Moral corruption is a peculiar thing. It’s often a slow digression, and it almost never ends on a positive note. In the potboiler thriller Triple 9 (out today), Anthony Mackie’s character—law enforcement officer Marcus Belmont—goes rouge in a mind-bending crooked cop film set in modern-day Atlanta. Alongside, Hollywood heavyweights Chiwetel Ejiofor, Casey Affleck, Kate Winslet and Woody Harrelson, Mackie brings unexpected depth to the movie and keeps the audience guessing. chatted with the amiable 37-year-old to get the behind the scenes scoop on the project and role as he cruised through New York City’s Lincoln Tunnel.

EBONY: This movie kept me at the edge of my seat! What was your initial reaction to the script?

Anthony Mackie: I really wanted to work with director John Hillcoat. He’s a dynamic and phenomenal storyteller. So once I saw the cast coming together, I wanted to be a part of it. There’s never anything wrong with being associated with really dope, good people. Additionally, I just enjoyed being in a movie where I can sort of twist my mustache and laugh in a very innocent way [laughter]. My character is a villain, but he still has a lot of self-respect, humanity and dignity, which you don’t always see.

EBONY: How did you prepare yourself for the role?

AM: I’ve been very fortunate: I have a lot of friends that are cops. I always find myself in the presence of a bunch of cops, ironically. With police officers, it’s not so much about the way they walk or the interpretation of who they are. It’s more about the code of the shield. When you’re a police officer, it becomes more of a fraternity, and that’s one thing I wanted to capture with this character. No matter how good or bad he might be, that fraternity is something that he holds sacred.

EBONY: The overlap of good versus bad is an ongoing theme in Triple 9. How did you bring that element to the role?

AM: The writers provided us, as actors, a dope connection with the other characters in the movie. So when you have a relationship with each of the other players in a story, it allows the actor to show different complexities in his or her role.

EBONY: The film also touches on the dynamics of power. Is ultimate power the root of all evil?

AM: I wouldn’t say ultimate power is the root of evil. I think when you look at these characters, when you look at this movie, the idea of power is not what makes them bad guys. It’s the decision on how they use that power. I feel like if the right person is given all the power, it could be the best thing for all of us.