In Pain & Gain, Anthony Mackie plays a man with a lot of problems. First, his character Adrian is so much smaller than gym mates Mark Wahlberg and Dwayne ‘The Rock’ Johnson that he uses steroids to catch-up. But the steroids make his man parts malfunction, leading to expensive testosterone injections, leading to him agreeing to kidnap and torture a millionaire Quiznos owner (Tony Shalhoub) so he can pay his medical bills and keep his girlfriend (Rebel Wilson) happy in the bedroom. After he breaks out the tasers and handcuffs, things get better—and then they get a whole lot worse.
Directed by Michael Bay at a cost of 1/8th the budget of Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen, Pain & Gain is a buddy action movie in the vein of Bad Boys, with a twist: here, the violence feels painfully real. The film is Bay’s passion project and one of ScreenRant’s 25 Most Anticipated movies of 2013, if only to see what the Transformers 4 director does with a “smaller film.”
Mackie has played everything from Tupac Shakur (Notorious) to Abraham Lincoln’s valet (the otherwise unhistorical Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter), but he’s rarely been in a movie that’s been this closely scrutinized—that is, until he agreed to play The Falcon in next summer’s Captain America: The Winter Soldier. A pumped-up and action hero-ready Mackie tells us about days on set when Bay would scream, “I need more fucking money!” and why he’s downsizing his new muscles as a favor to Chris Evans.
Screen Rant: Given his, um, physical issues, your character most directly represents what this film is saying about the problems of manhood.
Anthony Mackie: You think that’s the problem with manhood? [Laughs]
….One of them?
Pain & Gain is about a lot of things. It’s about the American Dream, specifically with my character. His overall goal in the movie isn’t to buy fast cars like everybody else, or get a hot stripper wife. His goal is to find someone who genuinely loves him, will take care of him, and accept him for his shortcomings, as well as buy a home, provide for his family, and be the kind of guy who takes care of them. When everybody goes out and buys their Lamborghini and Porsche, he buys a mini-van. When they steal a mansion and do this, that, and the third, he goes and buys a house in the suburbs, gets married, and lives the American Dream.
And that’s why your character is the most painful to watch. He shows how good people can do horrible things without consciously meaning to.
Very good! I agree. I agree with that 100%. The ease in which he gets pulled in to this crime caper is something I really liked about what Michael and the writers were able to find. What they did—and what I found when I read the script—is they saw the humanity in these guys. You buy into, you relate to, them and what we all strive for. We all have felt under-appreciated at our jobs, we all have felt under-valued in our relationships. We all have felt not 100% appreciated. So we look for ways to rectify that. We’re told since kindergarten, “If you want to be the president, you can be it. If you want to be a doctor, you can be it.” If you’re telling me I can be that, why are some people given a leg up and I’m not? That guy’s not using his leg up—if you give me that leg up, I’ll thrive. Looking at it that way, it makes it relatable that these guys are doing what they’re doing.
Did you meet the real Adrian Doorbal?
No, no, no, no, no. I felt like I wouldn’t gain too much from meeting him. I heard this one story about him that told me everything I needed to know. On the day that he was being sentenced when the jury came back in, they went looking for him and he was in the bathroom having sex with his paralegal. That told me everything I needed to know about this guy.
Was there a moment on set when you could see that Michael Bay was used to working with Transformers money?
Every day! There were days on set when Bay would stand out there and scream, “I need more fucking money!” It was very ambitious for him to try and make this movie at the budget he made it on. Some days were stressful for everybody, including him. But for the most part, it ran like a well-oiled machine. Bay’s used to big crews and big sets and big projects. When you don’t have those big sets and big projects, you have to relearn how to do what you do normally, and I think that’s part of the reason he decided to do this movie.
I don’t want to start a fight, but you looked like you got as big—if not bigger—than Wahlberg. But then you guys still have to stand next to the Rock.
I know, I know! Mark and I worked out every morning together before going on set. We pushed each other basically to the brink, to our limits. Our goal was never to catch up to the Rock—well, mine was, but his wasn’t. And at that time, Rock was training for Wrestlemania, so he was 15-20 pounds heavier than he usually is.
And he’s playing Hercules, so you know he’s gotta look perfect.
Exactly. You even see it in the movie. He’s such a physical marvel that we had to acknowledge it in the movie, because he’s so much bigger than us. So we tried to make a thing out of it.
What’s it like hanging out with Rebel Wilson between takes?
You know, Rebel’s one of those people where when she turns off the comedy, she turns it off. In between takes, she’s really quiet and really chill. She’s at a very fast-growing rate in her career—everyone is kind of on her bandwagon now—and she’s a really sweet girl who’s just going along for the ride.
You’re a bright guy. You went to Juilliard. Is it hard to play a character who’s, well, dumb?
Well, thank you, first of all. [Laughs] Second of all, the thing about it is if you look at these guys, they’re really intelligent. They just used their intelligence in the wrong way. Not too many people can sit down, devise a plan, execute it, and then get away with it. That takes a certain level of dedication and brightness. If you look at these three guys, everyone has a guy like this in their family. Cousin Larry is so smart, why won’t he just stop and get a job instead of washing cars down at the gas station for six bucks? Some people just don’t have the work ethic and the daily hustle to put themselves in a position to be successful. They’d rather just go out and take what you have.
By the way: amazing spandex outfits.
When I first heard about this movie and Michael called me, I said, “Look, Michael. I love the movie, I’d love to work with you, I’ll do the movie. But there are two things that you have to give me: spandex and onesies.” And he said, “Done.” Because my thing is, I was in the gym and I saw all these guys in these onesies! My very favorite actor is Eddie Murphy, and in The Nutty Professor when he loses all this weight, he’s wearing this black and purple onesies. Every time I see that movie, I’m like, “I gotta get me a fucking onesie.” I think it’s just hilarious to see a man in a one-piece anything.
How is Pain & Gain going to surprise people who think they know what to expect from Michael Bay?
I think what’s going to surprise people most of all is the story-telling. Michael took a very simple, dark story and opened it up and put so many colors and flavors in it. There’s a lot of psychological flip-flopping in this movie. If it was another director, he would be praised for his ability to flesh out these characters.
Are your new muscles helping you with the stunt work for The Winter Soldier?
I’ve toned up and trimmed down a lot for Winter Soldier. Playing the Falcon, he’s supposed to be flying around. If you have all those muscles, flying would be very difficult. And Chris Evans isn’t a big guy at all, so I felt like it would be a huge disservice for me to show up and be 210 lbs and stand next to him. So I just kind of slimmed down and toned up so we would look like we are in the same movie.
Very polite of you. How are they going to visualize your telepathy with birds?
What they do is the Falcon has had two or three incarnations over the life of the character, so they took all three and formed it into one character. They released the photos of my character in his uniform about two weeks ago, so all of that stuff we’re figuring out and we’re going to play into taking down the Winter Soldier.
With the Russo brothers’ comedy background, has the tone changed from the first Captain America?
You know what, it doesn’t feel that way. The Russo brothers are very good as far as putting people in a situation that’s funny and letting them find their way out. But also with this movie, what they’re doing that’s really cool is allowing us to find those dark beats. They’re allowing us to really make those characters real people as opposed to slapstick comedy cartoons.
Warren Ellis once called the Falcon a “flying Stepin Fetchit.”
Whoa—who said that?
Warren Ellis—he’s a British comic book writer.
Well, I don’t know Warren, and Warren don’t know me. But one thing that has never been associated with me is stepping or fetching. [Laughs] So I’m pretty confident that the character that I’ll create will be a man of dignity and respect, and he’ll stand on his own in a way that’s a great representation of the culture that he comes from.
Are you going to stay ripped for Avengers 2?
I hope so. I hope. I don’t know if I’m in Avengers 2 yet, but if I am, I’m definitely going to do my damnedest to try.
Pain & Gain opens on April 26th.
Captain America: The Winter Solider will be in theaters on April 4, 2014.