In the past decade, the film actor ("The Hurt Locker," "Half Nelson," "Million Dollar Baby," "8 Mile") has taken on roles in plays by living playwrights such as Stephen Belber (McReele) and Tracey Scott Wilson (The Good Negro); contemporary takes on classic plays, such as Regina Taylor's Chekhov adaptation Drowning Crow; and revivals of modern classics like August Wilson's Ma Rainey's Black Bottom and Charles Fuller's A Soldier's Play. Now, he's taking a stab at the Greeks. He's starring in Shakespeare in the Park's staging of The Bacchae, directed JoAnne Akalaitis. Mackie will play Pentheus, a young king whose obsession with/hatred of the god Dionysus lands him in a dress, not to mention a whole heap of other trouble. Mackie talked to Playbill.com about the latest credit on his increasingly various resume.
Playbill: Is this your first encounter with the Ancient Greeks?
Anthony Mackie: No. When I was as Juilliard, we did some Sophocles and Euripides. Every actor has done at least one of the Oedipus plays.
Playbill.com: What attracted you this particular project?
AM: Mostly, I was really interested in working with Jonathan [Groff]. I worked with [director] Joanne Akalaitis at Julliard. I feel that she's such an interesting person and such an interesting theatrical figure. I wanted to work with her again. And she's such a great person.
Playbill.com: Had you seen Jonathan Groff on stage? Is that why you wanted to work with him?
AM: Yeah, I saw him in Spring Awakening. I was out of town when he was doing Hair. I thought, for what Joanne wanted to do with Dionysus, he would be a phenomenal Dionysus.
Playbill.com: Your character and Jonathan's are at odds in this play.
AM: Yeah, we're polar opposites. Playbill.com: And your character has the worse fate at the end.
AM: Some might look at it that way. (Laughs)
Playbill.com: Joanne Akalaitis has a reputation for challenging and experimental theatre. Can you tell me something about her approach to this play?
AM: A lot of times with Pentheus, they take his dressing up like a woman lightly. They kind of contemporize it and make him dress like a drag queen and everyone claps to see a man in a dress. Something we really wanted to show was the humiliation of this great leader being driven basically through the mud by Dionysus. I think what she wants is really unusual and phenomenal and I think it will play great in the park.
Playbill.com: Usually, in the park, they do Shakespeare, obviously. Do you think it will be harder to get the Greeks across to a Central Park audience?
AM: Not at all. I think with the backdrop of the park it will add a completely different element to the play. I think Oskar [Eustis, Public Theater artistic director] is very smart with the plays he chose for the park, Twelfth Night and now this, because they give a really, well-rounded season for the park.
Playbill.com: You have two movies coming out in 2010, one called "Bolden!" and one called "Louis." They are both directed by the same director, Daniel Pritzker, and you play influential New Orleans jazz trumpeter Buddy Bolden in both. Are they interconnected movies?
AM: They are. "Bolden!" is a feature. It's a two-hour movie about the life of Buddy Bolden. "Louis" is more an hour-long silent film that the director wanted to do about the times of 1905 in New Orleans.
Playbill.com: That must mean a lot to you, playing that role, because you're from New Orleans.
AM: It was a huge opportunity. The director really blessed me. It was great to be doing something about the place I grew up in, a place I love.
Playbill.com: Was it difficult to play a character like Buddy Bolden? Not much is known about him.
AM: That part of made it easy. It was difficult getting into the mindset of a black man in 1905 New Orleans. Nowadays, we're drawn away from that humility, that aspect of life that was really hard. It's hard for a contemporary figure to go back to that.