Interview: 'Real Steel' star Anthony Mackie sees tipping point for black cinema

Anthony Mackie — who appeared in last weekend’s No. 1 film at the box office, “Real Steel,” and the Oscar-winning “Million Dollar Baby” and “The Hurt Locker” — recently had an entire restaurant buzzing when he walked in for dinner. There were whispering customers, an autograph request and a free bottle of wine sent to his table, courtesy of the restaurant.

But the whispers eventually died down, and the bottle of wine was sent back.

“They sent over a bottle of wine and said ‘Where’s Will Smith? You are not Will Smith,’” Mackie recalled on the phone from Los Angeles, where he’s filming “Gangster Squad” with his “Half Nelson” co-star Ryan Gosling, Sean Penn and Emma Stone.

Mackie obviously doesn’t have the Fresh Prince’s star power (not many actors do), but the Juilliard-trained actor has quietly built an impressive resume ever since he appeared as Eminem’s rap-battle rival, Papa Doc, in “8 Mile.”

“Nine times out of 10, it’s all about who you surround yourself with,” Mackie said. “When we were shooting ‘Million Dollar Baby,’ I thought ‘This is going to be a good movie. It has Clint Eastwood and Morgan Freeman.’ With ‘Hurt Locker,’ nobody thought there was any chance in hell it would get Oscar buzz.”

On Saturday, Mackie will receive the Artistic Achievement Award at the Chicago International Film Festival’s Black Perspectives Tribute at Chase Auditorium. Past honorees include Halle Berry, Morgan Freeman, Sidney Poitier, Spike Lee and Robert Townsend.

Mackie has been outspoken in past interviews about the lack of quality African-American films in recent years, and singled out Lee and Townsend as inspiration for young black filmmakers.

Hollywood is in a period of regression right now, Mackie said: “We’re at a place where we need the next Robert Townsend. We need the next young filmmakers like Spike Lee or John Singleton to come along and show our world in a different light.

“It happened in music. It was all gang-banging and ‘hoes’ until Talib Kweli, Common and Kanye West came out and redefined the era of the conscious millennium rapper. I feel in film it has to be the same thing.”

Twitter @aboutluisgomez

Copyright © 2015, RedEye
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