Much like Tupac, who he immortalizes on the big screen, Anthony Mackie gets around. The New Orleans-bred actor who first resurrected Tupac on stage returns to tackle the complicated—and often contradictory—mind of the prolific California rapper in “Notorious.” ESSENCE.com picked the brain of the Julliard grad on why he believes the East Coast/West Coast battle was a farce, the pressure of misrepresentingTupac and making his dream film.
ESSENCE.COM: Mr. Mackie! You’re walking in the shoes of Tupac for a second time. Were you the go-to man for the role since you had played him before off-Broadway?
ANTHONY MACKIE: Naw. When I heard about this project, I called [director George Tillman] to be his assistant. I wanted him to mentor me and he said, “Why don’t you be in the movie?” Tupac is such a multifaceted individual that it’s hard to get that right. It’s Tupac in a Biggie movie, so how do you conquer that entire person in five scenes? It’s a huge margin of error and it’s easy to get him wrong and that was a fear of mine. You get Pac wrong and you’ll never live it down.
ESSENCE.COM: Although you were acquainted with Tupac and his life on stage, did you learn anything new about him in this role?
MACKIE: His admiration and love for Biggie. He really wanted to take Biggie under his wing. Everybody in the game at that point was lame. Nobody was on that same level. Around that time, Will Smith had done “Six Degrees of Separation” and people shunned that, and when they saw Biggie they said, “Yo, I can really relate to his cat.” Yes, Tupac was monumentally flawed but he had a vision and a goal for the ‘hood that people nowadays don’t have. By the time you have $100 million, you’re good. Why don’t you take $50 million and rebuild an elementary school or buy books for the schools in your ‘hood? Buy uniforms for all the kids who can’t afford it.
ESSENCE.COM: A lot of people don’t knowTupac’s background as far and his parents being Black Panthers.
MACKIE: That was very influential in the research that I did for this movie. It’s funny that they made the whole East Coast/West Coast beef about Tupac and Biggie because Tupac was from both parts and that’s how he understood New York so well and could get under Biggie’s skin. He’s from Baltimore, so it was really East versus East.
ESSENCE.COM: If you could have a conversation with Tupac, what would you ask him?
MACKIE: I would ask Tupac what was he trying to say. If anything, Pac was a caged bird screaming for somebody to listen and nobody listened. The thing about kids today is that if you stop and listen, you’ll really hear what’s going on—why they’re frustrated or what they’re mad about. People aren’t listening so they continue to rebel. As a man, the hardest thing to do is to listen.
ESSENCE.COM: That’s real. What do you hope people will hear from you?
MACKIE: I want to start producing and directing. The acting thing is great. I love it, but I feel like not enough people are telling the stories that I want to tell. I grew up in a household with my mom, dad and five brothers and sisters. I haven’t seen that movie. Every movie I see daddy’s dead, mama’s disturbed or daddy’s a crackhead, mama’s disturbed, or mama can’t get a date, and mama’s disturbed. Maybe it will be a good movie to show a dude growing up with his dad and learning lessons from him. That’s the movie I want to make.