Anthony Mackie on Playing Tupac & Hating Smelly Europeans

Somewhat surprisingly, biopic-happy Hollywood lacks a movie recounting the legendary but brief life of Tupac Shakur. The slain rapper is uncannily suited for the celluloid treatment, with his firebrand rapper-as-revolutionary persona, his frequent brushes with the law, and an early death that saw him ascend to both myth and martyr. If he ever does get his own movie (and he probably will), a good bet to play him might be Anthony Mackie, who portrayed the rapper in a play written by his Julliard classmate; Mackie’s donning the bandanna again in Notorious, a film about Tupac’s friend and foe, The Notorious B.I.G.. Mackie met up with me at the W Hotel in Union Square to discuss embodying Tupac for a second time, leftover street booty, and why pungent Eurotrash are ruining New York nightlife.

This is your second time playing Tupac. How did this differ from the first time? It was very different. Playing him on film is extremely different than doing it on stage. I wanted to show more of who he actually was to the people around him. Tupac at this time was fresh coming off of Juice, at the top of his game, and just living it up. And everything was just all good. This was way before the sex abuse case. I wanted to show how much joy went into making his music.

This movie tells Biggie’s story and clears him of any implication in the East Coast/West Coast rivalry; it portrays Tupac as responsible for igniting the tensions. Do you think a Tupac biopic would tell a different story? Of course. The great thing about this movie is that it’s called Notorious. It’s from the perspective of Biggie, so if you go talk to Suge Knight, if you talk to anybody on the West Coast, if you could talk to ‘Pac, the other perspective is completely different. I think a Tupac biopic would be a completely different movie.

Would you be interested in playing him in that? Of course.

Was your preparation for the role more trying to embody him, or did you try to imitate him? The thing that was so important was his demeanor, his ability to entrance people with his personality. I wanted to give that life, to give that fuel back to who he is. Because it was just his charisma that people bought into.

How do you think his mother would react to seeing this film? I think his mother would be very pleased. At the end of the day he’s an entertainer, so if this is what I’ve got to do to sell records, you know, if Britney Spears got to show her crotch, if Eva Longoria has to be with Tony Parker, if so and so has to make a sex tape with Ray J, that’s what I gotta do.

What about Biggie’s death? Do you have any theories on who was responsible? Both Biggie and Tupac’s deaths were very odd. They were both in very crowded places, in the public eye. They were both in convoys with their friends, and nobody saw anything, I found that to be very odd. Tupac being on the Vegas strip on fight night — I was on the Vegas strip for the De La Hoya fight, and literally it took me an hour to go two blocks. So you pull up next to him, shoot up his car, and speed away in a convoy, and nobody sees anything? There are more police on the Vegas strip than Fort Knox on a fight night.

How do you think the rap game would be different if they were still alive today? Half of these cats wouldn’t exist.

Like who? I ain’t saying no names. But I would say 95 percent of the rappers right now who are selling albums — all the cats who we go to the club and listen to their music, then we realize they’re fucking losers. All those dudes, the only reason they’re in the game is because Pac died. Because Pac came out and said, “Fuck yo momma, fuck yo sister, fuck yo kids,” you know what I mean? “My 44 make sure all your kids don’t grow! I’ma shoot your lady in her belly!” What?! And nobody said nothing! Pac said “Fuck you,” and everybody said “I’m sorry.” Today, somebody says “Fuck you,” and everybody got beef. It’s bullshit. Everybody is Parker Posies, everybody is trying to be these pseudo wannabe thugs. All these motherfuckers wanted to be Will Smith ten years ago, all these motherfuckers wanted to be Kwame ten years ago, all of them wore polka dots, all of them knew how to do the Chinese typewriter like MC Hammer. Fuck that! What happened to all the dudes in middle school we used to beat up? All of a sudden they disappeared and everybody’s a thug. Fuck you! that’s bullshit! All the motherfuckers we used to beat up in high school, they bought a Tupac album, and now they’re fucking hardcore.

Do you think we would have seen Tupac evolving into a business mogul like Jay-Z and Diddy? Tupac was never selfish enough to make that happen. The thing about Tupac that was so great, that was so prolific, was the fact that he was about the community. It wasn’t about him being worth $400 million.

Do you think he was a revolutionary? Of course. At his height, there were cats in jail writing ‘Pac letters, asking him what they should be doing next. That is a mogul. When you can entrance an entire group of people to move in a completely different way, that’s a mogul. A mogul is somebody — if you go to the hood and sell this bullshit music, then you have to reinvest that money you make from this bullshit back into the hood. Build some community centers, rebuild some public schools. You got $700 million, take $100 million and rebuild some public schools. Whoa, now all of a sudden you’re a fucking philanthropist, you’re Rockefeller, you’ll be ordained and remembered forever. It’s real simple. From the time you make $100 million, your grandkids are taken care of, so what else do you need?

I read that you said you choose acting over engineering because girls don’t chase engineers. Now that you’re an actor, are girls chasing you? Nah, now that I’m an actor I wish I was an engineer. Because the engineers get the good girls, the engineers get the girls who are smart and cute, who go to the gym. I just get leftover street booty. I get videos hoes. Who the fuck wants them?

I do! Exactly, but then after five minutes you’re like, get outta here!

Who do you think is the greatest rapper of all time? Tupac. He’s the most prolific, he’s the most revered. Biggie died right before his second album. Biggie dropped a double CD after Tupac was the first rapper to drop a double CD. He revolutionized the game. Nobody was wearing tattoos and all that shit before Pac did. Everybody was listening to Kwame and Will Smith.

What about Eminem? You worked with him on 8 Mile. Do you think he’s a good rapper? I think Eminem is an amazing rapper. He’s no Tupac. I’ll say there are about eight cats before Eminem. But I think he’s definitely in the top ten, just because of his lyrical skills.

Where do you like to go out when you’re in New York? I mean, the thing about New York is, going out is kind of shaky, because you have so many smelly Europeans. It’s not like New York ’98, when you used to go out and you used to hit Lotus, you used to hit PM, you used to hit Nell’s. You don’t really go to Eugene’s anymore, 40/40 is a bunch of suits, and you don’t want to hang out with fucking cornballs.

Well, where do you hang out? I bring the party home, there’s this little spot I go to in Brooklyn called Moe’s. That’s old faith. You come to the city to get dinner, and you go there. Because at the end of the day, the city is garbage now. You go to the Meatpacking District, and it’s a bunch of Jersey freaks and weirdo European dudes. It’s really weird man. It’s like, you closed Lotus? Where am I supposed to go? Lotus is closed? I’ve been going to Lotus for a long time, Lotus and Nell’s.

I wasn’t around for Nell’s. Remember when Tupac got arrested in a club for fucking a girl and getting head? That was in Nell’s. Nell’s was right down the street from Lotus, it was on 14th between 7th and 8th. The illest club in the city. Upstairs there was live music, downstairs was just a sweatbox hip hop joint. They closed down the Palladium and made it a fucking NYU dorm. But Nell’s was the illest situation in Manhattan. So you know, I don’t hang out with fucking Europeans.

BlackBook Liveblog: The B.I.G. Tour Of Brooklyn

Today, our own Ben Barna was invited on a press tour promoting the new Notorious B.I.G. biopic Notorious. The junk(et)? Ben gets to sit on a bus with a bunch of other reporters as they take a tour through notable Brooklyn spots relevant to the deceased rapper’s history before making his way to a screening of the film. It gets better: leading the tour, according to the release, will be Mama B.I.G. herself, Violetta Wallace. Let us repeat this: a bunch of reporters, on a bus tour, through Bed-Stuy (Do or Die!), with B.I.G.’s mom. Impish macabre fun! Ben’s live-texting his updates, and we’ll throw them below the jump as the day goes on.

1:49 p.m.: So much for the “clueless white reporter angle” (Ed. That was my idea. FAIL!); I’m just about the only white guy on the bus. Although if HuffPo writer Brad Balfour can weasel his way in, that’ll make about four of us. He’s standing on Lex, waiting for extra spots. I wonder if he’ll sit next to me.

1:59 p.m.: Balfour is on the bus. He did not sit next to me, and I’m actually hurt. The only empty seat on the entire bus is next to me. Recollections of high school.

2:10 p.m.: A white guy from WNYC named Siddartha just stopped the bus and climbed on. He took the last seat (i.e. next to me). Just left to Brooklyn, “to see where it all began,” according to (Notorious producer) Wayne Barrow. She’s in the front, and there’s a camera crew shooting.

2:14 p.m.: Someone just shouted to turn the heat off. Siddartha is sweating profusely. People are fanning themselves with press releases. (Ed. You know who else sweat profusely, right? Maybe this is part of the experience!)

2:26 p.m.: Wayne Barrow just went person by person to introduce himself. He chatted up everyone but me. Didn’t get past “nice to meet you.”

2:27 p.m. Dude, honestly, I hate to say this, but Sid is not smelling too good now, and is killing this for me.

2:33 p.m.: We are on the Manhattan Bridge. 3,000 Feet from Brooklyn. Going to his high school, where he met Jay-Z and Busta. They used to battle in the hallway. “This is where it all happened,” apparently.

2:35 p.m.: People are taking pics of his high school like it’s some shrine.

2:42 p.m.: Some local Brooklyn kids (at said high school) just gave me/the bus the finger. Cute.

2:49 p.m.: Heading to the infamous Junior’s restaurant in Brooklyn. Home of the best cheesecake in the world. Not a word from (B.I.G.’s mom) yet. Dozing off. Very awkward silence with Sid.

3:05 p.m.: There was a “shot” outside of B.I.G.’s old middle school. It was a kid, throwing a rock at the bus. “Welcome to Brooklyn,” said Barrow, for the 100th time.

3:10 p.m.: Getting off in front of his house. 226 St. James Place, Clinton Hill, Brooklyn.

3:21 p.m.: We’re going to the corner where Biggie used to hustle; apparently, this will be (his mom’s) first time seeing it. Brooklyn residents seem naturally confused by the hoopla.

3:25 p.m.: Without this neighborhood there would be no B.I.G. With all this gentrification, there’ll be no more either.

3:27 p.m.: Balfour is hogging Biggie’s mom. Just invited himself over for dinner.

3:31 p.m.: Lunch at Golden Krust! Sixty people in line!

3:35 p.m.: Beef patty and Ginger Beer. Two girls tried to score freebies but were sent off. Were told “sorry: patties for journalists only.”

4:03 p.m.: Balfour keeps insisting on getting Ms. Wallace a soda. She keeps refusing.

4:45 p.m.: All in all: weak. Could’ve gone without.