Not only does “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” have two title characters, the upcoming Marvel Studios film also includes a big role for Black Widow (Scarlet Johansson) and introduced long-running Marvel hero The Falcon, played by “The Hurt Locker” and “Pain & Gain” actor Anthony Mackie.
The Falcon has a significant place in Marvel’s comic book history. Introduced in 1969 and created by comic book legends Stan Lee and Gene Colan, the character — civilian name, Sam Wilson — is known as the first African-American superhero in mainstream comic books, and currently plays a part in both the comic book “Avengers” and the “Avengers Assemble” animated series. In the film, he takes his traditional spot in fighting alongside Captain America (Chris Evans), acting as an integral part of the superhero-filtered espionage action.
CBR News spoke with Mackie about the “huge sense of pride” he felt in bringing the character to life, along with his not entirely serious ideas as to what he’d like to see next for The Falcon — which include the introduction of comic book bird Redwing, and a whole lot of red spandex.
CBR News: Anthony, what did it mean for you, as an actor, to be cast in a movie like this? It certainly seems positive: They’re well-reviewed, very successful financially, and there’s a chance that you might get to do a ton of them.
Anthony Mackie: I’m not complaining! It’s a career boost. It’s a defining moment in my career. I contacted Marvel several times, asking them to be a part of the Marvel Universe, in any capacity. When this came around, I felt like it was a testament to the hard work that I’ve been doing over the past 13 years. My team and I have been deliberate about the projects we’ve chosen and the people we’ve wanted to work with. That has always, since the beginning, included Marvel. It’s a huge kudos to my team and everyone that I work with to put me in this position to be able to be a part of it.
It sounds like filming was likely a lot of hard work — but totally worth it!
It was so worth it. There’s nothing about this experience or this movie I would change. I feel like from the first day I was cast, from the first lunch I had with the Russo brothers, it’s just been a magical ride. I think people like Sam Jackson and Robert Redford become a part of franchises and movies like this because Marvel treats them the right way. Redford don’t need the recognition or the money or anything like that — he’s pretty good! But you get the right people together, and as an artist, you just want to be a part of that. I think that’s kind of what this movie has culminated into.
Let’s talk about playing The Falcon, since it’s a character that has pretty much just been in comics up to this point; there hasn’t really been a lot of different other media interpretations of the Falcon. Was it an easy character to find your way into?
Definitely. It was pretty clear. The Falcon has had many different incarnations in the comic book life, but this being his first appearance in the Marvel films, I realized that the one thing that was going to sell this character was his relationship to Captain America. So I truly focused on the script, I truly focused on his relationship to Steve, I truly focused on everything that made him up. Being a military specialist, being a PTSD counselor, being a veteran — all of those things added up to who the character is in the movie, and I think that’s more important than any source material I could have read, or any research I could have done in the comic books.
Something that’s striking about the way the character is presented — he seems like an unabashed good guy. He’s a military vet, a PTSD counselor, he even makes breakfast. Was it refreshing to play a character like that?
A little bit. I think all of us, in some way, shape or form in our minds, are good people. I feel like we make decisions and choose when not to be good people, and I think with Sam Wilson, he has flaws, he has shortcomings, he has insecurities, but he meets someone that he truly admires and respects in Captain America. He just wants to help him out. Sam is the first person Captain America has met that doesn’t want anything from him — he just wants to help him. I think seeing that, it feels good to be able to bring that character to life, and just unabashedly play him as the everyday guy he is — that just happens to be a rock star with a jet pack.
There still aren’t a lot of minority superheroes, and Falcon is one of the most prominent ones that exists. In the film, race isn’t mentioned, or made into a big deal — how important was that aspect, and implicit message, to you?
It was very important. I feel like we live in a world today that if you’re still concerned about race, you are a Beta machine in the world of DVDs. You’re obsolete. There should be female superheroes. There should be brown superheroes. There should be short superheroes. Everyone deserves a role model, someone to look up to. I feel like in this movie, everyone is who they is, and you don’t have to acknowledge difference, you just have to respect that the difference is there. I think that’s the point that the Russos make. You don’t walk in and say, “Hey, it’s Black Nick Fury.” It’s Nick Fury. I think that’s something that you can just let it be what it is and move past it.
Given that the Falcon has such an important role in the history of comics; he’s one of the earliest black superheroes, and the first not to be called —
“The black something.”
Right. How significant was that to you? Did you have a sense of pride playing this character?
A huge sense of pride. When I was told that it was The Falcon, I was really moved, because Marvel has done something very unique and special with this character. As African-American culture has evolved since the 1960s, so has The Falcon. And that’s why every time, step by step, he continues to change and be reintroduced. This movie is kind of like the fourth reincarnation of The Falcon, but Marvel continues to try and get him right, because they realize the value of having a black superhero.
That being said, him more than anyone else, I was very proud to play because of the history, because of the acknowledgement of the fact he’s not some guy that’s a bratty rich kid that can’t figure out why his parents left him all of this money. He’s a working, boots-to-the-ground guy, that just happens to be a decent guy and wants to do what’s right. I feel like that’s something that anybody — adults or children — can look at, and respect and admire.
There has been a lot of speculation as to The Falcon’s future in the Marvel movies — where would you like to see the character go next?
I’ve made no qualms about it, I’ve told everybody: I would love to be in “Avengers 2.” I would love to have the opportunity just to be on screen with [Mark] Ruffalo and Tony Stark and everybody. Who wouldn’t want to be in a movie with Robert Downey Jr.? But I’m very happy with the Captain America/Falcon relationship. I think it works really well together, and I would rather be in a very good movie with two superheroes than a mediocre movie with one superhero. I’m looking forward to Cap  and seeing what that relationship evolves into.
You and Chris Evans have worked together before, and you both have mentioned there’s a friendship outside of movies. Did that make this experience a lot more fun and more natural?
Definitely. This definitely wasn’t a job. At no point in time was anything about this movie a “job.” No matter what I did, no matter how much it hurt, no matter how long it was — nothing about it was a job. I enjoyed every second we shot this movie. Chris and I kind of took our time, and allowed ourselves to have fun with it. We make fun of each other, we make fun of the crew, the crew makes fun of us — we just had a good time. Everybody knew that we were doing something special.
That’s the thing about Marvel. Marvel, so far, has only done quality work. So you go into these projects knowing that whatever they put out there is going to be good — even if you have to do four months of reshoots, it’s going to be good. Every other movie you do, the possibility is, nine times out of 10, it’s going to fucking suck! So you know you’re going into this and it’s going to be good — enjoy it!
One thing that’s not in “Winter Soldier” is Falcon’s bird from the comics, Redwing, that he has an empathic connection with. Are you hoping Marvel finds some way to incorporate that in a future film, in a grounded, realistic, contemporary way?
I want to. I was joking the other day — “I got it, I got how it works.” In “Captain America” 3, Cap and Falcon go off, Falcon gets kidnapped, dragged into a lab. Because the Winter Soldier broke his suit and his wings, he’s brought into a lab and he’s given the power of having real wings that are attached to his body. And then, he’s given the power to talk to birds. So he comes back, and he’s like, “Oh, Cap, what happened?” And Cap’s like, “What did they do to you?” And then this bird comes out — “What’s that?” “That’s Redwing. He follows me everywhere.” So it could easily be done. I’ve thought about it, man! Anything that gets me into red spandex, I’m in.
That’s interesting, because the Russos specifically mentioned they didn’t like the Falcon comic book costume. So that may take some convincing.
They hate it! As soon as I heard it was The Falcon, I was like, “So — red spandex?” They’re like, “No.” “You’re joking, right? How are you going to do The Falcon without red spandex?” I’m still working on it. I’m going to get it. I’m pulling for it.
“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” opens April 4.