Anthony Mackie is the actor portraying Falcon in Disney Plus’ series Falcon and the Winter Soldier. The Marvel veteran made his MCU debut in 2014’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier as Sam Wilson and has since returned to portray Cap’s bionically winged former sidekick in five more blockbuster films.
The new show debuted on March 19 and is the second series to be part of the MCU’s Phase 4, after the critically lauded Wandavision. While that show featured an existential mystery and focused on the magic and mysticism of the shared universe, Falcon and the Winter Soldier focuses on grittier military action, superpowered espionage and two quite distinct rival best-friends and former accomplices of Marvel’s most straight-laced and Nazi-punching superhero.
Falcon has had a wide arc since debuting in comics in 1969, rising from minor character to full-fledged Avenger and Defender before eventually donning the weighty shield himself as Captain America in 2014. Mackie himself is no stranger to hustle. The 42-year-old actor has nearly two decades of credits in theater, television and film and has risen, like his character, from understudy to leading man.
Here’s what you need to know about Anthony Mackie:
1. Mackie Starred in 2 Spike Lee Films Before Criticizing the Director’s Comments on Gentrification
Just a few years into his film career, Mackie landed a lead role in Spike Lee’s 2004 film, She Hate Me. His character, the third wheel in a bisexual threesome, wasn’t the most popular lead in a Lee film and despite the film not being a particular hit, Mackie returned to work with the director later that year in the Showtime film, Sucker Free City.
While in 2012 Mackie told Interview that his second part in a Lee film was his favorite role so far, just two years later the actor had some sharp criticism for the director while responding to quotes about Brooklyn gentrification.
“Spike Lee don’t live in Brooklyn. Why did he leave Brooklyn?” Mackie said in an interview with the Grio on NBC News in 2014. “I live in Brooklyn. My address is in Brooklyn. I have two restaurants in Brooklyn. I don’t have a problem with gentrification. The people [who] want to live in Brooklyn, move to Brooklyn.”
2. Mackie Made His Film Debut Supporting Eminem
While Mackie plays a supporting role to one of Marvel’s most upright superheroes in the MCU, his cinematic debut was backing up a character much shadier. In 2002, just a year after graduating from Julliard, the actor performed in the Eminem vehicle 8 Mile.
In the film, Mackie plays Papa Doc, a rival emcee to Eminem’s fictionalized protagonist, B-rabbit. While that character drew on real-life inspiration from the famous rapper, Mackie claimed in an interview with Rich Eislen that Eminem used biographical details from Mackie’s own life for Papa Doc. According to Mackie, the rapper approached him during filming and asked permission to add some specifics, especially to the final battle during the film’s climax.
“So he goes and his entire battle, the final rap, he googles me and learns about me and all this stuff. He basically makes fun of me as Papa Doc,” Mackie says. “I’m like, yeah, I grew up in a nice house and my parents were nice to me.”
3. Mackie Was the First Pick for Falcon & Never Auditioned
The Marvel Cinematic Universe is home to dozens of A-list and legendary actors. With fan-favorite characters being added to the universe with the addition of each film and series, competition for the roles is as brutal as it gets. Still, when chief creative officer and producer Kevin Feige spoke to Variety about their newest show, he made a point of mentioning that the Julliard-trained actor never had to audition.
“We just offered him the role, in my memory, he did not audition,” Fiege said. “That’s only happened a handful of times at Marvel. Mr. Mackie was one of those times.”
The Marvel producer went on to point out that Mackie had the kind of versatility needed to tackle a character who evolves from a supporting role to his own independent hero status. “Mackie has this amazing presence, whether he’s on screen for six seconds or six hours,” Fiege said of the actor whose character rubs shoulders with sorcerers, aliens, and literal gods despite having no innate powers of his own.
4. Mackie Owned 2 Bars in Brooklyn
The actor has his own reasons for responding to Lee about Brooklyn living trends. At the time he was an owner of two bars in the borough. Nobar opened in Bed-Stuy in 2011 and the operation expanded to Williamsburg with a second location in 2013.
Mackie made headlines bartending at Nobar and later talked in an interview with GrubStreet about the bar’s relationship to the community. While both bars went after a “neighborhood bar” vibe, they drew inspiration from the actor’s native New Orleans — from their menu to serving milk punch. Mackie even demonstrated his bartending skills on the Reserve Channel’s Hooked Up.
Both Nobar locations closed in 2015 when Mackie returned to New Orleans. Page Six reported that some staff were unhappy because they said they were only given a week’s notice before the closing.
5. Mackie’s Played Both Martin Luther King & Tupac Shakur
Mackie is a student of Shakespeare — a study that he claims has helped his portrayal of a rapper and when eating hot wings — but the actor has a range that extends beyond the fictional. In 2009 Mackie played the role of hip-hop legend Tupac Shakur in “Notorious” — somehow without actually rapping on camera this time.
The actor noted in an interview with BET that for the role he dived headlong into material that Shakur was known to love, but he threw some shade at musicians (like Tupac himself) who pivot into acting and defended the role of professionally trained actors.
“The thing is—I don’t go to the hospital and ask the garbage man to perform surgery on me. I go to a doctor and ask him to perform surgery. I think the problem is we’ve gotten so used to mediocrity that we start to accept the mediocrity as the norm. Just because you say lines does not make you an actor,” Mackie said. “Just because you can write does not make you a writer. You put a lot of blood, sweat and tears to get where you are at. Just because the boss’s daughter can write in a complete sentence that doesn’t mean that she should have your job. I think we have a whole lot of busters infiltrating the game.”
While Tupac is quite a step up from Papa Doc, Mackie would later land himself in even bigger historic shoes than the famed poet when he portrayed the Reverend Martin Luther King in HBO’s 2016 historical drama, All the Way. “He was a great and shrewd politician. And I don’t think we’ve ever seen that aspect of him on film,” Mackie told NPR. “You know, being an actor, I study people. I study human nature. … That’s what makes great characters, and I respect him more for his flaws than I do his perfection.”