A regular both on and Off-Broadway, 30-year-old Louisiana native Mackie is a graduate of the prestigious Juilliard Stage School. Having worked as Don Cheadle’s understudy in the 2002 play Topdog/Underdog, he broke into film with 8 Mile, while 2003’s Brother To Brother marked him out as One To Watch. You probably recognise him from Half Nelson, but he’s about to make it B.I.G playing Tupac Shakur in rapper biopic Notorious before starring in the almost-filming Olympic drama Jesse Owens.
How excited are you about Notorious?
Very excited. I think it’s gonna be a huge film. It was a great experience. The director, George Tilman, is really just a phenomenal person. He gave us a lot of leeway to do what we wanted to do; we had a lot of fun. We would just sit around and have arguments about who’s the best rapper and who were the canons of the Hip Hop hall of fame.
Was it daunting to play an icon like Tupac?
Not at all. I mean the thing about it was you don’t want to get it wrong, because if you get it wrong your career’s over. But I had to do as much as I could in terms of research to try to recreate who he actually was. At the end of the day I just had to let all of my inhibitions and fears go and kinda make it happen, trust in myself that I could make it work. George really pushed us to do our thing and really supported us.
Are you a Tupac fan?
I’m a huge Tupac fan. I love that he really brought something original and funky to music. He transcended race and really created a new art form. I’m a big fan of RnB and soul.
We hear Beyoncé’s pretty popular…
Oh of course! I don’t think you’ve got to be a fan of her music, you’ve got to be a fan of just her. [laughs] She’s got a lot of personality.
You were great in Half Nelson. How was it making the film?
It was an incredible experience. I mean, Ryan Gosling, he’s an amazing guy to go work with every day. He really gave me a great opportunity to just go blow for blow with somebody who’s a respectful talent. No matter what I did he gave it back.
You’re involved in a lot of Broadway stuff…
I do Broadway every now and then. It’s great because you have so many opportunities to just feel your way around and be /bad/ and be good, y’know?
How does it compare to your film work?
It doesn’t compare at all, it’s two completely different worlds. Film is hard because you go and you’re just there all day every day waiting while they’re getting the shit together for the shoot. I’ve been doing a play a year, so I’ve been balancing the ability to do both. But, y’know, if I could make a living solely doing theatre, I would never do another movie.
What sort of characters are you drawn to?
Any kind, anybody, any character that’s three dimensional. Somebody you can really sink your teeth into and do something with. That’s my biggest passion, trying to do something that I’ve never done before. A lot of British actors are over in the States right now, and I’d love to have the opportunity to come over there and show some of those British kids how we do it.
You’re currently training for Jesse Owens? What got you interested?
Just because he changed the world. I mean everybody who lives in the free world today has Jesse Owens to thank. Because everybody thought that Hitler was right, with this Arian nation that he dreamed about creating purely out of power. And then Jesse Owens went over in the Olympics and won four gold medals and had all these ideas about what it meant to be a true human being.
Are there echoes of Barack Obama there?
I definitely wouldn’t say George Bush is Hitler, but I will say that he sort of destroyed the free world. Barack’s job is to try to reinstate that. He’s a very smart individual, he has the ability.
Are you sporty yourself?
Oh yeah, no question. I try to keep myself in shape – I love football and I’m starting to love rugby. Actually I was in the Middle East shooting this movie and I played rugby and I got all beat up. So I gave up my rugby career. It’s too rough of a game.
Did you have to get quite blinged for Notorious?
Yeah. I’m not a bling cat. I don’t think I own one piece of jewellery that’s not a watch. [laughs] But, you know, with a movie like this you definitely have to allow yourself to get rid of some of your likes and dislikes and go along with the character. It’s a different state of mind and it’s completely different from anything I would do or say or wear or be. So it definitely let me in to a completely different part of myself.
Via Total Film