This seemed like your potential breakout year: The Manchurian Candidate, Brother to Brother, two starring roles with Spike Lee. But now Lee’s mini-series, Sucker Free City, has been passed up by Showtime and re-edited as a feature. And She Hate Me—critics hated it. Was that hard on you?
You know, the thing I love about Spike and am sorry about is that he puts himself in the position to be the fall guy. Spike is the star of a Spike Lee movie.
But c’mon, weren’t you thinking, Breakout role—celebrity ahead?
I guess I did say, “Yo, I’ve arrived.” You know, Spike has made more stars than any other director in Hollywood. But I didn’t expect anything. See, if I was a blond-haired, blue-eyed kid—yeah, I’d probably be a $15 million man. But I’m not. I’m just looking for challenges.
So what was challenging about Brother to Brother [Rodney Evans’s new independent film, in which Mackie plays a young gay man who befriends a former Harlem Renaissance artist]?
You know, there’s all kinds of homophobia. When Will Smith signed up for Six Degrees of Separation, Denzel called him and said, “Black people will never forgive you.” And yet, if you’re a black actor, Soul Plane is credited as being a smart move for your career.
You’ve got an impressive résumé: Juilliard, New York Theatre Workshop, the Public—now Clint Eastwood’s new film . . . And you understudied for Jeffrey Wright and Don Cheadle.
Two of the greatest actors of our generation. It was amazing. Working with Samuel Jackson, well, he just broke down the game for me.
One day, working on The Man, I was chillin’ with Sam, expressing my frustration with all the rappers in the business. He just cut me off. He’s like, “Shut up. If somebody’s got to save their job by hiring a rapper, they’ll do it.” That’s the realest news I’ve gotten. Like Morgan Freeman told me, “Just do the work. When Hollywood wants you, they’ll come get you.”