If your life depended on finding out what Marvel was up to next, you probably wouldn’t make it. The mammoth publishers are notorious for keeping a tight lid on what comes next in their comic books and movies, to the point where Anthony Mackie, who plays Falcon in the Captain America franchise, had to find out with the rest of the world that he would be an avenger by watching the premiere of Avengers: Age of Ultron in 2015.
Mackie has since settled comfortably into the role. On Friday afternoon at Middle East Film & Comic Con in Dubai, he sat down with a roundtable of reporters to chat about who he’d call in a real-life emergency, Kendall Jenner’s recently pulled Pepsi ad (where she hands a police officer a Pepsi can as a peace offering), and the best place to find a shawarma in the UAE. Read the edited conversation below.
Coming from a theatre background, how different is it for you approaching your craft in this hugely collaborative environment of the Marvel Universe?
It [takes] a lot of trust with film to know that they’re going to represent you well. A lot of times as an actor, you want to control your performance. Then the movie comes out and you’re like, ‘Man, I know I gave better takes than that. Why did you use those crappy takes?’ I think I’m very lucky to be in the Marvel Universe, because they don’t use my crappy takes. They put ’em on the blooper reel.
The Avengers save the world from danger. Out of the rest of the cast, who would you call in a real-life emergency, and who would you absolutely not call?
It depends on what the danger is. There’s certain situations, I would definitely call Sebastian [Stan]. You know, they’re my friends, we’ve been in those situations, you get those calls: ‘Yo, what are you doing? Come to my house.’ I could see Mark Ruffalo being like, ‘Dude. Don’t. Stop it, call me back.’ I can see Scarlett [Johansson] not calling me back if I left her a voice mail, like, ‘Yo, I’m in jail, come pick me up.’ She’s like, ‘I have a baby, leave me alone.’ But as far as character-wise, I would definitely call Sebastian [Bucky Barnes/The Winter Soldier] or Mark [The Incredible Hulk], because they can bust in and bust you out. I always find it funny when you have all these guys shooting at Captain America — they always shoot at the shield. I’m like, ‘Shoot him in the leg!’ But as long as he has the shield, I’m with it.
Obviously, the Falcon is an amazing character, but if you had to be anyone else in the Avengers team, who would it be?
The Incredible Hulk. It’s a no-brainer. No shirt with ripped jeans? That’s every dude’s dream. I love the way that character has developed, going from just a brute to now being more of the sensitive, understanding Hulk, and knowing how to control his powers.
What are your thoughts on representation and diversity at Marvel?
We have women represented, we have green people represented, we have gods represented, we have military represented. We have old people represented — I mean, Steve Rogers is like, 70 years old. The diversity in our universe is pretty cool, and it’s continuing to grow.
A Marvel executive recently was talking about how behind the scenes and in the comics, it’s gotten more diverse, but he was saying it’s actually driven people away. How important do you think diversity is in bringing more people in?
I feel, for me, these comic books were written at a time where a certain demographic was represented overwhelmingly so. Now, what Marvel is doing that I enjoy, [is] they’re making the cinematic universe look like our reality. And that’s kind of dope. Because all of my friends aren’t brown. All of my friends aren’t white. All of my friends aren’t male. All of my friends aren’t female. So when I watch a movie, I want the movie to reflect that. Unless it’s set in like, Des Moines, Iowa. If I’m watching a movie and it’s set somewhere in the Middle East, and it’s just a whole bunch of black dudes, I’m gonna be like, ‘Well, that’s a weird movie.’ Because there ain’t a whole bunch of black dudes in no city in the Middle East… I think it’s cool in the comic book now that Captain America is a woman. And Thor is a woman. That’s dope! Just some chick with a hammer, busting dudes in the mouth. Little girls need that representation. We’ve had our representation. We know what Thor would do as a man. Let’s see what he would do as a woman.
There’s been a lot in the news about travelling between the US and the Middle East. What is it like for you, as an American, travelling to the Middle East?
I’m proud to say I’ve been to every country in the Middle East, and I love it. I’ve met some of the most amazing people, I’ve had some of the best tea. I came here before it was Dubai. I came here in 2007 when it was two hotels and a highway… I think just like Dubai, just like other countries in the Middle East are in a place of transition, the same with the US. I think we’re just at a point now where we’re all growing and finding ourselves. We’re all teenagers. I’m excited to see when we all become adults and stop being teenagers. Is there good shawarma here, by the way? Alright, just asking. Haven’t seen any. I love my shawarma.
We’ve had Star Wars and Star Trek film in the UAE. Do you envision something like the Avengers could film in Dubai or Abu Dhabi?
[I] definitely could. With Mission Impossible coming here and everything, it just showed this wide spectrum of ability that you can capture here. I don’t know how the futuristic nature of this place would sit in the Marvel universe. Maybe Guardians of the Galaxy could shoot here. I think that could be a good fit. I don’t know how our universe would fit in Dubai. Maybe Abu Dhabi because it’s more of a calm, normal place. Chill place. Quiet place. But then we show up and they’d definitely kick us out.
Going back to you playing Martin Luther King Jr [in 2016 film All the Way], how different might history have been had he been aware of the power of Pepsi?
That’s hilarious… I definitely wonder if he was alive today, how society would be different. Or how it would’ve corrupted or affected him. You know, it’s not like he was an unflawed man and he would’ve taken the internet by storm and been cool with it. No. He would’ve had a Facebook page. He would be tweeting… It’s a dangerous time we live in for people who are trying to do the right thing.
And what was your take on the whole Pepsi ad?
I’d rather not say.