Anthony Mackie as Officer Harris in Gangster Squad (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)
Anthony Mackie as Officer Harris in Gangster Squad (Courtesy of Warner Bros.)

(The Root) — Some actors court the limelight, while others, like Anthony Mackie, simply prefer to return home to New Orleans after an acting gig to sip on a fresh daiquiri and scarf down a hot oyster po'boy.

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"I got into the game to be a working actor, not to be a celebrity," Mackie told The Root. The Louisiana native honed his acting on Broadway (Topdog/Underdog) and in independent films (Half Nelson). "There's a reason why I live in New Orleans or don't go to certain restaurants and have my picture taken outside."

Living beyond Hollywood's TMZ cameras allows Mackie creative freedom and anonymity, which he cherishes and draws upon in his new film, Gangster Squad. In the movie, which hit theaters recently, Mackie plays Officer Coleman Harris, a cop in 1940s Los Angeles whose weapon of choice is a switchblade. Harris joins a secret group of policemen that include characters played by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Michael Peña and Robert Patrick. They're charged with stopping New York gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) from taking over the city.

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Originally slated to hit theaters last September, the film was held and re-edited in light of the mass shooting in Aurora, Colo., where armed gunman James Holmes mowed down numerous moviegoers during a Dark Knight screening.

"It was one of the first examples I remember of life imitating art — it was scary," Mackie recalled.

Now that the freshened Gangster Squad is ready for action, Mackie is busy elsewhere bulking up for a new role. He will play Marvel Comic's first African-American superhero, the Falcon (née Sam Wilson), in Captain America: The Winter Soldier this year and later in The Avengers 2.

Subjecting himself to two daily workouts and a butter-free diet in a town known for its rich food, Mackie has shown serious dedication. And with a big-budget summer blockbuster on the horizon, the fame he so deftly sidesteps may come knocking anyway, po'boys or not.

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The Root spoke to Mackie about joining the Gangster Squad, playing the Falcon and the awful possibility that there may never be another Morris Chestnut.

The Root: Ruben Fleischer, director of Gangster Squad, told the Daily News, "Mackie is on the path to stardom, and everyone in Hollywood knows it." What do you say to that?

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Anthony Mackie: I like where I am in this business right now, and whatever the business affords me, I'm going to take it in stride. There are a lot of drawbacks to celebrity. I have a lot of celebrity friends, and the way they choose to live their life dictates how big a celebrity they become, and it's not the lifestyle I'm looking for. I grew up in the theater in New York, and you learn how to live on $425 a week. I don't need much.

TR: What happened during the deleted Gangster Squad scene?

AM: It was very close to what happened in Colorado. We set up a sting on a guy, and he walks into a movie theater. We follow him and he comes from behind the screen, shooting at us. But not only is he shooting at us; he's also mowing down people in the theater trying to get to us. As artists, we have a social responsibility to our audience, and it would've been a huge travesty to leave that scene in without being sympathetic to what people experienced in Colorado.

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TR: As a cast member of director Kathryn Bigelow's 2008 film, The Hurt Locker, what are your thoughts on her new film about capturing Osama bin Laden, Zero Dark Thirty?

AM: I think it was a travesty that she wasn't nominated for best director by the Academy Awards. She took a story that we all knew and followed every day and made it compelling and interesting, while putting all of her actors in a place to give their best performances. If that's not good directing, I don't know what is. Her movie was definitely better than eight of the nine films nominated for best film.

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TR: In the upcoming The Avengers 2 and Captain America sequel, you'll play the Falcon. How are you preparing? One fan board said you'd have to bulk up and be sure to look exceptionally mean.

AM: That's funny! That's probably some fat dude in Connecticut saying, "You need to go to the gym!" I've actually become a gym rat again. But instead of getting bigger — because the Falcon was written as a man who was 6 foot 4 and 230 pounds; he was massive — mine is a different take on who he is, as opposed to being specific to the comic book, like all of the Marvel movies. You'll definitely get your Falcon fix, and I will look amazing!

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TR: Will we ever see you on a TV show like Scandal with your former Night Catches Us co-star Kerry Washington?

AM: Scandal is a great show. I love to see my friends on TV and working, but doing TV takes a lot of time and takes you out of a lot of great film opportunities. But I'm looking forward to turning 55, getting on Law & Order: New Orleans and chilling out, but not yet. As for returning to Broadway, I'm looking for plays, but it's very difficult right now because I'm working on so many film projects.

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TR: Like the Sundance entry The Inevitable Defeat of Mister and Pete. What's that film about?

AM: That's an amazing project, and one that I'm most proud to be a part of. It's about two little kids in Brooklyn trying to figure out how to grow up and be men in a society that does not support them in that challenge.

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TR: That sounds like a far cry from the inevitable big-budget push of a blockbuster such as The Avengers. Ready for the media blitz that movie will get?

AM: I love my anonymity. The problem is, there are certain stories I want to tell, and the film industry isn't making those movies we enjoyed in the 1990s and early 2000s. People are saying there'll never be another Denzel; I'm saying there'll never be another Morris Chestnut!

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You have to garner a certain amount of celebrity to tell those stories — love stories and victim stories and fallen-angel stories. We should make those movies ourselves, [but] if you get hired to ghostwrite a script or write on a TV show, you're making a lot of money, so why work for free when you have a mortgage?

That's the negotiation a lot of people have fallen into that I stay away from, because I don't have a $75,000 car note and a mansion or a YouTube channel where I'm throwing money at chicks. I live in New Orleans; I drink daiquiris and go fishing. When you live a modest lifestyle, you can have a modest approach to your job.

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Hillary Crosley is the New York bureau chief at The Root. Follow her on Twitter.

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