“One day we had actual rival gang members on set…” hmv.com talks to Triple 9 star Anthony Mackie
There will be plenty of chances to see Anthony Mackie this year. The New Orleans native plays civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in HBO’s adaptation of the hit Broadway play All the Way, due later this year as well as reprising his is role as Steve Wilson (a.k.a Falcon) in Captain America: Civil War.
First up, however, is Triple 9, which hits DVD shelves on Monday (you can pre-order it on the right-hand side of the page). Directed by John Hillcoat, best known for gritty classics The Proposition and The Road, the action-drama co-stars Mackie as Marcus Belmont, a crooked Atlanta cop who makes money on the side by robbing banks. Heading up his crew is Michael Atwood (Chiwetel Ejiofor), an elite ex-soldier forced to pull one last job by his ex-sister-in-law, Israeli-Russian crime boss Irina Vaslov (Kate Winslet).
To pull it off Atwood and his team decide to pull a 999 – police code for killing a police officer. Doing so will see every cop in the city come to the officer’s aid, leaving their target defenceless. The officer they choose is Belmont’s new partner Chris Allen (Casey Affleck).
Shot in Atlanta, Georgia, Triple 9 examines the realities of modern-day policing and gives Mackie the chance to show off the dramatic chops he developed on and off Broadway before breaking through with a supporting turn in Kathryn Bigelow’s Oscar-winner The Hurt Locker.
hmv.com spoke to Mackie about working with Hillcoat, the film’s depiction of policing, being black in Hollywood, and the difference between making Marvel-size action movies and smaller but more brutal ones like Triple 9.
At what point when reading the script did you decide that you wanted to do it?
“I fall asleep when I read. If I read that text [gestures to his phone], I fall asleep. If I can read a script without falling asleep, I’m in. I wanted to work with John Hillcoat. I love his movies. I love the way he portrays society and how honest he is and how brutal he is with reality but in a tasteful way. So when I saw he was doing this I chased it for, like, a year-and-a-half.”
The scene where police enter the ghetto to roust a suspect comes with its own sociopolitical baggage, especially in light of the Black Lives Matter campaign. Was there much discussion amongst cast or crew about its importance?
“It wasn’t really a discussion. John just told us how he was going to deal with it and how important it was for him to portray it accurately. He went as far as having actual gang unit cops, actual SWAT cops, [and] actual ex-military guys on set. And he wanted to be so authentic he got real gang members to be background, right?
“But the messed-up part was one day we had actual rival gang members on set. So the gang unit captain comes over, he’s like, ‘Uh, you guys have the wrong dudes on set together.’ And the guys are literally on opposite sides of the set. It’s like, ‘What?’ ‘F**k you!’ ‘He said what?’ So it was coming to a head really fast. Luckily the fine gentlemen and women of the Atlanta police department took care of it and separated everybody and made sure one gang was shooting at one time. They left, and the other gang was shooting late in the day. And they left and everything was cool.
“But [John] wanted to be really authentic with it, and he didn’t want to lie or paint cops to be good neighbourhood guys or paint gang members not to be good neighbourhood guys. He just wanted it to be what it was.”
How important do you think that scene is, over and above just being a great action set-piece?
“I think it’s really important. I was talking about it a little while ago. Where I grew up, the police policed the neighbourhood they lived in. One thing I wanted to convey with my character, Marcus Belmont, is the fact that he lives in that neighbourhood. He grew up in that neighbourhood. He went to high school with those guys that are working at the gas station. He knew the lady that was dancing on top of the container. I mean, he’s just that guy. When he rolls in the ‘hood, everybody knows who he is, everybody knows what he’s doing there.
“It’s important for me when you see a cop like that to show how much the survival of his community means to him; that he’s willing to risk his life for it. He’s not policing up in [affluent] Buckhead where they have jaywalkers; he’s policing in his neighbourhood.
“He respects the gang members for being gang members. Just stay in your gang. There was a line where he said, ‘I don’t have a problem with drug dealers. It’s the mother**kers that shoot women and kids is a problem.’ And when I read that line I was like ‘Yes! Yeah, yeah, yeah.’ The neighbourhood is this yin and yang. It needs drug dealers just like it needs doctors and lawyers. It’s the dude that shoots up a parade that’s the problem. Those are the people we have to eliminate. That’s the sort of dude the cops are for.”
You’ve talked about getting mistaken for other black actors. Who do you get mistaken for?
“I get Don Cheadle a lot. Like ‘I loved you in Iron Man!’ ‘That was Don Cheadle, homie.’ When The Wire was on TV, I was mistaken for this great actor who played Marlo, Jamie Hector. Jamie and I are really good friends, and it got to the point where I was out and people would stop me, just take pictures as him. People would tweet, ‘Oh, Jamie Hector is such an asshole!’ or ‘He did this,’ and I’m like ‘Gotcha!’” (laughs)
Is there competitiveness between black actors in Hollywood for roles?
“There used to be. When I first got in it, the competition between black actors was cutthroat. You’d go to an audition and guys would mean-mug you in the room and not talk to you. But now, with there being so much work and so many actors working, the competition aspect of it is gone. At least I don’t feel it.
“For me it’s the creation-of-content aspect that’s important. There’s been a movement among young black actors. You see it with Nate Parker and his movie that was just at Sundance, Birth of a Nation. There’s a movement of creation of content - telling our stories, creating our own characters – that’s becoming huge right now, and that takes the competition aspect out of it. I want to work with Nate Parker; I want him to direct me. And that’s where the young black Hollywood movement is going, if I can call it a movement. It might just be a bunch of young dudes hanging out. (laughs)
“But all of my friends who are young black actors, that’s the conversations that we have now. Because Hollywood is not telling those stories like they were before. It’s something that we have to make for ourselves.”
What are the differences between working on Marvel movies and working on something lower-budget like Triple 9?
“On this movie you have a budget; on a Marvel movie you don’t have a budget! It’s funny when you think about it, because they’re both still action movies. But with something like Triple 9, what’s great is it’s more of a character-driven piece and the Marvel movies are more of a story-driven piece because they intertwine from movie to movie. But that’s the only difference.
“I love to be pampered on my Marvel movies. I love to be patted on the back. I love the ice cream breaks. I love all that sh*t. And on Triple 9 it’s more of getting to work, trying to get red dust out of your nose.”