This year is set to be huge for Anthony Mackie – not only is he starring in one of the hottest TV shows of the year with the launch of The Falcon And The Winter Soldier (an extension of the Marvel movie franchise), but Australian audiences will also soon see him take the lead in the new sci-fi drama Synchronic.
Synchronic is the latest film from writer-director duo Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson, featuring Mackie alongside The Fall’s Jamie Dornan. The two star as New Orleans paramedics and best friends Steve and Dennis who are called out to a number of accidents and deaths related to a new synthetic drug on the market. The situation gets personal following the disappearance of Dennis’ oldest daughter after taking the drug. Meanwhile Steve, with just a month to live, is determined to bring her home. What follows is less a trip into drug-induced psychedelia, and more a journey into a world that distorts and reshapes reality as we know it.
Ahead of the release of the new movie we spoke with star Anthony Mackie about the new film and shifting gears away from the Marvel universe.
So you’re doing the big-budget Marvel movies, and now you’ve got the upcoming Falcon and Winter Soldier series. But in between, you’re picking low to mid-budget films. What is it that you’re looking for when you’re choosing these projects and what drove you specifically to Synchronic?
It was I really wanted to work with Aaron and Justin, and I feel like they see the world in a different way. And as a five-year-old at heart, I love when people can see things for what they aren’t, when they can take something and make it into something that no one else sees it being. And I love being a part of that. When I read the script, I had to sit back and ask myself the question, “If I had a month to live, what would I do with that month? What have I done in my life that’s a lasting memory or a lasting staple on the world that I’d be remembered for?”
You mentioned the directors Aaron Moorhead and Justin Benson. What was the experience like working with them?
It was great. They’re really cool guys and we never had a bad day on set. And they’re true collaborators, which is great because their vision and their ability is so far out and so unusual and so specific to them. [With] most people that work like that, you have to work within the confines of their vision. But with them, they took our ideas and added on to their vision, which was great.
Had you been familiar with their films before this came along?
Yeah, I’ve seen a few of their movies because I’m always on the film festival circuit, because I always try to do small movies with new directors. If my being in a Marvel movie will make people go see a movie like this and have a conversation about it and talk about the society that we live in – you don’t have to blow stuff up, you don’t have to have some kind of crazy blue person running through the screen – you can literally just sit and talk and make people think. And as actors, especially as an actor coming from the stage and theatre, what you always want to do is make your audience think.
With every film project you’re learning something from it and you’re taking that away. Is there anything you’ve learned from working on films of the scale of a Marvel film that can also apply to a much smaller film like Synchronic? It’s considerably smaller, but it still plays in a similar genre.
Homework. The Marvel movies are so big that every day when you come to set, you have to know exactly where you are, what your character’s going through, what he’s feeling and what he’s trying to get. And when you go into a movie like this, where you have such a short time to shoot it, and you have so many different things that you have to cover, but you don’t have those layered advantages like a Marvel movie, you have to be prepared every day and ready to go to battle every day. So you really just have to be prepared for whatever they might throw at you.
I find it really interesting that you don’t tend to do many comedies. They’re usually much darker, dramatic films like this one. It’s like a Cronenberg sort of a flick. The last comedy I remember you doing was that Christmas film The Night Before, which I really liked. But why do you tend to steer more towards these serious dark films?
Because our industry of film is a very pigeonholed industry. If you do comedies, you’ll continue to get cast in comedy. And it’s hard to break into that world. Just like if you do comedies, it’s very hard to break into the dramatic world. So when filmmakers diagnose you as a dramatic actor, that’s all they see you as. So they don’t consider you for those light, fun roles in the comical movies.
Is there a way though for you to straddle both worlds where maybe you do some sort of rom-com to get your feet a little bit more wet in that world?
I would love to. My goal is to do a romantic comedy. I would love to do one, but they don’t really make that many romantic comedies anymore.
There’s always the Netflix rom-coms…
Yeah, yeah, but every 10 years, the film business shifts to a certain vocabulary of film that they put out there. Now, the film world is very heavy with big action movies. So those small, more medium level, simple movies, you don’t see that many of them anymore. So it all depends on who the film– I only can work on what a filmmaker gives me. So it’s all about the filmmaker. If you can find someone who’s willing to put you in that position again, you run with them.
Getting back to Synchronic I really liked the chemistry in the film between you and Jamie Dornan. You guys felt like people who actually had a history together. What do you do to build chemistry with an actor, whether it’s Dornan specifically here, or just generally before a production?
With some actors, it’s really hard. You either have nothing in common or they’re just not those… all people aren’t people-people. So with Jamie, what was so great, and I think a lot of this came with Aaron and Justin, they’re such likable guys that every day on set was a joy. There wasn’t one day where there wasn’t a laugh or an interesting conversation to be had. And I never felt judged by anyone. You could express your opinion and your feelings and talk about it. And even though Jamie and I have very different backgrounds and we couldn’t look more opposite, we had a lot in common from the first moment we sat down and talked. So we just literally built on top of that. There was a mutual respect between the two of us and it just grew as the movie went on.
We’re big on getting recommendations of things to watch. Is there something you watched recently that you’re passionate about, something that you’d like to recommend to the world?
Well, I’m sure everybody saw it, but The Queen’s Gambit is unique and different and amazing for what it is, and really fun. So I just finished that and I really enjoyed it. It was outside of the box and a really unusual way of telling… It made chess interesting.
Have you gone out and bought a chess set yet?
You know what? I’ve been trying to learn how to play chess, but I don’t know all the different techniques of chess. So I usually just play with the old guys in a park and give them five bucks and they beat me every time. There’s no way around it. They said they’re tired of taking my money.
Synchronic is in cinemas from 11 February 2021. Watch the trailer here: