From his first movie role as Eminem’s nemesis in 2002’s 8 Mile, Anthony Mackie went on to work with such iconic Hollywood names as Spike Lee, Clint Eastwood and Denzel Washington. His latest film? The Oscar-Nominated Hurt Locker. This spring he returns to Broadway to star as a con artist in Oscar-Winning, Tony-Nominated Martin McDonagh’s newest play, A Behanding in Spokane, a dark comedy about a man searching for his missing hand. He stars alongside Academy Award-Winner Christopher Walken, acclaimed actor Sam Rockwell and award-winning actress Zoe Kazan. It’s a dream project for Mackie, whose own career has been studded with accolades and accomplishment. He talked to The Daily Beast about his meteoric career trajectory, and why he prefers the stage to the screen.
YOU GREW UP WANTING TO BE AN ENGINEER. HOW DID YOU DECIDE TO TURN TO ACTING?
I watched my brother work on an Engineering degree at Georgia Tech—it was stressful! I thought, ‘That looks like a job.’ I wanted to do something that I could be passionate about, something I could look forward to working on. Crunching numbers and making stuff work? That can get boring.
GOOD MOVE. YOUR CAREER HAS SKYROCKED. HOW HAVE YOU BEEN ABLE TO COME SO FAR SO FAST?
This business is all about representation. If you’ve got someone who’s trying to pay their rent off of you, they’ll sign you up for anything. But I’ve got people looking out for me and thinking about 20 years from now. I’ve turned down projects that looked really good on paper—I’ve dodged a lot of bullets. And then I’ll do something like Half Nelson. I have a good internal guide, and it’s aided by the people around me, who are knowledgeable and have good taste.
YOU’VE WORKED WITH SOME HOLLYWOOD LEGENDS—ANY MENTORS IN THE MIX?
Sam Jackson has given me many lessons and tools of the trade. As funny as he is, he’s also the guy who gives you the push you need—he’s a gentle giant. Sam handles life—he’s down home good people. Celebrity and fame and financial stability haven’t changed him. I might get cursed out every now and then, but he does it in a caring way.
SO WHAT KINDS OF THINGS MAKE SAMUEL L. JACKSON CURSE YOU OUT?
I was once complaining about some other celebrities getting roles, and he put me in my place real quick. He’s the type to say, ‘Stand up and do something about it! If you’re not gonna run the race, don’t complain that other people are running faster. Work out more so you can keep up.’
YOU WORK BOTH ON THE STAGE AND THE SCREEN—WHICH DO YOU PREFER?
I definitely prefer the stage. It’s my home away from home. The stage is forgiving. If you’re bad in a movie you’re bad forever. My grandkids will watch Hollywood Homicide and say, “Dude, you suck.’ The stage is work though. Film work people come to Broadway and say, ‘This is hard—I have no time for myself.’ I think that’s funny. It’s your job!
SO WHAT ATTRACTED YOU TO A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE?
I was blown away by the script. Everybody knew it was special. It’s one of those plays, like The Beauty Queen of Leenane and The Pillowman, that people will be talking about 15 years from now.
This was a job I chased for a long time—I auditioned almost a year ago. A lot of people would audition for a play and leave it up to the cosmos, but I was like, ‘I need to follow up!’ It all comes back to representation—we’ll call once a week until the play is cast if it’s a job we want. Once a week for a year is a lot of damn calling! But that’s the passion that goes into making the choices I’ve been able to make.
ARE YOU FINDING YOUR ROLE CHALLENGING?
Yes, no question. It’s unlike anything I’ve ever done. The language is hard and so is the physical exertion. You don’t think about that being an issue, but I like to put myself in a position where I’ll grow and learn—there’ll be something to take away and use on the next job.
YOU BEEN IN A LOT OF DRAMAS, BUT BEHANDING IS A DARK COMEDY. IS THAT A TOUGH SHIFT?
It is. You know, I would love to be in one of those Judd Apatow movies. I’d love to be the comic sidekick. I think I’m a funny dude. In this business, everything is an audition, and the first step to doing more comedy is to do a comedy—you show people that you’re funny so they’ll consider you for different stuff. Otherwise they’ll say, ‘He freaks me out. Get him a freak-me-out role.’ But when I land a comedic role, I think, ‘This shit is not easy.’ Comedy is ten times harder than drama, and I have the utmost respect for guys who can do comedies and knock it out—guys like Eddie Murphy, Martin Lawrence, and Will Smith, who brings charm and charisma and makes it funny. That is very difficult to do.
WHAT HAS IT BEEN LIKE TO WORK WITH THE CAST OF BEHANDING?
“I came into it having heard all these crazy stories about Christopher [Walken]. I thought, ‘This dude is gonna be really weird.’ But he’s the coolest dude—an all out good guy, he’s fun, no ego, no ridiculousness. He’s just a good time.
Sam [Rockwell] is a neighborhood dude. You expect him to be this all star, the toast of New York, but he’s a cool, regular guy. We have the chance to work off each other and learn a lot—it’s a battle of up and downs. It’s great!
YOU MUST SEE A LOT OF SCRIPTS. WITH SO MANY EXCELLENT CHOICES BEHIND YOU, WHAT’S NEXT?
We’re pushing Hurt Locker, working on the play and waiting for the next thing. There’s a lot of bad stuff out there, but we’ll pick out something that feels right.
A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE will begins performances Monday, February 15 and will open Thursday, March 4, 2010 at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street. Tickets go on sale Monday, December 14 through Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250, or online at www.Telecharge.com, for this strictly limited engagement which will run for 16 weeks only.