Anthony Mackie On Raising Boys and What’s Next for Captain America

"I hope it'll make kids and parents have the conversation of what does it mean for a Black man to be Captain America."

by Donna Freydkin
Originally Published: 

When he hangs up his wings as Falcon, Anthony Mackie reverts to his true self: A drama nerd.

Just the other day, the Bard beckoned, so Mackie “went upstairs and I looked at my bookshelf and I was like, ‘I haven’t cracked my Shakespeare in a minute,” he says, gathering steam. “This is the nerdiest thing you’ll ever hear me say. My friends come over and we all went to acting high school or acted in college and we would read scenes from Shakespeare’s plays. Imagine this group of Black dudes, drinking whiskey, smoking cigars, reading Shakespeare. It’s the nerdiest thing you’ve ever seen. It’s hilarious.”

But not out of character. Mackie, a father of four and a theater veteran who graduated from Juilliard, has grander aspirations than playing Sam Wilson/Falcon, a winged, telepathic superhero who inherited the Captain America shield after Steve Rogers’ death in The Avengers: Endgame. Falcon’s story continues in the Disney Plus series The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, a beautifully filmed, multi-layered ode to friendship, brotherhood, duty, and loyalty. The MCU gave Mackie his power. And now he intends to put it to good use.

The show goes far beyond Falcon’s conflicted feelings towards that lauded shield, which he views with reverence and awe, wariness and respect. It tackles issues like patriotism and accountability and subtly takes on institutional racism, with Sam asking a slippery banker for a loan to float the family business. The request gets crisply denied. But the undeterred banker asks for an incredulous Wilson for a selfie. “Are you serious?” is his answer.

That same refusal to accept the status quo, to play the game, is how Mackie finds himself where he is today. And because of the cachet and clout he’s earned by being a clutch part of the MCU, coupled with his innate drive and force of will, you get the sense that Mackie says what he means and means what he says.

“The big thing for me now is that next phase of producing and creating content, because I’m at a place now where the roles that I want to play in the stories that I want to see — the movies that I’m wanting to make aren’t being done. The Sam Cooke story. The Otis Redding story,” says Mackie. “We went through a phase in the early to mid-nineties where we had these Black love stories. We don’t have those anymore. The movies that were made when we were kids that are considered great now would not be made today. We’re missing a huge market. My goal is to go in and look at that through a different lens.”

After all, he quips, “we have a Black vice president with a white husband.”

Mackie talks to Fatherly about raising boys, wearing Falcon’s wings, and learning to live in the present.

If anyone knows, it’s you, so spill: What’s up with the next Avengers movie?

I’m pretty sure there’s no script. I don’t even know if there’s going to be an Avengers five. I don’t know. I don’t know. No one knows what’s going on. They tell us nothing.

My kid wants to know what superpower you’d want to have in real life.

That I get to fly. If I could do anything in real life, I would want the power to fly.

You studied drama at Juilliard. You spent years doing Broadway and Off-Broadway. Did you ever envision that you’d be here, promoting one of Marvel and Disney’s biggest franchises?

No, to be honest, I literally got extremely jealous when they were shooting Spider-Man in New York and they shot under the 125th street bridge. I called my agent and I was like, I don’t care what it is — I wanna look up and see the Incredible Hulk or something. I never thought it would be in this scope. I was really just excited to just have a line in one of the movies.

Here you are, possibly the next Captain America. What do you want little boys and girls to take away from you seeing you as perhaps being the ultimate Avenger?

Kids are very malleable. they take to their surroundings extremely well and quickly. I hope it’ll make kids and parents have the conversation of what does it mean for a Black man to be Captain America? What is the history of the Black man and, and America, and how does that play into him being Captain America the same way?

I hope they had those conversations when Wonder Woman came out because my kids never had a question of if a woman could or couldn’t be a superhero. It was just like, she’s a superhero. Yes, she is. I hope it would change a lot of the thinking patterns of a lot of people on what America looks like and what a superhero looks like.

We’ve spoken before about how you’re focused on making the MCU more diverse, and Hollywood sets as a whole. How does this role play into your vision?

It means it gives me a chip to be able to do the things that I talk about because if you’re an actor just starting out and you don’t have the publicity machine or a movie or this, you can talk about whatever you want, but people won’t listen. So now in this vein of being a superhero, when we discover what our new normal is, I have the opportunity to go to schools and talk to kids. I have the opportunity to sit down and start a conversation with kids about how the world looks and what it’ll be like. I have the potential now to be able to call my friends, to do the same in their neighborhood. The promise of the possibility of being Captain America is not so much the glitz and the glam, but the opportunity it gives me to do the footwork that needs to be done for our kids to have a different reality than we are having.

You and Sebastian Stan have a bromance in the series. Does Sam get a love interest?

There was a thing that I kind of implied, and I figured if I put it out in the ethos, it would happen with Black Widow. But it never came to fruition. Nobody listened to me. I’m interested to see if a love interest comes about — I’m interested to see where that would go? How would that look? What form would that take?

You’ve got four boys, and whenever I ask actors who have truly badass roles if their kids care, the answer is the same: No, they do not. But surely, you’re Falcon and Captain America. Come on. It’s gotta make you cool.

I thought it was, but my kids could care less. Our, my kids are more fascinated, more excited about beating me in board games than they are about me being a superhero. And it’s interesting because what I appreciate about them is I’m not special because I’m in movies — I’m special because I’m their dad and that’s something I’ve always harped on them and that’s something they’ve always expressed. I’ve always enjoyed that relationship with them. But at the same time, I really wish they would just say how cool it was that their dad is a superhero — never happened. Never happened.

What’s your parenting philosophy?

I come from very strict parents. It was six of us. My parents were very traditional. My mom was a stay-at-home mom.

For me, parenting is — it has become more of a relationship. I see with my kids now, if I talk to them the right way, if I’m corrective in a forming manner, they’ve grown up to be respectable little dudes. I treat them like adults. I let them know that there are consequences for their actions. So every action has a reaction and they weigh their consequences.

Like my 8-year-old literally will sit here and be like, okay, if I take those potato chips, ‘I’m gonna be in trouble. I really wanted those potato chips so I’ll deal with that.’ I always tell people, listen to your kids, it’s not that hard. I treat my kids like little men and they act like little men. They’ve never embarrassed me on an airplane. They’ve never embarrassed me in a grocery store. They’re good kids.

I wouldn’t know, since you’re protective of them and don’t share their images on social media.

I live in New Orleans. I’m very stern and deliberate on my end with my time with my kids. And I ask people to be respectful of that. So for the most part, people are respectful. And for the most part, the places that I go, the people let people know, don’t do that. You know? So that’s why I live in New Orleans.

It’s funny, the last time we spoke, the election hadn’t happened yet. You were pushing people to vote. And here we are today. Do you feel more hopeful?

I’ve always felt hopeful about it. We’re a very resilient people, which is why I love being here, which is why I love my city. So even if Trump would’ve got back in office, even if COVID would have run rampant and we all would’ve turned into zombies, I felt like there was something on the horizon to make — 2020 was there to make us appreciate 2021 going on. Now, when they let us out of the house, you want to see appreciation.

What would the MCU Mackie tell the guy who starred in Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom on stage back in 2003?

I would literally tell him to enjoy it. I feel like there are a lot of things. I’ve been very fortunate in my 42 years of life and especially my 21 years in the business. And I feel like I haven’t taken the time to enjoy it. When Denzel came to see my play, I didn’t get a picture of Denzel. Now I want that picture with Denzel. When I was on the stage on Broadway and Off-Broadway, I never enjoyed it now that I think back on it. And I’m like, man, I wish I had done this. Or I wish I had taken the time to do that. So I would say just stop and enjoy it. Don’t be in such a rush.

The Falcon and the Winter Solider begins on Disney+ on March 19. It will run for six weeks.

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