The Playlist caught up with Mackie during his press rounds for “Real Steel” to discuss some intriguing projects he has on the horizon. He’s currently shooting the crime ensemble “Gangster Squad” with Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Emma Stone and Sean Penn for director Ruben Fleischer. Next year, Mackie will battle vampires alongside honest Abe in Timur Bekmambetov’s adaptation of the Seth Grahame-Smith mashup novel “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.” And after that? Mackie hopes he'll play famed Olympic runner Jesse Owens in a forthcoming biopic.
On the side, Mackie has been working on developing a biopic on the gold medalist who shamed Hitler during the 1936 Berlin Olympics. “I feel like Jesse Owens kind of saved the world,” Mackie said. “If the Olympics had gone the way Hitler expected them to, his idea of being the ultimate race kind of would have been true. Jesse Owens went there and won four gold medals and flattens the idea of there being an ultimate race. Next thing you know, we go to war and flatten everything. And I feel like, for us not to recognize that, is preposterous and asinine. If you can make a movie about a dolphin or a horse for winning a race, you can make a movie about a man that changed the scope of the world.”
The Owens biopic is still in the early stages, but Mackie envisions himself as Owens with a ten pound or so wait loss. “If Ryan Gosling is believed to be able to gain 30 pounds to play a role, I can definitely lose 10,” Mackie says with a big smile. Once the script is finished, he will start looking for the right director. “We have writers we’re looking at and working with. The problem is, you have a lot of directors who can do action, you’ve got a lot of directors who can do storytelling. You don’t have many directors who can do both. Those directors are so few and far between that you don’t want to make this movie with the wrong director. In film, if you have a bad movie you have a bad movie forever. So, it’s at the point now where it’s trying to get on that slate of trying to find that guy or lady or person who can just make that story the way it deserves to be made.”
While we'll definitely be keeping an eye out to see how that project develops, Mackie has no shortage of starry projects on the way. While the casting alone has brought plenty of attention to “Gangster Squad,” the tale of mob boss Mickey Cohen’s attempt to expand his crime syndicate to the west coast in the late 1940’s and the LAPD’s struggle to prevent it, the choice of director has raised some eyebrows, especially in light of Fleischer’s recent box office thud “30 Seconds or Less.” But Mackie says he isn’t worried. “The thing about Ruben that’s so interesting is he is an actor’s director,” Mackie explains. “He’s the great diplomat. He’ll come in, and I’m pretty sure if he came in this room, by the time he leaves everybody in this room will have what they want. He’ll figure it out. He was given a million opportunities to make 'Zombieland' into a bad movie. Furthermore, I believe if his last movie was released at the right time, it would have been a hit as well. He’s a really smart guy and he knows intellectually what it takes to make a good movie. So I think it’s a no-brainer for him to do ‘Gangster Squad.’”
“Gangster Squad” re-teams Mackie with “Half Nelson” co-star Ryan Gosling, with whom he says he’s developed a kind of shorthand since sharing some of the indie film's most powerful scenes. “We work together really well for the simple fact that Ryan can match you,” says Mackie. “I feel like a lot of actors, when they come to the table and they do something and you do something, you’re fighting for your position. With Ryan, I bring something to the table, he brings something to the table and we have the ability to improv and make it work. It’s not so much ego. I guess it’s because he’s Canadian. [Laughs] You don’t really have an ego like that.”
But before Mackie got geared up for "Gangster Squad" he put on some old timey gear for “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter,” which he says will bring some testosterone back to the blood-sucking genre. “‘Lost Boys’ was the last great manly vampire movie,” jokes Mackie. “After that, they started wearing skinny jeans, being 16 years old. These dudes now, it’s like, ‘That’s my man, he’s on a bike with a banana seat and he has a fairy wand. [Laughs]”
The movie, about a vampire killing former president, is out there, and Mackie attempts to summarize the story in which he plays William H. Johnson: “It’s a re-contextualization of history. In real life, Abraham Lincoln’s best friend was William H. Johnson. He was a freed man of color. They grew up together on a plantation that William’s father worked on. They grew up as friends. When Abraham Lincoln became a lawyer and then a political figure he hired William H. Johnson as his caddy/chauffeur/security guard. They go down to give the Gettysburg Address and on the way back, he dies. So Abraham Lincoln took money out of his own pocket and had him buried at Arlington Cemetery. The first black man buried at Arlington and on his headstone it read ‘William H. Johnson, Citizen.’ It’s still there to this day. When I learned that, I was blown away by that story. Not that he was Abraham Lincoln’s friend, but that Lincoln had the audacity to imagine the future of this country in that way in 1864. That’s kind of remarkable and it makes sense that he was our president at that transitional period. So I feel like, if we have to add vampires to Abraham Lincoln’s story to get people to go back and learn American history, I’m with that.”
Robots, gangsters, zombies, olympians...hell, Mackie can do it all and the actor has a helluva slate on the horizon. You can catch him next in "Real Steel" when it opens on October 7th.