Anthony Mackie on His Long Road to Success and the Advice Morgan Freeman Gave Him

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“I didn’t go to L.A. and say, ‘Make me famous.’ I went to theater school, did Off Broadway, did indie movies and worked my way through the ranks.” – Anthony Mackie

Marvel Cinematic Universe superhero Anthony Mackie starred in 2004’s Million Dollar Baby and 2008’s The Hurt Locker, both of which would go on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. And while he appeared in several notable films both before and after those major films, it wasn’t until 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier that Mackie would be cast in a franchise role as Falcon, Captain America’s high-flying partner. Mackie, now co-headlining his own limited series with the Disney+ series The Falcon & the Winter Soldier, spoke to Variety about his career path that led him to being one of entertainment’s biggest superhero stars.

Mackie points out that he has followed a traditional career path as an actor, and feels that now he is finally enjoying the benefits of that groundwork. He explains, “I’ve been in this business a long time, and I did it the way they said you’re supposed to do it. I didn’t go to L.A. and say, ‘Make me famous.’ I went to theater school, did Off Broadway, did indie movies and worked my way through the ranks. It took a long time for this s—t to manifest itself the way it has, and I’m extremely happy about that.”

While he worked his “way through the ranks,” Mackie appeared in a significant role as a rapper in 2002’s 8 Mile. “There were certain pegs. My first was 8 Mile. It was a monumental step at the beginning of my career,” he recalls. After that came a series of significant opportunities, though he would rarely have the lead role. He continues: “After that it was Half Nelson. It blew up Ryan Gosling, so I was there to ride the wave. Then The Hurt Locker, and it blew up Jeremy Renner. It was the joke for a long time — if you’re a white dude and you want to get nominated for an Oscar, play opposite me. I bring the business for white dudes.”

The Hurt Locker went on to win the Academy Award for Best Picture, and Mackie credits the visibility for helping him land his marquee role. He remembers, “I thought I would be able to move forward in my career and not have to jostle and position myself for work. To get into rooms with certain people. I thought my work would speak for itself. I didn’t feel a huge shift, but I 100% think that The Hurt Locker is the reason I got Captain America.”

Mackie credits his current success to an important piece of advice he got from Academy Award-winning actor Morgan Freeman, who talked him out of doing a subpar film for the money. Mackie recalls, “We did Million Dollar Baby together, and when we were shooting this movie, I got offered a play. When you do Off Broadway, it’s $425 a week. In New York, that’s really $75 per week. I got a movie offer at the same time, and it was buckets of money. Three Home Depot buckets of money were going to be dropped off at my door. The script was awful; the whole thing was slimy. I went to Morgan’s trailer and asked him what he would do. He took a second and said, ‘Do the play. When Hollywood wants you, they’ll come get you. And when they come get you, they’ll pay for it.’ That blew my mind, and I left him that day with such a massive amount of confidence. He’s been a huge influence on me.”

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