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July 2004
She Hate Me: An Interview with Anthony Mackie

By Wilson Morales

She Hate Me: An Interview with Anthony Mackie

Anthony Mackie is certainly the youngest and gifted African American actor to make a big splash in Hollywood since Jeffrey Wright came out with "Basquiat" years ago. Ever since he played the small, but noticeable, role of "Papa Doc" in "8 Mile", Hollywood has shown nothing but love for this Julliard trained actor. In just a short time, all of the films that he has been in have featured nothing short of heavy talent. Not only that, Anthony has the pleasure of starring with Whoopi Goldberg and Alfre Woodard on Broadway, in which the play with Alfre was a lead role. In the future, Anthony has films starring Orlando Bloom, Morgan Freeman, and Samuel L. Jackson. In the meantime, his first leading role on a major level is about to come out as he stars in Spike Lee's latest film, She Hate Me. In the film, Mackie plays John Armstrong, a corporate whistle blower who finds himself impregnating lesbians for cash. Mackie spoke with blackfilm.com in regards to his character, homosexuality issues, and the quality of films he's being offered as an African American.

What attracted you to the film?

Anthony Mackie: The different levels of morality and instinct that the character plays on. Young brothers don't get the opportunity to act very often, so when you get those opportunities especially with a director like Spike Lee and when you get a cast that includes Kerry Washington, Dania Ramirez, and Ozzie Davis, Ellen Barkin, Woody Harrelson, and Monica Bellucci, you can't pass up on that.

What did Spike bring out of you that you didn't know you had?

AM: To be real, truth on film. I grew up on the boards. I grew up in theater. I thought I was going to be like a Morgan Freeman type cat, 20 years on the boards and then 43 and starring "Driving Miss Daisy Part.2" It's one of those things where Spike really allowed me to express and find certain colors that I haven't been to experience on a set in a film where as in theater I've been given those opportunities through two months of rehearsals in a six month run where every night you have to find those things to navigate yourself through a performance.

What do you mean by finding certain colors?

AM: In the film where I walk in on my girlfriend and another woman, that's some deep shit. Certain people, because they are so one dimensional, they go to an easy out. I realized something in films. At certain times, crying lets the audience off the hook. When you analyze true emotion, that's always not the first instinct; first there's pain, then agony, there's a sickness, then there's confusion, then there's a migraine, and through all of that, there's a knot in your stomach that boils up to a lump in your throat to emotion. And you have to be able to have the thought process and the director that will counsel you to get to that.

Did you have any reservations in doing this role initially after reading the script and knowing the subject matters it dealt with?

AM: Well. I always do roles to challenge myself as an actor and as a human being. My first film out of school was a film called "Brother to Brother" and I play this young homosexual visual artist who is trying to find his voice as an artist and his identity as a young African American homosexual male, and while doing that film, it conjured up a lot of demons within me and I went through a huge transition in my life to where when I got to this film, it wasn't as drastic of a transformation because I had went through that and conjured that up within myself to deal with.

How did hold yourself up while acting with Ozzie Davis and Brian Dennehy?

AM: Prayer. It was nerve racking. It really was. In the courtroom scene with Ozzie Davis and Brian Dennehy, there were times where I really could not speak. The thing about Ozzie is that, "We know that you're a great boxer, and we need to take some boxing shots with you and Muhammad Ali." You know what I mean? It's like, "We know you're a great writer, so we are going to put you on screen with another great writer." And you're like, "Wow!" Opportunities like that are few and far in between. Ozzie Davis is a legend and Brian Dennehy is the truth; so when you sit across from those people, the only thing you can do is hold on. With John Turturro, he would bring in the truth. That's what he would bring, and if you follow his lead, you will be great. If you fight against him and say, "This is my movie," like you're Kobe and Shaq, you'll fall. People will say, "Why is he overacting?" So if someone is bringing the truth and you meet him where he is, then you are bringing the truth, and when I realized that, it was cool.

What was like working with Ellen Barkin?

AM: That was love. I was chasing Ellen. (Laughs) I was like, "You need to get a divorce. I understand your husband is worth 15 billion dollars and I'm worth 200 hundred dollars" It was really interesting. I was really surprised at Ellen. Her husband, Ron Perelman, owns Revlon and like everything and it was one of those things that was so amazing. She called me over to the side, and said, "If there's anything you need from me, let me know." "My husband is this world", she said. "If you want to go to his office and meet with him, let me know." I was like, "What?" "I get to meet Ron Perelman." I never took her up on it, because I was too nervous. It was one of those things where she showed me so much respect. It was never a situation where it's like, "I'm the veteran, so you better listen." It's was more like, "This is our opportunity to work together in this scene, so let's play and have fun." So every time I would ask her a question, she would have a great answer for me, and if she didn't know it, she would call her husband, and let me know what he said. It was amazing experience. She was beautiful.

How does it feel to accomplish so much at this point?

AM: I have 10 studio and independent movies, and I've been on Broadway twice, where once, I was the lead in a Broadway. Too bad, Puff Daddy was around the corner with "A Raisin in the Sun" and I've done three Off-Broadway plays, one of which I won an Obie for, and nothing has changed.

Which Broadway plays did you do?

AM: "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" with Whoopi Goldberg, and "Drowning Crow" with Alfre Woodard. I felt those shows were good, but it was one of those things to where I've shown my versatility; I've shown what I can do. You can't say that I'm afraid to take chances like a lot of people out here, but the thing about it is, it's still a hustle. I look at these cats that do one movie, next thing you know, they have a five picture deal, and a five picture deal that they are working on. The studio is looking for something for them; whereas me, and I have 8 movies from July 28th to March of next year, and working with Jonathan Demme, Clint Eastwood, Les Mayfield, it doesn't mean anything.

What films do you have coming next?

AM: "She Hate Me", "The Manchurian Candidate", "Haven" starring Orlando Bloom, Bill Paxton, and myself, "Rope Burns", the new Clint Eastwood, with him, Morgan Freeman, Hilary Swank, and myself, "The Man" with Samuel L. Jackson and Eugene Levy; "Brother to Brother" starring myself and Roger Robinson. "Haven" is a coming of age story shot in the Cayman Islands, and "Sucker Free City", which is the first movie I worked with Spike Lee on. It was a movie for Showtime and it's supposed to be airing towards to the end of this year.

What do you think is the problem in Hollywood? Is it racism?

AM: No. The thing about it is, what do you want to see? Granted, there's a huge amount of people that want to see a movie like this, but there's a far cry between "Soul Plane" and "The Terminal". There's a far cry between "Casino" and "Player's Club", but the sad thing about is, people still went and saw "Soul Plane". The sad thing about it is, it was a minority that directed it, and it was minorities that starred in the film. It ain't racism. Now you see this movie is so relevant at this point in time. Our morals as a group of people, as African Americans and Latinos, is at all time low. You've people selling their souls for a dollar, and I think your choices will shape the scope of your entire career. When I was offered the role in "The Manchurian Candidate", which put me on the set for a month watching Denzel Washington, Meryl Streep, Jonathan Demme, and Jeffrey Wright work on a gritty dense piece of text, for a month, which gave me two lines, but it wasn't about the lines. I got offered this other job which offered me loads of money and I was the lead with some MTV video director. See what I'm saying. Your choices will shape the scope of your career. So it's not about racism. If a white person put it in front of me, that don't mean that I have to take it. Most of the time it's the black people putting in front of me and that's what bothers me. It's about individual moral issues.

How do you think this film is going to play?

AM: The thing about it is that this film is very interesting because for some reason Hollywood and America has chosen to dumb ourselves down. We all agree that Shakespeare was great. Considering that it lives on today, Shakespeare's writing was great. I think of one of Shakespeare's play that has less than 3 plots. "Romeo and Juliet" has about 4 and 5 plots. This film has a plot, a subplot, and a through line all the way through, and all of a sudden, people are like, "Wait a minute, this ain't BET, what's going on?" "I need some bling and booty shake, what's going on?" You know what I mean. So we choose the programming that we want to see; and the problem with this film is, I feel it provokes the audience to be attentive and be a part of the movie; because one thing about this movie is, you will leave this movie with a question. Either the question is going to be about yourself or what you just saw. The thing about it is, it will invoke a response. It's the job of an artist to invoke a response.

How did you feel doing the nude scenes?

AM: I didn't have a problem with it. I have a problem with nudity for nudity sake. If you're butt naked to sell tickets, I have issues with that. If you look at the scene where I'm fully nude and I have to rotate, there's an aspect of self-degradation. There's an aspect of a straight-up slave auction. This man is just a piece of meat. There's a certain of understanding that went into that scene. It wasn't like, "Let's get butt ass naked and go for it." It wasn't like that.

Did this make you think about what women go through?

AM: Of course. The thing about it is, women are degraded and objectified minutely, not hourly or daily, minutely. Until we turn around it on ourselves, and I have 3 sisters, and I know at some point they have looked upon as objects and sexual human beings. Until we turn the focus on ourselves, you'll never understand someone's situation until you are put in that situation. During the course of this film, it definitely changed my perception and outlook in the way I talk, and meet, and correspond with women.

Did this change your tone in dealing with women?

AM: Nah; the most difficult thing for me was understanding why women are the way they are. To be continued...

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