In the robot boxing flick Real Steel, actor Anthony Mackie plays Finn, the charismatic host of the robot fights at The Crash Palace, an underground venue where folks go to make fast cash. Taking inspiration from Don King, Mackie jumped at the opportunity to play such a rambunctious and outlandish character, and even worked out because he knew he’d be sharing scenes with the film’s star, Hugh Jackman.
At the film’s press day, Anthony Mackie talked about how much fun he had working with Hugh Jackman, that he was initially intimidated by the huge robots because he was waiting for them to go crazy and kill everybody, that he feels this is one of the first times he’s seen a movie where the graphics are insane and the story is actually there to back it up, and that he hopes Finn will get the Don King hair, if he gets to return for a sequel. He also talked about always wanting to do something different with the roles that he chooses to do, why he was attracted to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, and who he’s playing in The Gangster Squad. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
Here’s the film’s synopsis and six clips from the film:
Charlie Kenton (Hugh Jackman) is a washed-up fighter who lost his chance at a title when 2000-pound, 8-foot-tall steel robots took over the ring. Now nothing but a small-time promoter, Charlie earns just enough money piecing together low-end bots from scrap metal to get from one underground boxing venue to the next. When Charlie hits rock bottom, he reluctantly teams up with his estranged son Max (Dakota Goyo) to build and train a championship contender. As the stakes in the brutal, no-holds-barred arena are raised, Charlie and Max, against all odds, get one last shot at a comeback.
Question: What attracted you to the role of Finn?
ANTHONY MACKIE: In my career, I haven’t had the opportunity to do anything rambunctious and outlandish, and I haven’t had the opportunity to wear leather and baby oil, at the same time. When I read the script, I was like, “Holy, shit! It’s time to have some fun!” So, (director) Shawn [Levy] and I talked, and I told him what I wanted to do and he was like, “Oh, okay.” We showed up on set the first day and did a rehearsal, and I did my thing. I’d been working out because I wanted the guns to look right, next to Hugh fucking Jackman. And, Shawn was like, “Oh, my god, that’s great! That’s so cool!” So, it worked out. I was looking for something to have fun with, and to be in Detroit, and those two things came together.
Were you inspired by Don King at all?
MACKIE: It was 100% Don King. When I was in high school, I read this whole thing about Don King and he had this quote that said, “Set yourself on fire and the world will pay to watch you burn.” I thought that was the most amazing thing I’d ever heard. I wrote it on my wall and everything. And, I feel like there’s an element of Don King that a lot of people don’t really pay attention to. Besides Muhammad Ali, he’s the second most charismatic and influential figure in the world of boxing. A lot of people take that for granted because of all the crazy shit he said and all the words he made up, but I really feel like there was something beautiful about the art and craft that he brought to boxing, and how he turned it into this billion dollar business. So, I tried to angle Finn into that. That way, if there is a sequel, I could finally get the hair. I asked Shawn to get the hair, and he said no.
So, how was it to be around Hugh’s guns?
MACKIE: They’re beautiful! Man crush alert! No. Hugh is actually a great guy. When we were shooting the movie, he wasn’t working out, so he was regular guy size. But, I don’t know if Australians can become regular guy size. We had a lot of fun. He was always open and responsive and just really cool. The dude don’t have a negative bone in his body. It’s weird for somebody to play Wolverine and not be a jacked-up, wannabe rugby-playing, crazy dude, but he’s not at all. That shows his versatility as an actor, but also his humbleness as a human being.
MACKIE: It’s not every day that you see a nine foot tall robot just standing there, mean-mugging you. If you go to a certain nightclub or bar, there’s a 6’4″ black dude, growling at you. I’m used to that. But, when you see a nine foot tall, animated robot, and you’re talking, and it lifts its arm and puts it down, it’s a lot. It was very intimidating, at first. I just have this fear – and I call it the Jack Bauer effect – when something is in the room and it’s not normal. I wait for that thing to go crazy and kill everybody in the room. It’s like going to somebody’s house and they have a Great Dane lying on the rug. It’s like, “Nice doggy,” until it gets up and mauls my face. It’s like that. That’s how I looked at the robots.
So, do you think there’s a future in robot boxing?
MACKIE: That’s why I love this movie so much. If you look at what Shawn chronicled, in the scope of this film, it’s along the lines of where we are with boxing. No one really cares about the boxing federation anymore, so everyone is watching MMA, and that has become a billion dollar business now. But, that’s going to get to the point where it’s just too much. It’s like, “Just stop hitting him in the face! Once he hits the mat, don’t jump eight feet in the air and land on his nose with your knee. Don’t do it!” It’s going to get to the point where people are like, “Okay, this dude died in the ring. We can’t condone this.” So, how can we get the gore we want and have people not die? Robots! It’s a brilliant concept for a film, especially at the time we’re at, living in Bush-onomics and the state of boxing.
That’s why I loved it so much, and I’m glad that it turned out the way it did. You can go see this film with a female, and she won’t be put off. Usually, when people make CGI movies or movies that cost over $100 million that are spectacle events, it looks amazing, but the story sucks and you leave there like, “I just spent $30 on popcorn and root beer because I know I didn’t pay for that damn movie!” This is one of the first times I’ve seen a movie where the graphics are insane, and the story is actually there to back it up. I look at it as Rocky. By the time the movie is over, you’re cheering for that robot. You’re cheering, so that the good guy wins. You don’t get that that much anymore.
Is there something specific you look for in the roles you choose?
MACKIE: I just always look for something different. I feel like I’m blessed because I get to do what I love. Why wouldn’t I go to work and have a good time, and enjoy myself, and do something different, and challenge myself? So, I always try to find something creative. Fuck, Johnny Depp shouldn’t be the only dude having fun doing this shit! I wanna have fun. I wanna put eyes on my eyelids. He did that in Pirates, if you haven’t seen it. I want some Willie Wonka fun. I wanna wear make-up, and not in an L.A. way. I just always look for something different and fun, and something interesting. If it’s different than everything else I’ve done, then nine times out of 10, I’ll do it.
MACKIE: Are you serious?! No. Because I read the book. I’m a firm believer in the re-contextualization of history. I feel like education is the only aspect of our culture that is still one-dimensional. You have kids that go home and play video games with 3D TVs and crazy phones. They have a cell phone where they can play a game, but they go to school and it’s just a blackboard with an old lady and a piece of chalk. That’s crazy, to think that you can learn, in that way. I think what (author/screenwriter) Seth [Grahame-Smith] did with this book was re-contextualize history. That way, you have to go and look up Abraham Lincoln and find out that his best friend was a black dude, named William H. Johnson, who died on their way back from Gettysburg. Lincoln paid with money out of his own pocket to have him buried at Arlington cemetery, and his headstone read, “William H. Johnson, citizen.” Did you know that? Now, don’t you want to read more about Abraham Lincoln? And, if you have to add vampires to history to make, not even kids, but people – because we don’t even know our own history – interested, then I’m with that. I’ll do Martin Luther King, Eel Fisherman, if it will make you go back and read about Martin Luther King because he was a dynamic figure in our history.
MACKIE: Timur has made some dope-ass movies. If he calls you, you do a movie with him. Hell, yeah!
Who are you playing in The Gangster Squad?
MACKIE: I play Lieutenant Harris. Basically, the movie is set in the late 1940’s, and it’s based on Mickey Cohen (played by Sean Penn) and how he ran L.A., by the hook or by the crook. My character was promoted to Sergeant, and the first task he was given was something he didn’t really buy. It didn’t sit right with him, ethically. So, he handed in his promotion and decided he wanted to get the heroin off the streets in the black neighborhoods. So, he ran the streets in the black neighborhood with an iron fist. Josh Brolin’s character comes to me because he knows of my special skills, being a weapons expert and a guy who just has his ears and nose to the street, and asks me to be a part of The Gangster Squad. My character looks at it like, “If I can get Mickey Cohen, I can stop the heroin from coming to Compton.” So, I go after Mickey Cohen.