When most of us last saw Anthony Mackie, he was being handed the shield of Captain America. He has been busy since then, notably taking up the mantle of … content creator.
“The industry is changing so much now with streaming, Internet-based content; it’s not a rat race anymore. It’s not one person who has the keys to the kingdom,” says the 41-year-old budding producer with an abundance of acting credits.
He appears in two fact-based films in December: “Seberg,” with Kristen Stewart in the title role; and one he shepherded from concept to release, “The Banker,” coming from Apple and costarring Samuel L. Jackson, Nia Long and Nicholas Hoult. Mackie says it’s just a coincidence they both feature him as a black activist in the 1960s. After all, despite “Banker’s” cast and compelling true story, it took 10 years to get to the screen.
“The huge problem we ran into is that [decision makers] will read an algorithm that will tell them what’s a hit and what’s not a hit, even though 95% of the things they say will be a hit, fail. Just like they say [films about] black people don’t travel well overseas,” says the Marvel Cinematic Universe star. “That’s funny, because when I go overseas, I’m pretty ... famous. I was just in Hungary, and I couldn’t walk down the street.”
Amazon Studios’ “Seberg” examines how actress Jean Seberg’s affair with Hakim Jamal (Mackie), a cousin of Malcolm X, led to her persecution by the FBI. “Banker” stars Mackie as the real-life Bernard Garrett, who, with business partner Joe Morris (Jackson), became extremely successful in 1960s Los Angeles real estate. Garrett never forgot his small-town Texas roots; his passion project became promoting economic justice in his hometown by buying a bank to make loans available to black customers. His story in turn became Mackie’s passion project.
“Right now, there’s so much opportunity out there,” says the actor-producer. “But if you’re Leonardo DiCaprio, your passion project is everybody’s passion project. If you’re Anthony Mackie, your passion project is your passion project.
“It’s such an important movie ... what he was able to do, buying the Banker Building in downtown L.A. It was the biggest commercial piece of property in Los Angeles. As important a story as it is, it was so hard to put together. I was blown away by how hard. We’re in the business of telling stories. If it’s a good story, an audience will go see it.”
The Juilliard-trained actor has played his share of heavies — notably in “8 Mile” and “The Hate U Give.” Now that his success affords him greater choice, however, he takes representation into consideration.
All the available projects about black people, Mackie says, are “about a drug dealer from the ’50s or a drug dealer from the ’80s or the 2000s. Every TV show is about a drug dealer. I didn’t grow up like that. My brother has his PhD in engineering. My other brother has a law degree. My grandfather was a sharecropper. So I wanted to present the people that I knew, that I grew up with. The men that I know.”
In “Seberg,” he plays a well-known activist during the social justice struggles of the 1960s.
Jamal “opened a community center; he worked in his neighborhood,” he says. “Malcolm X being his cousin, it put him in a position to meet people outside of his realm and introduce them to his world. He was, in a way, a very humble man with extreme measures of masculinity he portrayed to the world.”
Jamal had serious brushes with the law and reportedly was mentally unstable. Mackie says the film’s portrayal focuses on his lesser-known sides.
“The man he was in private was very different from the man he was in public. That was something I tried to convey,” he says, “that Jekyll-and-Hyde: That quietness in his downtime; that fire, that lion in his public time. He was a very thoughtful guy from what I saw — I saw two or three interviews with him, I read his book. He definitely had a leader quality to him.
“They were in love. To me, ‘Seberg’ is a love story that was thwarted by racism and stupidity in the 1960s and ’70s. And don’t get me started about J. Edgar Hoover.”
Among the subjects Mackie the producer is developing: a Johnnie Cochran murder case from the ’80s; a sci-fi adventure teaming a drone pilot and an android; and a Jesse Owens biopic he says he’s “too old” to star in.
As Mackie follows influences such as Robert Townsend and the Wayans brothers, who created black content when the market was in doubt, there’s an echo of Garrett’s quest in “The Banker.” At a time when banks wouldn’t make capital available to black borrowers, he made it his mission “to prove the naysayers wrong,” says Mackie. “And none of those loans were foreclosed on. All of those loans were paid in full.”