S.H.I.E.L.D is. I’ve been in this tactical program. He knows who I am. I’ve worked with him and for him before. So we form this workman’s camaraderie as opposed to a friendship camaraderie.
Have you gotten to work with Redford?
No, man. I’m very disheartened by that.
You couldn’t write that in?
I tried. Believe me, every day he worked I was on set like, “Y’all need me. Tap me in, coach.” But no, all of his scenes I’m not in. He’s more of the S.H.I.E.L.D. guy as opposed to the Avengers guy. And if any of you drink wine, Robert Redford makes the best Pinot Noir in the country. I said it; write it down, kiss my ass if you don’t believe it. So, that being said, I’ve just been stalking him to get me him to send me some wine, because it’s really good.
Something tells me Redford would have picked up on your sly little plan.
I tried. I wrote him notes. I left it in his trailer. “I’ll leave you alone for a bottle of wine.” He’s — no, I’ve know, luckily enough, I’ve known Robert for a long time ’cause I’ve done Sundance so many times, the Labs as well as the festival. And he’s always just been a great guy to me. And, you know, he’s one of those guys you see him and he remembers you and he talks to you and find out what’s going on with you. He’s just really personable. You know, he’s not like he has 50 people in his entourage in a limousine. You know, he shows up in like friendship bracelets and a baseball cap and a “Buena Vista Social Club” shirt and is like, “What’s up?”, you now. So he’s a pretty hip, cool cat. Our characters don’t really collide too much in the movie.
What are the surprises of being involved in one of these Marvel productions that has ties to other movies, that has the level of secrecy that you’ve got to maintain?
Well, I’ve been very surprised and kind of put off by the secrets, you know. Because you never really know what’s going on in the next movie. You never really know what you’re doing in this movie. You can’t really talk about what you’re doing. You have to wear a cloak when you go outside in your costume. Just like stuff like that that I’ve never been privy to that makes it strange in a lot of ways, and just foreign to me. But at the same time, Marvel has become a well-oiled machine. I feel like the reason they work so well and the reason you guys are here is because they’ve always presented quality products in a not so always quality genre. You know, I feel like all of the Marvel movies kind of work. The characters are grounded and three dimensional and believable. The CGI and the graphics always looks real as opposed to some dude flying on a string and him being like, ah. It always works and they always invest the money where it needs to be as opposed to being cheap and putting out a less than quality project. So it’s a catch-22. Like they scare you and put you in a position where you’re not comfortable but you know that nothing but quality is going to come out of that.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens on April 4.