Anthony Mackie stars in the unbelievable true story, Pain & Gain, the Michael Bay-directed action comedy film based on a series of articles written in the Miami New Times in the 1990s of the same name. EBONY.com caught up with Mackie to discuss the controversy surrounding the film about three dim-witted weight-lifters who rob, torture and murder victims in order to obtain the American dream.
EBONY: I just saw Pain & Gain last week. It was the craziest true story I think I’ve ever seen. I went home and read the entire 30,000-word story Miami New Times story the film was based on just to see how much of the film was true and you actually say direct quotes from the articles in the film. To prepare for playing your character 'Adrian' in the film, did you read those articles?
AM: When I read the script, I was just blown away by the idea of this being a true story, and that I’d heard nothing about it. So when I went online and did some research, I realized that this was the PG version of the actual story. Basically, if you look at it, it was four guys: Adrian, Danny, and then Dwayne [Johnson]’s character is a composite of two different guys. But my character, Adrian, was the real henchman. He was the dirty guy. He was the guy who did all the work. And that’s what made me so interested in it. The psychology of somebody who can [rob and murder] like that and justify it in their mind is something that I wanted to explore, not so much working out, or hanging out in Miami. The psychology of it all was hanging in the back of my mind the entire time.
EBONY: What was that process like for you, getting into the psychology of someone who could do these kinds of things?
AM: I read a lot about the psychosis of a killer, a person who can justify their actions. One book was called Murder Me Now, Cry for Me Later. It was a really interesting book about this guy who was on death row, and he just explained how he went through these killings, and how in his mind it was ok because he was killing people because they weren’t taking advantage of the opportunities they were being given. He felt like those opportunities should be given to someone who would take advantage of them, which was him. I thought that was really interesting, and really helped me with Adrian. There was one thing about Adrian once I heard…I was thinking about going to meet him on death row, and then I thought it would be kinda weird to sit and talk to someone who you know is meeting his demise…but I was reading this thing about him, and they were in court one day, and they were looking for Adrian because they were about to give out the sentence, and they found him in the bathroom having sex with his paralegal. And that tells me everything I need to know about this dude.
EBONY: Your character in the movie, his motivation is to get some sort of drugs that will help with his [erectile dysfunction], but in the actual story, Adrian has an actual family and people to take care of. Did that impact you at all, that this movie is a much lighter version?
AM: Not at all. The penile thing was very important, but it was one part of it. The overall goal for Adrian, and I think this is what’s so interesting about him, was that he was the grounding force of the movie. It’s not so much about him getting money to help with his penis. It was about Adrian attaining the American Dream. When [his partners in crime] went out and bought a sports car, he got a minivan. When everybody went out and got some flashy girl to date, he got this girl who really cared about him. He wanted to be the All-American man. He just wanted to exist and take care of his family. He wanted to be the man of the household. Now, part of that was getting his junk to work, but the overall issue of it was that he had this cute little house that he was able to buy his wife. He got her a dog. He just wanted the house with the picket fence. And I think when you really delve into it, the psychology of that is what makes it so important for him to attain the financial security to do that. That’s what I felt when I was reading the script, and when Michael and I first met about it, I said I really want him to be down and out. I really want this to be his last option to be able to make it.
EBONY: What do you think that the real Adrian would think of your portrayal of him and this story, since you didn’t get a chance to meet him?
AM: I think he would appreciate it. The thing about this movie is, it made Adrian come off as best as he possibly could. There’s no other way someone in this position, committing this heinous of a crime, you would feel any kind of emotional sympathy for, other than the way he’s portrayed in this movie. So I would think that you would have to appreciate that. If gives some kind of dignity to a person who committed crimes that are undignifiable.
EBONY: On that note, a lot of the families of the real-life victims are really up in arms about the movie for that same reason. Because Adrian and [Mark Wahlberg's character, Daniel] Lugo will look at this and appreciate it, is there any harm in creating a film like that, considering that these families are boycotting the movie and asking others to boycott as well?
AM: The problem with that is that they haven’t seen the movie; they’re boycotting the commercials. I understand, I get it. If it was my family members, I would understand the reaction like that. But I don’t think in any way, shape, or form, that we dealt with their demise in a lighthearted way. I don’t think we took advantage of the people who were hurt in this whole process of them trying to get rich. I think we just told the story. If anybody who reads the story realizes how ridiculous it is–it’s not a slapstick comedy, this isn’t a Brendan Frasier movie–it’s a situational comedy. When you look at somebody doing this amount of ridiculous shit, it’s just funny. because you can’t believe it’s true. And that’s why, in the middle of the movie, Michael puts the line, “This is still a true story.” So I think it’s dealt with in a tasteful manner. I think it shows the absurdity of these three guys. And the people who were harmed just became byproducts of this absurdity.
We’re just telling the story. If we were pointing fingers and saying "they’re victims because they made themselves victims," or "it’s good that they’re victims," that’s something else. We’re definitely not saying that. If you watch the movie, you actually feel sorry for the people who get hurt and who are the victims. You see that in no way, shape, or form they they deserve to end up the way that they did. I think if you’re going to tell this story, this is probably the classiest way of telling it.
Catch Anthony Mackie in Pain & Gain premiering today.
Brooke Obie writes the award-winning blog DistrictDiva.com. Follow her on Twitter @BrookeObie.