Actors often talk about the investment they make in a role. In the case of Anthony Mackie, who reprises his role as comic book hero Falcon in “Captain America: Civil War,” the investment came out of his wallet.
Before strapping on the wings in the 2014 release, “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” Mackie decided he would buy all the Marvel Comics that featured the character. Although he was a big reader as a child growing up in New Orleans, he wasn’t a comic book reader.
He needed a little help in his research quest. Most of the collection came from a comic book store. Finding “Captain America” No. 117, in which the Falcon is introduced, was the stumbling block. A copy in nearly flawless condition can command more than $3,000.
“The great thing was I went online and found this dude who had three mint editions of the comic book where Falcon was introduced,” Mackie says. “I wrote him a letter and told him I had just been cast to play Falcon. I told him if he gave me a copy I would sign his and give him an autographed poster. I put this whole box together and sent it to him for the book.”
The investment paid off. Mackie has now portrayed Falcon in four films, including a cameo in “Ant-Man.”
Flush with all of the emotional angst that Marvel likes to write into its comics, Mackie began to realize that these are not just characters who strut around in colorful costumes. He sees the films as being a lot like theater and family drama.
The classically trained Juilliard School actor has plenty of theater experience to compare to his film career. His stage work includes playing Tupac Shakur in the off-Broadway production of “Up Against the Wind.” Mackie made his Broadway debut as Sylvester, alongside Whoopi Goldberg in August Wilson’s “Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom.”
“The way that the script is written and plays out, everyone takes care of each other,” Mackie says. “And, I think the social, political undertones are what makes it so family-oriented and timely. You watch this movie and you don’t just see a superhero movie. You question your own beliefs, your own judgments, your own feelings.”
There’s certainly plenty of family-style bickering among the characters. As far as that family dynamic goes, Mackie sees Falcon as a “cousin who is stuck in Las Vegas and needs someone to send him $300 so he can get a flight home.”
Falcon’s role has grown with each movie. He’s no longer a sidekick to Captain America but a hero on his own.
“What they did was introduce him as a friend who became and ally to Cap. In this movie you see him as his own person,” Mackie says.
Getting to reprise a role that has grown so much has been a joy, he says.
Mackie’s next big role is in the HBO film “All the Way” in which he wears a very different suit. He plays Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Bryan Cranston portrays Lyndon B. Johnson.
Taking on a role based on a real character comes with its own potential pitfalls.
“The interesting thing with Martin Luther King Jr. was more so allowing myself the potential to be bad. Once you give yourself the right to know you might be bad and then release all the other stuff, it’s smooth sailing,” Mackie says.
As to whether that was easy to do, Mackie smiles and says, “No. Hell, no.”