Anthony Mackie Is Finally Wielding the Shield
The following story contains spoilers for The Falcon and the Winter Soldier.
Sure, he’s got a new title now—Captain America, yeah, yeah—but Anthony Mackie still has a great taste in music. “First of all,” he says, pointing toward a framed vinyl in the background of my Zoom window just a few days after the finale of The Falcon and the Winter Soldier aired on Disney+, “Dope Purple Rain album cover frame back there. Classic.”
Mackie’s Sam Wilson has always deeply appreciated good music. After all, one of his very first Marvel Cinematic Universe actions is telling a brand new friend—who happens to be the newly-unfrozen-after-decades Captain America, Steve Rogers (Chris Evans)—to check out Marvin Gaye’s soundtrack to Trouble Man. “Everything you’ve missed jammed into one album,” he says, as Steve takes note.
Seven years later, and those roles are switched. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier finds Sam dealing with the aftermath of Avengers: Endgame—when he was gifted Captain America’s shield from a now very, very old Steve. And while there are ups and downs—and even more discussion of Marvin Gaye, this time with old friend Bucky (Sebastian Stan) and old foe Zemo (Daniel Brühl)—the series winds up exactly where we thought it would: with Sam becoming the new Captain America.
So we had to do what we had to do. Just a few months after Endgame debuted and topped the box office, Mackie appeared on the cover of Men’s Health wearing a Captain America T-shirt—but, as he tells, us, even he didn’t know what was going to happen at that point. The new leader of one of Marvel’s flagship franchises talked to us about future expectations, that super secret surprise star, and what it means to be the world’s first Black Captain America.
You were on—and I will call it this—an iconic cover of our magazine almost two years ago, just after Endgame, and you wore this Captain America shirt. What was going on when you were doing that photoshoot, doing that interview, maybe knowing and maybe not knowing what was going to happen in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier and beyond?
Doing that cover was kind of the first coming out, the first awareness of what had happened in Endgame, with me getting the shield. And what was funny was, it wasn’t solidified then. It wasn’t a definite that I was becoming Captain America, because at the end of Endgame, Sam says “I don’t want the shield, it’s yours.” So, it was cool.
I had been wanting to do Men’s Health for so long, so I was just excited about the idea. That was one of my bucket list things—to be on the cover of Men’s Health. So it was dope to finally have that come to fruition and see it happen.
You’ve now been in the MCU since Captain America: The Winter Soldier back in 2014. The character of Sam has grown in that time, but I’m assuming you got to dive into him more than ever with the series. Do you feel like you’ve grown along with the character?
Definitely. We shot that in 2013, I got cast in 2012. A lot has changed since then, career-wise and personal-wise. But Sam has evolved in such a magical way, because you see…if you go back and watch his thread through the Marvel Universe, he’s a guy who went out for a jog, and now he’s Captain America. Like, that’s a huge arc! You know? I guess I consider Sam Wilson a friend, since I know him so well. It’s great to see how far he’s come in the universe, and everything he’s been able to achieve.
You’ve said that you were watching the finale with your kids. Can you describe the scene of watching the show and having them see you as Captain America for the first time?
You know, what was really great and dope about it…so, I have this popcorn machine, and my kids love popcorn. I make gourmet popcorn and shit. And I was sitting there watching it, and the kids were…my little ones don’t get it. They look at the TV, and they look at me, and they’re like “Dad, that guy looks just like you.” And the little one goes, “He sounds like you, too!” You know?
The big ones, it’s funny, because they know the experience and hard work and dedication and sacrifice that goes into what I do, and how committed I am to the balance of what I do, and them at the same time. So, to have your son say “congratulations,” or, you know, my son… he was like, “you’re really good.” Like, “This is good. You’re really good.” You know, that was better than anything.
The first time you put the costume on, how did you feel? And then the first time you saw it, how did you feel?
The first time I saw it, I was like “Holy shit, this is real.” Like, for some reason, it’s hard to put it together as the reality that you’re in at that moment. And then I put it on, and when I saw myself in the mirror, it was very emotional. I was excited, but openly emotional. Everybody in the room, even my dresser…you know, we’ve known each other since the first movie. So, for me to come full scope and make it to that moment of putting on that costume was…it was fun for everybody. We all had our laughs and giggles. But for me, it was very emotional and humbling.
You’ve also said that you were working out more than previously before. What was the biggest difference between your Captain America workout and your Falcon workout?
Well, the workouts were pretty much the same, because Falcon is all about core. When they put you up on those ropes, and fly you around, it’s all about core strength. I learned that over time. But with [The Falcon and the Winter Soldier], the way the costume was made, I wanted to be bigger up top. I wanted more caps on my shoulders. I wanted more of a barrel chest effect.
So, I did a ton of cardio. Just more upper body workouts. More legs and shoulders. I did legs and shoulders, like three days a week, whereas I used to only do it two days a week.
I know it’s early on in the process, but do you think you’ll keep this same level of training for Captain America 4?
Now, it’s all about the ‘Dorito,’ man. It’s about shoulder-to-waist ratio. So, I gotta get the round brown in check. I want a shot of me, like, walking out in compression shorts, or something.
I want to ask about some of your wonderful co-stars next. You didn’t have any scenes with her, but I saw Julia Louis-Dreyfus post on her Instagram, and it kind of looked like she got taken to and from the set in super secrecy in, like, a cloak.
As the star of the show, did even you have any idea she was in it? And what did you think when you saw her character revealed?
You know what’s funny? I’ve always thought she was—is—an amazing actress. And when I found out she was on the show, I was so excited. It was just like when we got Robert Redford to be in [Captain America: The Winter Soldier.] I was like, ‘That’s huge!’ you know?
So, when she showed up, I wasn’t on set that day. I kept trying to get my driver to come pick me up so I could come sneak on set and meet her. So, I finally got to set, and I met her, and honestly, like, one of the naturally sweetest human beings I’ve ever met. And I was so surprised, because her character was so shady. And the level of shade she put into that character, was just…it made me so happy, because that’s not who she is at all.
When you get somebody like that it’s always a coup to work alongside them. I’m just jealous that it was Wyatt [Russell] and not me.
I’m glad you mentioned Wyatt, because we already knew that you and Sebastian had great chemistry from Civil War and the movies. But I really liked when Wyatt joined you guys too. Have you talked about potentially getting the same group together for future projects?
You know, we haven’t. But kudos to Wyatt, because he was the new guy. Emily [VanCamp], and Sebastian, and I, and Brühl—we had all been around the block. So, Wyatt came in, and really… I think what he did with that character was kind of amazing. If you just watch it from an actor’s perspective, and watch him from the beginning of that [series], and the level of decay that he goes through, to that final scene. The insecurity, the lack of self-confidence is so beautiful to watch how he was able to arc that over each episode. He did a hell of a job, and it was great to see him get that moment to shine.
Speaking of Daniel Brühl, I also spoke to him earlier in the season. I told him that I love the Zemo jacket, and he suggested that you were possibly the only person who loved it more than he did. I just wanted to check if I could confirm that story.
Dude, when he came out in that jacket, I was like, “When we wrap, I want that jacket.” He just looked cool. That’s what pissed me off! I’m like, ‘It’s The Falcon and the Winter Soldier—you can’t look cooler than The Falcon! That has to be in my contract, or something!”
But Brühl is just such a cool cat. He brings a level of sophistication and quiet arrogance to Zemo that kind of knocks everything else out of the way. As much as you’re supposed to hate Zemo—he did blow up the U.N., and killed the King of Wakanda, and made Bucky into an assassin—he did all this stuff, but you can’t help but like him. Like, you want to hang out with Zemo.
I mean, he’s got those great dance moves, too. How can you resist?
That’s my favorite part of the series.
The last two episodes, especially the scenes with you and Carl Lumbly, focus so much on Sam and Isaiah Bradley talking about what it means for a Black man to play Captain America. I’d like to evolve that question to our world, and ask you what it means to be a Black actor playing Captain America.
Well, it’s a great question. And It’s a humbling ideal, really. Because symbols matter. I think one of the greatest symbols is the idea of Captain America, and when you look at the relationship with Black men and America, it’s not something that goes hand in hand, or that’s an easy topic to breach.
So, the idea of being a Black actor and playing Captain America is something that I take great pride in, because it shows the progress of this country. It shows the progress of the people in this country, and the way we think. I think if you simply just look at the advancements of women in this country in the past year, a lot of things are changing. A lot of people are looking at it in a different way. So, it’s one of those things where there’s still work to do, but at the same time, we’ve moved forward by leaps and bounds, and I’m excited, as the new Captain America, to be a part of that moving forward.
You’ve gotten to do so much in your time as the Falcon and then in The Falcon and the Winter Soldier. I’m sure it’s super early on in the process for Captain America 4, but what’s one thing you’d like to be able to do in that movie?
I don’t know where it is in the process—I literally didn’t know it was happening until yesterday, if it’s happening. I haven’t heard anything from anyone. But, I would like for Sam Wilson to have a love interest. And I think it possibly should be Julia Louis-Dreyfus.
This interview has been edited for content and clarity.
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