He was discovered while playing Tupac Shakur in the Off-Broadway play “Up Against the Wind” and later went on to portray him in “Notorious.”
He also starred in “8 Mile” as Eminem’s nemesis Papa Doc. Among his other movies are “The Hurt Locker” and the more recent “Real Steel” and “Man on a Ledge.
This week he will be staring in the awesomely captivating “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” as Lincoln’s best friend William H. Johnson.
I caught up with Mackie this past weekend at the Ritz Carlton Hotel in New York City where he was promoting the movie.
Ok, Anthony, what do you say to those who don’t approve of actors playing slaves and maids?
Read a history book. I would say read a history book. I think that a lot of our grandparents and great grand parents were maids and slaves and their stories deserve to be told. I think it’s important to not only us, as African Americans but it’s important to our children. It’s important to our grandchildren to know where they came from and there’s a way of doing that with respect and dignity. I think people have more of a problem when you just come out and you look like less of a man. I think that’s where people have the problem. And I think it goes back to Viola and Olivia and ‘The Help.’ I think they brought so much dignity and pride to those characters and that you can’t speak on that unless you’ve seen it. I know a number of my aunts were housekeepers for wealthier white families, and when I saw that movie it brought me to tears because they brought humanity to their story.
Describe your role and his importance to history.
It’s funny. I have always heard about and read a little about William H. Johnson and when this movie came about, I knew a little about the book but William H Johnson is not in the book. Abraham Lincoln’s sideman is Edgar Allen Poe in the book. So when I heard that William was in the movie, I was thrilled. I mean because he’s he kind of like the reason why we are where we are where we are today. Abraham Lincoln grew up seeing slaves. He grew up seeing black people, impoverished and detrimental communities but William was his friend. So William was with him everyday. William went with him to give the Gettysburg Address, you know. He was the man that was with him that affected him on a day to day basis. So when he wrote the Emancipation Proclamation, when he gave the Gettysburg Address, when he decided to force the country into war, who was the first person he looked at? Who was he doing it for? Who’s William H. Johnson? And I feel like that being said, his name should be known and his story deserves to be told.
You know there are some who say Lincoln was concerned about saving the country when he freed the slaves.
I would tell those people to read a book. I would say this, if he wasn’t concerned about saving black people, he was concerned about saving the country, if freeing black people was a by-product of saving the country, I can live with that. [laughs]. I can live with that. [Seriously] when William passed away on his way back from the Gettysburg Address. Abraham Lincoln took money out of his own pocket and had him buried at Arlington cemetery and on his headstone it says William H. Johnson, Citizen and that’s still there today. I think it’s kind of remarkable that not only do people not know that story but also people have no idea who William H. Johnson is.
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How does this part play among all the roles you have done thus far?
I mean this one is so different. If it was a movie about William H. Johnson, that would be something completely different. The reason the movie is so important to me is because it’s unlike anything I had ever done. It’s unlike any type of acting I have ever been privy to because I had never worked in front of a green screen. I had never been shooting guns and jumping off of trains and fighting vampires, you know, it’s one of those action movies that every actor dreams about doing and doing it with a director like Timur. So it’s high up there on the list just because of all the little things around the project, not so much the entire project.
Did you train for those kick ass moves?
Yeah, I had this stunt guy from L.A. and he was a martial arts and Capoeira expert. I mean like he studied with Capoera gurus in Brazil and everyday he would come over to my house and I got to work out with him on all these moves and stuff that we were going to incorporate into the movie and that’s what I love about being an actor. You can have the opportunity to experience every facet of life and you don’t have to live in that life. You just get to experience it! That’s why I enjoy doing what I do and telling the stories. That’s why I do movies like this. That’s why I do little movies like ‘Brother to Brother,’ it’s just to experience different walks of life.
How did you hear about this?
Funny enough my niece was reading the book. She had read ‘Pride Prejudice and Zombies’ and she was starting this book when everything came about so I had heard about the book and I was watching this interview with Dr. Cornel West and he was talking about William H. Johnson and I was like, ‘Wow. That’s so interesting.’ So I was watching and listening to him and then two weeks later I got a call about this movie.
Did you read the book?
Not the whole book, but it’s a thrill ride. It’s a really interesting and well-plotted out book because there’s so much actual history in it. I love the idea of re-contexturalizing history. I love the idea of taking a true story and turning it on its head so you can look at it from a different perspective and I think we should be able to re-invent our historical figures. If 200 years from now they make a movie about me and I’m a badass, cutting up vampires. I would not have a problem with that.
What do you want audiences to walk away with after seeing the movie?
From the time I signed onto this movie, it’s been important to me for the idea of re-formatting history so that a new generation can go and learn about Abraham Lincoln. So a new generation and an older generation can go home and google William H. Johnson. You know I feel like if Abraham Lincoln is as we say the greatest American president, people should know who he is in America and more than just a top hat and a $5 bill. So it gives us the opportunity to go and learn more. Plant a seed.
How was it being on the USS Abraham Lincoln?
Having the opportunity to show the movie to the troops first and spend time in Bahrain and Djibouti and then culminating the trip with the screening on the USS Abraham Lincoln for our military, it was amazing. They are a magical breed and if you look at everything we have today, it’s being protected by 1% of the population and to hear their stories, it’s great. There were so many people I was talking to that would join the military so they could afford to go to college so that they could take care of their families. They join the military because they had no way out of their neighborhoods. It made me realize how fortunate I was. It made me realize how much my dad worked and broke his back and limbs just so I could have what I have now, you know? It really makes you appreciate it.