There’s a sweet irony to the fact that after being patched through to a conference call with Anthony Mackie, the first thing I’m given is a time warning.
“You have exactly ten minutes for this call, OK?” instructs an American publicist. She sounds bored, but who can blame her? I am undoubtedly one of a hundred journalists waiting to talk with the Hollywood star about his new film, Synchronic.
“That’s all we have time for, OK?” urges the publicist.
Conversely in Synchronic, a low-budget high-concept sci-fi thriller, running out of time is never an issue. Directed by filmmaking duo Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead, the film stars Anthony Mackie and Jamie Dornan as two paramedics on the trail of a time-altering drug, synchronic.
Talking Time Travel
In Synchronic, the designer drug is similar to ayahuasca but with the added benefit (or risk) of allowing the user to travel back in time for precisely seven minutes.
Sounds pretty wild, right? Well, not according to Mackie.
“I definitely wouldn’t try Synchronic, I’m horribly afraid of drugs – if I am in a room and someone pulls out drugs, I freak out,” laughs the 42-year-old.
“I am not that dude; I am a wuss when it comes to experimenting and trying crazy drugs.”
Mackie may not be interested in using drugs to alter his reality, but he’s certainly interested in using acting to explore the concept. While he’s most famous for playing Falcon in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, away from The Avengers, Mackie seems continually drawn to projects that deal in the ethereal.
In the fifth season of Black Mirror, Mackie played a gamer who swapped the real world for a sexually-charged virtual reality in ‘Striking Vipers.’ More recently, he starred as Takeshi Kovacs in the second season of Netflix’s Altered Carbon.
“I always try to find stuff that makes me question myself, good and bad, right and wrong, and with the Black Mirror episode, it forces you to make those decisions,” explains Mackie.
“It forces you to say, I think I am a good person, but how would I act in this situation, what decision would I make and what would be the repercussions of that?”
Synchronic presents similar hypotheticals, offering up a constant stream of questions for the audience. When Mackie’s character Steve decides to experiment with the time travel drug, it’s hard not to ask yourself: would you take it?
Later in the film, Steve is diagnosed with a rare form of terminal cancer, and his behaviour becomes increasingly erratic. The underlying question posed: how would you spend your last days on earth?
“It’s a conversation film for sure,” says Mackie.
“Some movies put you in a position where you have to think, listen and question, like Inception. Whenever Inception is on television I rewatch it because I always notice something new, and Synchronic is that type of movie. While other movies are just for entertainment and there is nothing wrong with that.”
Zero Budget to Hero Budget
Both Mackie and Dornan are no strangers to making movies purely for entertainment. Between Mackie’s Marvel back catalogue and Dornan’s Fifty Shades franchise, they’ve banked billions at the box office.
“It is nice to be able to do stuff like Avengers and then come shoot this crazy sci-fi movie in New Orleans,” explains Mackie.
“Some of my favourite jobs, like Half Nelson or The Hurt Locker, have been made for no money, but it puts you in the position of being a kid again because you don’t have all the other shit,” laughs Mackie.
“All you have is your training and your instincts, so you have to show up ready to party every single day.”
A quick Google reveals Half Nelson was made for a paltry US$700K, while Hurt Locker a respectable US$11 million. Still, chump change compared to the estimated budget of US$356 million that Marvel spent on Avengers: Endgame, one of the most expensive (and profitable) films ever made.
“Don’t get me wrong, the Marvel movies are great, the best,” says Mackie, who is set to star in his own Marvel series beginning next year, The Falcon & the Winter Soldier.
“But the big films make you appreciate the smaller films and vice versa.”
Part of the appeal can also be linked back to an opportunity to work with directors on an upward trajectory. Justin Benson and Aaron Moorehead have become darlings of the indie movie circuit thanks to their 2014 horror flick V/H/S: Viral and 2017 cult movie The Endless.
Since then the pair have established a reputation for not just pushing the boundaries but pulverising them.
“I signed on because I wanted to work with them, not the other way around,” laughs Mackie.
“You can always have a director that points the camera and shoots, but when you have a creative team that sees things differently, as an actor that can facilitate your imagination.”
That’s high praise from Mackie considering he’s worked with the best directors in the business including two films with Oscar-winner, Kathryn Bigelow.
“It can be easy once you’ve done a few big films to lose that ambition and just ride on your coattails,” says Mackie.
“But I’m always looking for a challenge and Justin, and Aaron delivered that.”
Waiting for Clint Eastwood’s call
With Synchronic set to open in Australia on February 11th and a host of other projects in the pipeline, Anthony Mackie is very much a man in control of his own destiny. There are few doors in Hollywood he can’t walk through, few directors who wouldn’t take his calls.
So now that he can pick what comes next, what does come next?
“I grew up watching Westerns with my dad, and Clint Eastwood is a legend in my house, so I would love to do a kick-ass Western where I get to ride a horse and save a damsel in distress,” reveals Mackie.
“Every time I watch [1992 film] Unforgiven I get upset because I feel like Morgan Freeman stole that role from me,” he laughs.
It’s at that moment the American publicist cuts back, our ten minutes are up.
“That’s all we have time for today,” she says politely.
SYNCHRONIC opens in cinemas on February 11th.