You would think that as one of the stars of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, one who famously gets to fly around in a jet pack with wings, someone at Marvel Studios would have told Anthony Mackie how the flight suit works, and how to move while hanging from wires in front of a green screen. You would be wrong. In our interview with Anthony Mackie, the man playing the first African-American superhero explains that they just told him to wing it. Pun intended.
Also in the interview, Anthony Mackie explains that he hasn't been ask to appear in The Avengers: Age of Ultron, so he assumes he simply won't be in it. We also discuss his character, Sam Wilson's relationship with Captain America works on screen, why reading The Falcon comics didn't help him prepare for the role, and the origin of his best line of dialogue in last year's Gangster Squad.
Captain America: The Winter Soldier opens in theaters on April 4, 2014.
CraveOnline: If feels like you hit the jackpot with this Falcon thing.
Anthony Mackie: [Laughs.]
It’s such an important character to so many people. The first proper, mainstream African-American superhero. The movie treats him with so much dignity.
He gets his proper due. I was worried that there were so many characters that you wouldn’t get any screen time.
Well, when I first met with the Russo Bros. they were very clear about the movie they wanted to make and how they wanted to make it. They were very clear about how important The Falcon was, and they were very clear about his relationship to Cap and Black Widow, and how the three of them were equally as important. You know, I’ve been told that before by directors. That’s when you do the movie and you get shafted without rhyme or reason, but they really believed it and held true to it.
I think at no point in time in this movie was I or anyone else worried about screen time, or how many lines we had or how many scenes we were in, and I think that’s why the movie came off and plays so well. Chris [Evans] is a very good friend of mine. He’s somebody I admire and respect, and I think with this movie being the way it is and him being Captain America, I knew that I was a character in the Captain America movie. So I knew it wasn't “The Falcon Movie.”
He’s in the title.
It should be Captain America & The Falcon but what are you going to do?
So it was very clear to me from the beginning that I was there as a vessel to help Captain America.
But you have a good point, which is that you and Black Widow and Captain America work together as a unit, and it feels like you also represent different perspectives.
It’s a very political movie. We get you in there as a modern American hero.
Someone who has a different context for what’s going on. Tell me about this Sam Wilson and where he’s coming from as a character, some stuff we maybe didn’t get to hear about on screen.
Well basically Sam Wilson is the conscience. He’s the eyes and ears of the audience into the movie. He’s not in any way, shape or form a superhero, in any way, shape or form in that superhero world. He’s a guy who’s surrounded by superheroes. So if you make The Avengers and you take a regular guy from Starbucks and put him in a room with all the superheroes, he would be the audience.
But you’re not that, though.
You’re a soldier and you have a fucking flying suit, of which there’s like one left!
No, I’m a soldier and I was in a flying program. So now I’m a civilian. I’m working in counseling other soldiers, and the relationship between… One thing I realized in my research and one thing I wanted to hold true to with this movie, was that the comic books wouldn’t help me in becoming this character. Because this is basically the introduction of The Falcon. The Falcon has had three, now with this [movie] four different incarnations throughout the course of his comic book life. So if I went back to the first comic book and read everything, going into this movie it would be different because we see The Falcon when he first meets Cap in the movie. We see The Falcon when he first sees Cap. And this adventure is not in the comic books. It’s not like they took a comic book and wrote it word for word. They created an adventure, created an introduction, created our relationship.
So I realize with Sam, the one thing I could hold on to and the most important thing I could utilize was his relationship as a soldier, with a soldier. I think that’s why the relationship between the two of them, Sam and Steve, plays so well, because Sam wants nothing from Cap. He realizes the problems that Cap is having adjusting to mainstream society and wants to try to help him as a soldier.
That comes across. I mean that. It’s so refreshing to see someone who wasn’t responding to Captain America as an icon, or even a joke, or a God, or even someone who needs a favor from him. He’s just a guy to you.
That’s the thing. It’s a relationship that starts off with admiration and culminates into respect. He cares about Cap. I mean, he is a celebrity. He admires him for being Captain America and a super soldier, but he cares about him as a soldier and that’s why he goes to the hospital and sits with him. That’s why he invites him to a counseling session with the other soldiers. That’s why he spends time and talks to him, because he wants to help. He wants to talk him off that ledge. His problems are different. He has the problems coming out of war, but he also has the problem of being a guy that just doesn’t fit in, and the ultimate problem of a soldier coming back from war is they don’t fit in.
We talked a lot about the way that you relate to the existing characters, and we hope to see more of you in The Avengers 2. How do you foresee you relating to a God? It makes sense for you to stand next to Captain America, when you’re hanging out with Thor, what do you talk about?
[Laughs.] “Wait, so you’re from where…?”
“Is that near Newark…?”
[Laughs.] Everything is near Newark. No, that’s a very interesting question. I think with The Falcon, the most important thing for me with The Falcon is how does the character evolve in the next movie, because there has to be some sort of transition or something with him, to take him into the superhero universe. So I don’t know what that is, I don’t how that will be played, but I’m interested to see what that is because I haven't been told I’m in The Avengers 2 yet. I haven’t read the script, I don’t know anything about it. So I’m guessing since it starts in three weeks that I’m not in Avengers 2. [Laughs.]
I would find that disappointing, if there wasn’t room for you.
I’m just guessing. I’m just guessing.
I loved the action scenes with you towards the end. They reminded me a lot of The Rocketeer.
Because The Rocketeer was the last movie I saw that made just simply the act of flying, just with you and a rocket pack, seem cool…
Beautiful and heroic. Were you on wires? Was that all CGI? How did that work?
It was all wire work. I did a shitload of wire work and it was the most painful, traumatic…
It digged into your armpits, didn’t it?
No, they did this new harness that was leg straps and a torso strap so they could pick me [up] at four points. So if these are my arms, this is my leg, I had a string here, string here, string here. So if I was flying I could do this, I could do that…
So it was only your torso, had nothing to do with your arms.
Nothing. Literally my core had to be engaged and I had to hold my legs up. I had to put my body in an arch position because that’s how you would fly. There’s nothing natural in the human physical being about flying. So there’s nothing natural in the human physical being about landing, or taking off.
That’s a good point actually.
Or any part of flying! So when I show up and you’re like, “Alright, put him up on the ropes. You’re going to fly.” I’m like, “Dude, I’ve never rehearsed!”
They didn’t give you some sort of movement coach or something like that?
You’d there’s be like… You know those acting classes where they’re like, “Be a tree?”
Right. No. They strapped me to a crane and said, “Action!”
Wow. I’m curious, because it’s such a painstaking process to put this together…
Do they just have you do every motion possible, or is it just like, “I don’t know, how would you turn left in mid-air!”
That’s how it was?
That’s pretty much how it was! The stunt team was great, and I literally have the best stunt man in the business. He would rehearse the stuff with camera and rehearse all this stuff and come to me and show me how, because he’s a physical expert. The dude’s a cat. He’s a capoeira and martial arts expert, so he can do all this stuff physically and would come in and set it on me. So when I get to set I’ll have an “idea” of what to do. In no way, shape or form am I muscular [enough], in that kind of shape to do it. So that’s where the pain came in. I had a bulging disc, I was bruised. It was really, really rough. And that was just taking off. That wasn’t when they got to me landing. There was a few times I ate it. I always say that this could be a comedy about The Falcon trying to learn how to fly.
There’s your Marvel One-Shot.
And it would be damn funny. [Laughs.]
There’s something I wanted to tell you about. I really liked that movie Gangster Squad that’s you’re in. I love L.A. history, I’m from here, it’s a little heightened but I liked it a lot.
You have one of my favorite lines, which I’ve felt many a time before, which is “I always knew I was going…”
“…to die in Burbank!” [Laughs.]
I was flipping through channels recently and I landed on that scene, and I was like, “I’m going to wait until he says that line, and then I can change the channel.”
That’s one of those lines where we were on set, and we were like, “Where are we?” “Burbank.” “Burbank?!” And it just came out of conversation.
It wasn’t even in the script? That was you?
Josh Brolin was there, and Josh Brolin is a really good guy, and we were laughing and joking and we get ready to shoot, and they roll the camera and I go, “I always knew I was going to die in Burbank,” and everybody just bust out laughing! Like, everyone, every time you cross the hill you feel that way. I’m not going to make it back across this hill.
I feel the same way.