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December 2006
An Interview with Anthony Mackie

An Interview with Anthony Mackie
By Wilson Morales

December 20, 2006

After playing a drug dealer in “Half Nelson” this past summer, and then playing a basketball player in “Crossover” in the fall, one would think that Mackie’s next film would be of a different genre, and it is and it isn’t. It’s another sports film, this time football, but it’s more emotional and uplifting than “Crossover”. Based on a true story, “We Are Marshall” deals with the aftermath surrounding the deaths of 75 Marshall University football members, coaches, and staff, from that happened in a plane crash in November 1970. Mackie plays Nate Ruffin, one of the three members who wasn’t on the plane and has to deal with keeping the sport alive when the school wants to abolish it and his emotional return to the game. In speaking with blackfilm.com, Mackie talks about his character, working on this film, and his upcoming projects.

How did you get involved with this film?

Anthony Mackie: I read the script and I was blown away by the idea, not so much of people suffering, but people recovering. The was so much going on at the time as far as what was going down in New Orleans, what had happened in New York, the tsunami and everything and I felt that there was a huge loss when it came to recovery. Everybody was suffering and nobody was recovering. I met with McG and auditioned and got the part.

Did you research the part and meet with the family of

AM: Yeah, I had Easter dinner with the family. I just read all the news clippings and everything from 1970 and there was a film that was made, a documentary about what had happened and I watched that and really just talked to family members and everybody about what was going on at that time.

And they were supportive…

AM: Yeah. The family was really supportive and very helpful. Usually when you talk about somebody, you have 30% of the people that are just a-holes, 50% that think he’s great, and 20% that says he was a cool cat, but everybody you meet, talks about Nate Ruffin like he was the second coming. He was like a king in West Virginia, not only to his family, but everyone around him. So many came up to me with just tears in their eyes, talking about how great of a man he was. That helped a lot as far as creating the character and bringing him to life.

With McG known for having directed fluff like “Charlie’s Angels”, were you worried about where he would take this story?

AM: Nah. When I first read it, I was like, “McG?” I was sure because he had done so many music videos and so many action movies, but then when I met with him, there’s a certain level of commitment and passion that he had to the project that I usually don’t get from a lot of other people in the business. He really believed in telling this story and he was going to do whatever he could to tell it the right way because he knew he was honoring real people.

At the end credits, a lot of other actors got to meet their counterparts and obviously you couldn’t because Nate is dead. Does that make it more difficult that you could never meet him?

AM: It makes it ten times easy. The problem is that you don’t want to be a caricature who you think that person is. The most important thing is not what you say but what people say about you; so you learn so much more about a person talking to people who surrounded him. I feel like it was a blessing that I wasn’t able to meet him.

What do you call McG on the set? Does he go by another name?

AM: I call him, “McGeesy”. Everybody had their own nickname. Everybody was called something completely different, but I called him McGessey.

The Ruffin role is really interesting because you have to be really tough but have that vulnerability inside that has to come out at the end. How do you balance that? How do you play the tough football guy without going so far over to the emotional side?

AM: Just reading the script everyday. McG was very clear about the story he wanted to tell, so a lot of my work was done everyday just coming to the set and asking him questions; and he’s truly a director. He guided us into performances and I feel a lot of what I did in the movie was specifically because of him.

Does he do line reading?

AM: No, that would be a bad director. He’s good with psych; he knows how to keep moral up on the set. He can pull you to the side and really talk to you in a way that makes you feel like you can take it to that next level. He knows what the scene calls for to get the overall outcome at the end of the movie. He directs you towards that. He directs it scene by scene by scene. Instead of just directing to a car crash, he directs through it.

This film is coming off the heels you being in a basketball film. Do you have a sports background?

AM: Nah. I’m athletic. I go to the gym. I eat right. I grew up playing sports, so I feel that a lot of the trials and tribulations that I went through and I learned from were because of my sports background. A lot of the lessons I was taught was because of sports. With these sports projects, every generation has their sports cycle of films and we just happened to be in the middle of that cycle.

Where did you get the motivation to act?

AM: I was studying to be an engineer and we were in this class and Mobil Oil and we left and went over to the Nassa plant right outside New Orleans and they said the space shuttle crashed because of this oil rings around the gas tank, and the oil rings were designed and manufactured at this plant, and I was like, ‘Dude, I can’t deal with that. That’s too much”. One of my teachers steered me in the direction of action and I’ve been doing that ever since.

Did you gain for the role?

AM: Yeah. A lot of steak and potatoes for this. It was rough but I’m naturally a slender guy. I gained about 10-15 pounds, just to beef up. They were real football players. I’m like 175 and those dudes were 215. I was like giving up 40 off the cuff. I had to earn their respect.

How long did it take to gain the weight?

AM: About a month and a half. No running. Sitting on the couch, and watch a whole lot of daily shows.

In the film, are you doing the football scenes or is it a stunt double?

AM: It’s all me. The thing about it is that I’m supposed to be the captain of the football team and these guys were real football players, so if I didn’t go out for every football play or at least fight to get out there, and I was out there until McG pulled me off, because if I wasn’t, I wouldn’t earned their respect. To be the captain, they have to respect me. By the second day of shooting, with the football stuff, I was the one leading the practices, I was the one leading the huddles and I was the one talking to the guys about handling situations that I didn’t know about; and they were very open and cooperative to help me out. Because of that, some of them are still my friends today.

Was certain scenes choreographed?

AM: When you look at organized sports, all of it is choreographed. They all have their drawn up plans and they have all their plays and when it works well, you have the St. Louis Rams in ’97, and when it works poorly, you have the St. Louis Rams of 2005. It’s all choreographed. It’s very difficult to do such a high speed, high stakes games and have to hit your mark, so it’s all about timing.

It is fun?

AM: You find ways to make it fun. It was something about having pads on and being out there with these cats. We’re guys. It’s like watching a man show. It’s very exhilarating that once you play sports to go back and revisit that and it was very fulfilling. We had a good time making this movie.

AM: The thing about this movie that was so interesting is that everbody came to party and nobody took time off. Nobody showed off. Everybody allowed themselves to go there and McG put us in a position to make us comfortable enough to do that and from day one, the set was very professional. Everybody knew what we were there to do and everybody was there to tell a story and they knew that it meant a lot of emotion. It’s so hard when you’re in the town, and everybody in the town is just emoting along with you. So, it was an interesting experience.

Did you meet a lot of the town folks?

AM: Yeah. Most of the extras you see in the film were around at the time of the plane crash and they are locals. A lot of them would come up and share stories and things like that and look for a shoulder to cry on, almost 40 years later.

Can you talk about the buzz that “Half Nelson” is receiving during this award season? Are you surprised that this film has busted out and become this phenomenom?

AM: It’s the little engine that won’t die. You make a movie and you have about 200 million dollars films and then you have this little movie that you make for under 5 million dollars and it really shows that quality stands out. When you have a good script, a good director, and a good cast, you can actually make a good product, and you don’t have to spend a $100 million dollars.

I’m assuming your next film, “The Jesse Owen Story” will cost more than $5 million dollars.

AM: I have no idea.

What’s the status of that? Are you shooting it next year?

AM: Yep. We are in the process now. We went down to Alabama and visited his hometown and there’s a little museum in his honor down there. I went down there and met with his granddaughter, who actually works at ESPN, and had lunch with her, and I’m dealing with the family in getting the factual story and the script together and we should be close to be ready to roll in January.

How much facts are going to be in the film? Will it be just around the Olympics or anything else?

AM: No, it’s his life leading up to the Olympics being the culminating fact.

What else do you have coming up?

AM: I did the Nat Turner movie, “3/5 of a Man”, and that’s me and Ving Rhames and it should be coming out in 2007. I also did “Heavens Fall” with Timothy Hutton that should also be coming out in 2007 and other than that, just parlaying and reading scripts.




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