By: Kristian Rose-Anderson
In 1949, the East Coast mafia was quickly moving its reign to Los Angeles. There, the ruthless mob king, Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn), ran the show. Drugs, guns and prostitutes were the name of the game, and not to mention every wire bet placed west of Chicago. But success in this scene meant having the protection of not only paid goons, but also gaining control over the police and the politicians. It was enough to intimidate even the bravest, street-hardened cop: except, perhaps, for the small, secret crew of LAPD outsiders led by Sgt. John O’Mara (Josh Brolin) and Jerry Wooters (Ryan Gosling), who come together to try to tear Cohen’s world apart.
Directed by Ruben Fleischer (Zombieland), Gangster Squad chronicles the LAPD’s fight to keep East Coast mafia types out of Los Angeles in the 1940s and 1950s. This star-studded film includes Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn, Nick Nolte, Emma Stone, Giovanni Ribisi and Anthony Mackie as Coleman Harris, a switchblade-wielding cop who proudly patrols one of the most crime-ridden areas of the city. The film is set to open nationwide on January 11, 2013.
New Orleans born, Julliard educated, critically acclaimed actor, Anthony Mackie, has had a string a hits in Hollywood with roles in films like 8 Mile, The Manchurian Candidate, She Hate Me, Million Dollar Baby, The Hurt Locker, Notorious, The Adjustment Bureau and Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, to name a few. Mackie sat down with Monarch to talk about his latest film and his incredible career.
You have done an incredible job navigating your career. Not many people can get quality and quantity of films that you have in a fairly short period of time. What’s your secret?
I have a really good team and the three of us work really well together. So we kind of weed out a lot of stuff that works and does not work. I’m fortunate because I’m in New Orleans and I don’t have an extravagant lifestyle. So I don’t have to do extra jobs that come my way.
I didn’t realize your home base was New Orleans.
Yep, put a nail in it! I came back after living in New York for eleven years. There was a huge winter storm one year and a pipe broke in my ceiling and flooded the entire first floor. There was six inches of water on the first floor. So I thought life is hard enough! So I loaded up the truck and moved to Beverly [laughs].
I read once that your goal in the industry was to not be typecast. You’ve succeeded! How do you know when a project is a good one, is it a gut feeling or the people involved or timing?
It’s fifty percent the people who are involved and fifty percent the conversation I have with the director once I read a script. I heard Kevin Spacey once say that when he reads a script he doesn’t want to know which part he’s being offered. That way he can read it from the point of view of just the story. So a lot of times when I read a script, I just look for the story and the way that I could fit into the story. I’ve been so fortunate to play a lot of different characters. Sometimes I get offered a similar character, so I try to figure out ways to create this character in different ways.
So is there a role that you haven’t played yet that you would like to do?
A love interest! Even when I was in drama school I wanted to play Romeo. You know, one of those great, swooning love characters. It seems like I was working on being the chocolate Ryan Gosling for a second [laughs].
You’ve worked with some heavy hitters in Hollywood, what’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given by a veteran actor?
I worked with Morgan Freeman and he subsequently became a good friend of mine. One day I got offered a play and a movie at the same time. The play was in New York and was only paying like $400 a week. The movie was offering like a bucket of money. I mean literally a five gallon Home Depot bucket [laughs]. I went to Morgan Freeman and told him about these offers. He turned to me and said “Do the play.” He told me to work on my craft and when Hollywood wants me they’ll come get me. Ever since then I just decided to take a slow roll as opposed to trying to get the lead in every movie.
So where do you feel most comfortable, on stage or the big screen?
On stage. I feel like people go to theater just to see you mess up [laughs]. It’s like watching a tightrope walker: you’re just waiting for a strong wind to blow his ass off that rope. That’s kind of how theater is; so I love hitting the boards every day and hearing the audience.
Let’s talk about your upcoming film Gangster Squad. What attracted you to this project?
I really wanted to work with Ruben Fleischer. He’s a really intriguing director to me. I thought it was a role of choice to have him direct this film because of the period. I’ve always been interested in a noire LA history piece. LA Confidential is one of my favorite movies. When I read the script, this character was so deep and so grounded and so embedded in the reality of what was going on in South Central. He had a real humanity and dignity to him.
As an actor, we don’t always get the opportunity to portray a dignified character and put him out there in a way where you can relate to him. All those reasons culminated into me doing the film.
How did you get into the mindset of this character?
Music. Everyday in my trailer I was jamming James Brown and Wilson Picket, all those ol’ school cats: Bobby Blue Bland. So when my dude Pierce would be doing my hair because you know I had a conk (I had deep finger waves and a thick mustache by the way) we’d be jamming to Bobby Womack to get that soulful feel.
What was your favorite aspect in filming?
The gun [laughs]. I love Tommy guns. Not too many people can say they’ve shot a Tommy gun. I told Ruben that I needed a scene where I’m shooting up everything!
Would you like to work in this genre again?
Most definitely! I feel like there haven’t been a lot of films made about the 40s and 50s with Black culture. There was so much going on then. That was around the time when Jackie Robinson broke the color barrier in baseball. That was the beginning of the Civil Rights movement.
What do you hope viewers come out of this film remembering, saying and thinking?
I would love for people to come out saying how cool I look with a Tommy gun [laughs], saying “Anthony Mackie is one bad mother shut yo mouth!” That was my subject playing in my head the whole shoot!