Back to IndieWire

Why Anthony Mackie Doesn’t Just Deserve To Be The Next Will Smith, But The First Anthony Mackie

Why Anthony Mackie Doesn’t Just Deserve To Be The Next Will Smith, But The First Anthony Mackie

Editor’s note: As 2013 ends, and 2014 begins, I’ll be reposting some of our highlights published during the last year. Those who’ve already read each one can obviously skip them, or revisit if you’d like. For those who joined us later in the year, missing many of these posts from earlier in the year, they will probably be new items. Here’s the 18th of many to come, originally posted in late mid-April 2013. Happy New Year to you all! 

Tell me what’s wrong with this sentence:

Anthony Mackie is currently, and consistently, one of the best supporting actors around.

Answer: the word “supporting.”

In anticipation of next week’s wide-release, “Pain & Gain,” (which I’m really hoping is good) I wanted to do an article on Mackie, who co-stars in the film. 

The pre-release spotlight so far has understandably been on DwayneThe RockJohnson and Mark Wahlberg, and I’m not saying that will change after the movie is released. They’re established stars, they’ve led a variety of movies, and frankly, they’re two of the most likeably charismatic mainstream actors at the moment. 

Mackie is a guy audiences recognize, but he’s not carrying tent-pole movies by himself.

Well, he can, and it’s probably just a matter of time until he does.

It’s not that he hasn’t had lead roles. He broke out in 2004 when he starred in Spike Lee’sShe Hate Me” and Rodney Evans’Brother to Brother,” where he was nominated for Best Debut Performance at the Independent Spirit Awards (you probably remember him as Papa Doc in “8 Mile” before these came out).

In 2010, he led Tanya Hamilton’s well-received “Night Catches Us” with Kerry Washington, which cleaned up at the Black Reel Awards. These are just the notable leads; he’s had great supporting roles in everything from “Half Nelson” to “The Hurt Locker.”  

Despite this success, Mackie hasn’t become a bona fide movie star yet. Granted, this achievement eludes most actors because they don’t have that “it” factor (that magical combination of charisma, screen presence, attractiveness, acting chops, and a killer smile; I’m sure there’s a more specific formula for it somewhere out there in the annals of Hollywood). That isn’t the case here, as this guy’s got it in spades, but it’s not only that: he’s also incredibly diverse as an actor.

I have a hard time picturing Will Smith as Tupac Shakur in “Notorious” or Frank, the smooth drug-dealer in “Half Nelson,” but I can see Mackie in a “Men in Black” role without hesitation. He’s a likeable guy onscreen, and I’d be willing to bet he has a flair for the comedic, which has gone mostly untapped so far. 

This isn’t a critique of Smith, nor should it be. He’s branched out in things like “Ali” and “Six Degrees of Separation” and he’s been a movie star for so long, he’s at an unfair disadvantage when it comes to picturing him as much else. Although this is precisely why it’s Mackie’s time to become a go-to guy, he’s that rare combination of character actor and movie star “it” factor. He’s got the best of both worlds.

Fortunately, Mackie, and most likely his agent, seem to have confidence in his potential future as the next big thing. He’ll be making his Marvel-debut next year as Falcon in “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” and has the Brad Furman (“The Lincoln Lawyer”) directed “Runner, Runner” opening later this year with Ben Affleck and Justin Timberlake. With a line-up like that, he seems to be following a career trajectory similar to his “Hurt Locker” co-star Jeremy Renner, and that’s turned out incredibly well for him. 

The thing to really look forward to though is Mackie’s portrayal of jazz icon Buddy Bolden. Shadow and Act has been tracking development on that project from Dan Pritzker for quite some time, and I’m hoping we’ll see it sooner rather than later.

If you see “Pain & Gain” (I should have a review up next week) be sure to keep an eye out for him. He’s the real deal, and has been for a while. If those Black Panther or Luke Cage projects ever come to fruition, I’m sure Mackie wouldn’t mind adding another superhero to his filmography.

This Article is related to: Features and tagged



There is no need for Anthony Mackie to be on the same level as Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Samuel L. Jackson, Morgan Freeman, or Laurence Fishburne. He needs to be validated for being Anthony Mackie not anyone else. Not to mention, I would rather see Mackie on the small screen in a "Scandal" like show or show his comedic side in "House Of Lies" type show. I really do think that he could SHINE on the small screen.


I do not like Anthony Mackie any longer. He sold his soul. He is looking more and more like a screaming gay. I've got to the point where he is NO LONGER VALID. He Knows. And he knows that his ego is his demise


The author prompted a choice and choose the responders did.

Don Fredrick

I freaking hate this guy. Sick of seeing him play roles of good movies where he doesn't belong. The moment I saw his face as tupac shakur, I cringed in disappointment. And now he's playing the role of the falcon in the next captain america movie. Smh. There are other black actors in the world who could have been a better "face" for this role. I hope you read this dude. You are a fugly looking guy and you are EXTREMELY OVERRATED. I'm out. Peace.


I am glad Anthony Mackie may not end up being a super mega 'movie star' because he really is better than that. He will become a Great actor and he has a presence about him that you get lit up when you see him on screen. I didn't know he was in Gangster Squad before i saw it, within the very SECOND i saw him (no exaggeration) my face lit up and i knew things were going to get more interesting.
He is the kind of actor who you KNOW will do well with each role.

Justin D.

I agree. I'd like to see him take the lead in something. He's got the skill, now he just needs the opportunity.


I think Mackie is a great actor. He's always good in everything I've seen him in but he won't ever be super mega star level as Will Smith. But I can see Mackie going the same route as someone like Don Cheadle who seems to have just as much success with big projects as well as smaller ones.


Mackie graduated from Julliard, so u know the guy is talented. I remember he saying that he is fine with being under the radar. He loves not being hounded by the paparazzi when he steps out. He has no desire of being a big star.


Who says Anthony Mackie wants to be Will Smith? Will Smith is 45 and Anthony Mackie is 33 huge age difference folks. Anthony has time on his side and I guarantee before this decade is over he is going to get an Oscar nomination and he's going to get a lead role in a major film. Anthony is far too talented not to get lead roles.

People talk about young black actors BUT I can't think of any young black male actor who is as accomplished or successful or as talented as Anthony Mackie. I honestly can't think of another black male actor under 35 who has accomplished so much.

I don't understand the Anthony Mackie hate on this board. Is it because Anthony doesn't want to appear in a Tyler Perry film and he doesn't want to do stereotypical black movies? Anthony is above that he's worked with some of the best directors in Hollywood.
Honestly, I believe Anthony Mackie is already a superior actor than Will Smith he's more versatile. Will Smith is very vanilla and an extremely boring actor he doesn't take risks and he doesn't take chances he sticks to his brand. Meanwhile, Anthony Mackie has done something very few black male actors have done a gay film role Brother to Brother which was his breakthrough performance. Mackie also played a gay man in a comedy film a few years ago too. In addition, Mackie has done drama and action films.


It's about time someone spent some real quality time discussing Mackie, whose career deserves to be on the fast track.


Mackie just needs to stay in his lane. He doesn't have that "it factor" and people need to stop trying to make fetch happen, it's not gonna happen. There is nothing wrong with him being a supportive role, shoot, someone has to do it! Not everyone can be Forest Whitaker, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, or Don Cheadle. Besides, it's steady work and everyone has a role to play. Mackie's is sidekick.

Geneva Girl

What's wrong with being a supporting actor? True, they don't make the big bucks, but a good supporting actor will work continuously and for a long time. He show his acting chops leading smaller, independent films. In 20 years he'll still be doing interesting work. He won't be a "what ever happened to him"?

Perhaps, he hasn't been able to headline because he just doesn't have Denzel's looks or swagger. Mackie, I think is a nice-looking guy. He's the kind of guy you'd want to date and maybe marry, but not one you'd fantasize about kicking your husband to the curb for. That said, that doesn't explain Will Smith's success!

Monique a Williams

I didn't know there was so much hate for him. I genuinely enjoy his performances. He's no Don Cheadle or Will Smith, but who is?
And as far as Idris, he was the best thing smoking until I saw the video for his terrible song. Absolutely corny. Now, I can't shake it loose when I look at him. A shame being himself was the worst role he ever took…


I'm sorry, but those of you who don't think Anthony Mackie is a good actor must not know what good acting IS. I've been down with him since "Brother to Brother"–as well as seeing him on stage in "The Bacchae"–and he has talent to burn. I also think he's attractive, but I acknowledge that he's not "fine" in a "Hollywood" way. If he can get his Jesse Owens project off the ground, there's no doubt in my mind that THAT is the vehicle that puts him over the top. It's too bad that he didn't get the Oscar nomination that he deserved for "The Hurt Locker." Then we probably wouldn't be having this conversation.

However, I would also say that there's no shame in not being a "star." He could keep doing solid supporting roles and maybe occasional leads in indie films and/or TV and build a formidable body of work. Seems to be working fine for Jude Law and Liev Schrieber.

Also, didn't Tambay pretty much write this SAME article last year? I remember commenting then as well.


The good news is Anthony is young he's only in his early 30s he's got time. Anthony is hot!
This is my complaint about Hollywood, there is clearly a market out there that wants to see young black actors in lead roles yet they aren't given the opportunity due to face. Jake Gyllenhaal, Ryan Gosling, Ryan Reynolds are around Anthony Mackie's age they get lead roles because they are white he doesn't because he's black.

I think Anthony is going to have to create his own movie and go the independent route again.
He's a good actor and I believe he's going to become a leading man hopefully soon. I heard a while back Anthony wanted to make a biopic on Jesse Owens. Has Anthony considered starting a Kickstarter campaign?
I respect Anthony Mackie a young black male actor not afraid to take on a gay role. Brother to Brother was his first huge breakthrough. Anthony should definitely consider looking into being the lead in the film adapation of Invisible Life.

Adam Scott Thompson

I don't know that Mackie is trying to be a star. There are many actors throughout the history of the medium who have worked steadily and been showered with acclaim and accolades — but they were not considered "stars." It's unfair to try and fit him into Will Smith's mold, as it was wrong to try and link Denzel directly with Mister Poitier. Each actor is his or her own. If the man keeps working he will rise.

Just Sayin'

CareyCarey makes an excellent point about the visage of the movie industry. If, as a community we banded together we could probably have our own Hollywood, but since slavery divided and conquered us we'll just have to make do.

As a female poster, I have to say that I also cannot get on the Mackie or Elba train. Neither of them have star wattage and seem to be just OK actors. Besides, Hollywood already has its dark-skinned great actor who wants to be considered a great actor not a great black actor. And his name is — wait for it — Don Cheadle. And he is attractive and a star. Enough said.

Miles Ellison

Judging from some of the people that are considered "stars" in Hollywood, the bar is pretty low. Most of the stardom in Hollywood is manufactured anyway.


The comments on that site are crazy. Mackie is crazy underrated. Look He played key roles in films as a support and without that character the film wouldn't be as good. Yea he had some easy roles but who hasn't. He was in Man on a ledge, Gangster Squad, The Adjustment Bureau, We are Marshall, I could care less for his tupac role, or if he played gangsters(Real Steel) or played drug dealers. Its his others roles that make me say dude is underrated. But not for long. That hard work is paying off. He doesn't want to be a BLACK ACTOR. He wants to be an ACTOR. There is nothing wrong with that. People calling him an uncle tom need to STFU. Where is your movie? Your Supporting Role? Your awards? I mean he isn't will smith worthy yet but he should be at least first option for a support role next to the star.


"I disagree with Tambay this racism argument is tired, look Idris Elba isn't a leading man because he's missing that something "extra" he's also not that attractive as someone else has pointed out. No offense, to Idris Elba fans but he's not handsome." ~ AMANDA

Wait a minute, I thought Anthony Mackie was the king for today? Oh, that's right, same skin color, same silly argument, and thus, the same results. Listen, I think Jug killed this debate, but I have to repeat what I believe is still missing. That is, we (black folks) have little to no say on who becomes the next "star".

"If Elba [Anthony Mackie] was a white actor, he'd likely be up for almost every Hollywood movie leading man role. At least, he'd be on studio exec/producer/director short list of actors for those parts" ~ Tambay

"If a bullfrog had wings it wouldn't bump his behind every time it hopped" ~ Don King

"I can't make you love me if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't ~ LYRICS from I Can't Make You Love Me

If it doesn't make dollars, it does not make sense. Idris Elba [Anthony Mackie] IS NOT a white man and you can't make white folks love him (them). America (those in control of the film industry), for the most part, make movies for their "primary" audience because, again, if it doesn't make money, it does not make sense. And it's all related to the ways of white folks.

Idris Elba [ Anthony Mackie]will never be a Hollywood "movie star(s)" because in the eyes of many (the most important many) he [they] do not have that loving feeling (They are black men).

I know that's a hard pill to swallow and harder to accept, but on a daily basis, white people, for the most part, ARE NOT engaged in the lives African Americans, so why should movies be any different? We are forced to engage in THEIR lives, their "stars", and movies in which the white character is the central focus. They, on the other hand, are not in that same position. It's all about human nature. We (whites and blacks) love that which engages us the most, and that which emulates our lives. If that was not true, we as black folks, would not be clamoring for more black faces in movies.

I can't make you love me if you don't. You can't make your heart feel something it won't ~ LYRICS from I Can't Make You Love Me


I had no idea that this many people cared this much about Anthony Mackie's career. He's super charming in his interviews, though.


I agree with some of the comments about Mackie not being a "star." And honestly, in this day and age of toilet paper disposable "stars", is that such a terrible thing? A "Star" is part personality and part "facial features that the camera loves." Mackie happens to be a good actor and the two aren't always synonymous but being labeled a "Star" is almost like the Madden curse! The issue I find, is that for us, we want EVERYONE to be a star and that just isn't a good thing. That not only dilutes the story you're telling but can hurt an Actor's long term career. If you look at your average white drama, say THE MASTER, not everyone in that movie is a "star" in the classic sense. PHENOMENAL actors whose work makes you focus on them, but they are "stars" almost by default. But in our projects, if everyone is a "star" then who do you pay attention to? As much as I love Will Smith, can you imagine a movie filled with 5 Wills? Its too much. At some point, the eye, as well as the story, have to have certain points of focus or nothing gets its due. And once that happens, for their next projects, you have actors who fall by the wayside because they either were exhalted to be "stars" without any real work or merit to back it up OR they're doing good work but we call them the next "this or that" and they again-fall by the wayside. Folks mentioned Larenz Tate. Check. Derek Luke is quickly falling into that category. There's talk of Idris being the next "star" because of THE WIRE and LUTHER. Two wonderful, AMAZING shows and amazing work to go with it, but in between there really isn't much else to say Idris is a "star" other than Black Women want to have his babies. People don't know that as much as we luuuv Al Pacino his film career stalled in the 0s until he did SCENT OF A WOMAN. He was non-existent while DeNiro was working doing small thoughtful dramas. There's more method to this madness than being a "star." Mackie and Idris by extension, if anything, have proven that true staying power is about being the guy next to the guy and doing that well for forever and a day. Hmm, sounds like someone I know, OH-Don Cheadle. Guy (COLORS), next to the Guy (DEVIL IN A BLUE DRESS, OCEAN'S 11), until he IS the Guy (HOTEL RWANDA, HOUSE OF LIES). They understand PROCESS, not just as an actor but as it relates to career. And as the saying goes, we can't always "do what they do" because the changes for coming back from a long fall are few and far between. Just saying, how about we let these guys do WORK and then wait until they make something of note that puts them on a plain where they can't go back.


He doesn't have the x factor that makes you a star… he can act but there's no magic, no love in the camera. That being said, there's nothing wrong with being a great supporting player; every production needs them.


I've seen his lead roles like "She Hate Me" and "Night Catches Us" but I didn't feel he was a lead really. Something too quiet, but it's not necessarily nuanced. The presence hasn't been seen there. I have seen in in a play around 2004 where he was captivating.

I think an action thriller will work for him, or a romantic drama to play off of a woman and show charming and charisma or dark and brooding.

Everyone can't lead everything. I think of Larenz Tate never gaining star power. "Love Jones" and "Menace to Society" showcased talent , but "Why Do Falls Fall In Love" and "The Inkwell" were underwhelming. Not for his performances, but… something is missing …a disconnect


Oh Dear! Sorry but I CANNOT get on the Anthony Mackie train. I think he is an average actor at best and has done nothing memorable for me. Also, he is the biggest Koon when being interviewed and I find myself cringing at his always racially tinged jokes. Sorry, Mackie can stay in the supporting roles for all I care.


No matter how hard people try to make Mackie out to be "that actor" sorry, he just isn't. I totally disagree with this article and the intention behind it. Mackie has yet to do anything breakout wise or memorable thus the writer of this article and their propaganda intent is obvious. I for one will not and am not on the Mackie train. SMDH.

Dr. Rivers

"I have a hard time picturing Will Smith as Tupac Shakur in “Notorious”"

That's about the dumbest thing I've read on this blog in quite some time. First of all, Smith doesn't look like 2Pac, and therefore likely would never be cast as him.

Secondly, why compare Mackie to Will Smith? NOBODY is doing what Will Smith is doing. Mackie is working, and that's more than many of his fellow actors can say. He doesn't have to be a star. He just has to be given the chance to work his craft.

Remember Taylor Kitsch from a few months ago? Hollywood tried their best to convince us that he is a star, but we didn't fall for it. Where is Taylor Kitsch now?

Please remove and think this post. All it does is belittle all of the great work Mackie has done, simply because he isn't famous enough in the author's eyes.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *