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Anthony Mackie takes flight as Falcon in 'Captain America: The Winter Soldier'

Anthony Mackie has worked with some big-name directors like Spike Lee (“Sucker Free City”) and Michael Bay (“Pain & Gain”). He has even starred in two films that won the Academy Award for Best Picture (“Million Dollar Baby,” “The Hurt Locker”). In his latest and possibly biggest movie to date, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” he plays Sam Wilson aka Falcon, a former Army paratrooper who is enlisted by Captain America (Chris Evans) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) to help stop a sinister plot that could result in millions of people getting killed. I had the chance to participate in a roundtable interview with Mackie as he talked about a variety of things including what it took to make it look like he is flying and giving feedback about his character.

Captain America (Chris Evans) seeks the help of Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) in "Captain America: The Winter Soldier."
Marvel Studios

As an actor, how do you personally feel about bringing The Falcon to the silver screen as Marvel’s first African-American superhero?

Anthony Mackie: I feel honored. I feel like if you look at the history of the Falcon, he’s a very interesting character. He’s had three different incarnations in the comic book world. Most characters when they don’t work, Marvel would just literally write them off, but what Marvel did with The Falcon was that they realized how valuable he was and they never really gave up on him. First, they wrote him as a drug dealer in Harlem. That’s when he moved to LA and became like a drug-dealing pimp and after that, he became this military expert. In this movie, what they wanted to do was to take all of that and kind of put it together and make him a present-day superhero. This is really his fourth incarnation, but what they did in the movie was they made him an all-around great guy and this movie hinges on Cap and the Falcon’s relationship. If that relationship doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t work because you have to be able to buy into him for who the two of them are to become realistic. Marvel’s movies deal 100% with placing superheroes in our reality and that’s why we use minimal CGI. As the actors, that is why we did so many of our own stunts because if you look at the movie, aside from the stuff that’s obviously CGI like a hovercraft, the other stuff looks really real. Marvel has like a custom of bringing quality work to the screen and making you feel like, “Oh wow…this is a real sequence of events.” When you watch “The Avengers,” you want to go to New York and be like, “Oh my God, this is where Loki was!” because it looks like they just blew up New York in the movie. With Sam Wilson, it was a huge honor to add him to the Marvel fold because of what he represents to the African American experience in New Orleans and as we’ve evolved as a people, he has evolved as a character.

One thing I really liked about this movie was that there was a greater sense of danger here than some of the other Marvel movies and I was wondering if that was important to you in making the movie and taking it further in future Marvel universe movies.

Mackie: I think if you go a step further, it would be too dark. I think that the difference between this movie and “Captain America: The First Avenger” was a lot of exposition. With this film, I feel like what they did was take an espionage feel and then took an origin story and smashed them together. Getting the Russo brothers to direct it was kind of brilliant because it kept with that lighthearted feel that they found in “The Avengers” and they just carried over into that because this movie picks up the next day after the Avengers take out Loki. So with this movie, I feel it’s more like “Catch Me if You Can” meets Jason Bourne with a bunch of superheroes, so you know it’s got the best of both worlds and that’s why I think it works perfectly. I don’t think you need to go any further because it would just make it too dark.

There were always rumors about you being in talks for the Black Panther previous to this role. Was that ever something that you were interested in?

Mackie: Definitely. When I finished “The Hurt Locker,” I felt like my career was on a huge up-swing, and my goal as an actor when I first started when I was 21 years old, I said I want to be a superhero and I want to do a western…but after “The Hurt Locker,” I contacted Marvel and said, “If in any capacity you want to use me, I’d love to be in one of your movies”, and I did that every six months up until five years. I finally got a response. They said, “Never email us again. We’ll call you.” A year later, I got a call. They said, “Come to L.A. We want to talk to you about a character.” I had been constantly working on the idea of Black Panther and all the emails I sent them, Black Panther was always the topic of subject because I felt like that was such an amazing character and I knew they had been developing that for so long. I just felt that it would be a perfect fit. When we had lunch, they pitched me The Falcon. It was never an idea of them to say, “We’re developing Black Panther, but we’re doing The Falcon.” It was always an idea of me asking them about Black Panther because I read that they were developing it and them saying, “No, it was The Falcon.” So if it was Black Panther, I wouldn’t have been mad about it but The Falcon is kind of dope. If you look at what they’ve made this character into, he’s unlike any other superhero. I think once you get into his backstory and the idea of who he actually has become being a soldier, working at the VA hospital and all of the things about his character, I feel like it would be as equally gratifying to playing the character.

If the Falcon’s movements and flying doesn’t work, the movie doesn’t work. It was so fluid and natural like in the scene when he landed. Can you talk about the experience of doing that?

Mackie: Well first of all, that was really me landing so thank you (laughs) because I thought I looked pretty stupid. It was extremely difficult. I have a great stunt man named Aaron Tony. Literally in every movie I do, I don’t care if I have to walk and look cool, I call him and get him on the movie because he works it all out for months. He’s like a martial arts black belt, jiu-jitsu expert like hands registered as weapons, three-touch-kill-you type of guy. He works for months on these stunts and I show up and we work for like 2-3 weeks. We did it for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” and for every movie I’ve done that’s heavy in action, he works all of this stuff out, breaks bones and I show up and he sets it to me like dance. With this movie, it is the exact same thing. He worked me out, he stretched me out, got me fit and literally every time I got up there, there was literally nothing in human nature that works as landing like a bird. You have to bring your entire torso and legs under you so you can land and then move. We had so many sequences like that. It was just figuring out how to work that out with my body. For the flying stuff, they developed this four-point harness. They put you in like a body suit and hook wires to it and just float you around. I had a pick on each leg and on my shoulders so I could move in either direction. They could move me vertically, laterally and they could swing me in any direction so all that stuff when I’m going under the plane, I was actually doing that, and that’s why when you see it in the movie it looks so good. The Russos decided that they wanted to use as little CGI as possible so they put the actors in a position where we had to do our own stunts and luckily, we were up for the challenge. It worked out really well, a few bumps and bruises, but it looks real because a lot of it was real and the wings were CGI. That’s just Marvel spending the money in the right places. With those wings, I was like, “I’ll sign into the movie…just don’t make me look stupid.” I feel like if any other studio would have made the movie, those wings would have looked really stupid. They worked on it. That’s why they take a year to make a movie.

What was the most challenging part of doing the movie?

Mackie: The most challenging part of the movie was fear. I am a certified skydiver. I have over 25 jumps under my belt and I never realized the difference between jumping and coming towards the ground, feet first as opposed to face first. It’s very different. The idea is that when you are jumping out of the plane, you see your feet so you can brace yourself, but when you’re flying everything is like (points face towards ground) so overcoming that fear the first day of shooting helped me out a lot. Once again, my stunt man was there. There’s a scene where I am supposed to fly down, get Cap and turn around and bring him back up. They put my stuntman 300 feet in the air on a crane. They said to me, “Alright Anthony. We are going take you up, we want you to do a backflip and come straight down face inverted to the ground and we’re going to drop you 5 feet from the ground” and I said “Aaron Tony!” (laughs), so they put him up and literally I’m watching him and he does a backflip, picks up Cap and they just let him go. Those are the type of stunts that made it work that I couldn’t do. I tried it from 50 feet and I screamed and they were like, “Alright, you’re never doing this again.” The Russos came up to me and said, “Well, you know The Falcon can’t scream” (laughs). I was like, “Okay, let’s do this again” and they dropped me and I’m like (screams). Those were my sadder moments (laughs).

I know that you like indie movies better, but I was curious if you could really impact your character at all in a high budget film like Marvel. Would you step in and say, “This doesn’t feel okay for the character” because in a way, I feel like the Captain and Sam bonded a little too quickly because you guys ran together, talked a little bit and now you’re his most trusted confidant.

Mackie: Very good observation. We had that conversation. That was the first note I gave them. The problem that I had with the script from the beginning was that they needed one more scene, one more instance, one more thing to happen for that relationship to be honest. But then, once I saw the movie, I got it. What we did to combat that was that in that first scene, we added that conversation about their military background and that draws them into a kindred spirit. If you know anybody from the military, as soon as they meet someone from their same branch, (snaps fingers) it’s like “Where were you stationed?”, “What did you do?”, ”Oh my God, let’s get a beer.” After I did “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” I flew out to the Middle East with the Navy to premiere the movie on the USS Abraham Lincoln in the middle of the Persian Gulf. In the military, they have these little coins and on the back of the coin it says, “If you meet anybody with this coin and it’s in his pocket and they show you the coin, you have to buy them a beer.” I get on the ship, I see these fighter jets, these FA teams, landing on the ship and I see a black fighter pilot, and I’m like “Oh my! It’s a black maverick!” At lunch, I see him and I run up to him and put the coin on the table. He’s like “Where did you get that?” and I was like, “Well, so and so gave it to me, so you know that’s my chip”, and he goes “I owe you a beer.” From that moment on, we talked all night. We were leaving the next day. He came up to me and said, “I want to thank you for coming out and I want to thank you for your support” and he gave me his flight suit. I get emotional talking about it, but it was absolutely amazing. That was the thing that I wanted to connect between The Falcon and Cap. If you have soldiers coming back from war, you don’t really understand war unless you’ve been there. You don’t understand the pain, torture and insecurity that come with coming back from war. Once you meet a kindred spirit that has had that experience, you’re (snaps fingers) instantly best friends. Just me being on that boat, meeting that soldier, having that connection…this was a dude that had like 25 kills with his suit and he’s flown over a thousand missions. He’s been in the military for over 30 years and he gave me his flight suit with all the patches and everything just because I had that coin. I thought about that and that’s why we added that sequence to that first scene because anybody in the military would look at that and go, “That’s real.” That’s where the whole Marvin Gaye thing came in and stuff. That’s what made it real for it and justified not adding another 5 to 10 minutes and my damn mug in another scene (laughs).

So you do give feedback a lot?

Mackie: Yeah, and I read the blogs and I watch the stuff. That’s why whenever I have the opportunity to talk to people and those who say stuff online like, “That’s stupid.” I like to meet those people (laughs). We found out that “Batman vs. Superman” is coming out the same day as “Captain America 3.” So I know Ben Affleck, that’s my boy, and as boys, you talk s--t. Do you talk s--t with your friends? I know I do! If “Batman vs. Superman” comes out the same day as “Captain America 3,” what am I going to say? Am I going to ask to move the date? No! I’, going to be like, “You better move your date!” (laughs), but then this little dude on Twitter was like, “That was very inappropriate and disrespectful”, so I’m like, “My dude, you need a friend because obviously you don’t have friends. You don’t know how friends talk to each other!” You know what I mean? If there’s one piece of candy left and you are with your friend, you and your friend are going to talk s--t about getting that candy (laughs). Right? It’s the reality of it. You have to realize that actors are friends too. They are people too and that’s just what it is. We’re wearing costumes and flying around. Come on dude! I’m not talking about your mom! I’m at a press conference in Miami talking about my wings. It’s not that deep.

“Captain America: The Winter Soldier” is now playing in theaters. Click here for showtimes.

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