Anthony Mackie, also known as Marvel's The Falcon, is already something of a fanboy of the Marvel superhero universe. When The National first spoke to the star at 2013's Dubai International Film Festival, he could hardly contain his delight at having been cast as the winged superhero in the then-unreleased Captain America: The Winter Soldier.
By our next meeting at the Middle East Film and Comic Con in 2017, he'd firmly set his sights on playing the Hulk in a future Marvel instalment. Fans are a notoriously fickle breed, however, and when we joined Mackie online from Los Angeles this week, alongside Marvel president Kevin Feige and director Kari Skogland, to talk about The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, he'd already moved on to his next Marvel ambition. Mackie wants a part in the new Blade reboot, starring Mahershala Ali.
"Kevin? I'd like to spend some time in Blade world," says the star in a deadpan manner to the Marvel supremo.
Despite the actor's earlier flirtation with taking on the Hulk, it seems this desire is not a new one. "I remember they were shooting Spider-Man in Harlem and there was this restaurant I was sitting outside having lunch with my friend who was the manager, and I was a huge Tobey Maguire fan. I saw [Joy Bryant]. She had one line in the film. She said: 'It's Spider-Man.' So, Kevin, I want to be the [Joy] of Blade."
For now, however, Mackie will have to be content with being the The Falcon in the new series, which comes to Disney+ on OSN on Friday. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier was slated to be the first Marvel TV spin-off to come to Disney's new streaming service, but an earthquake disrupting shooting in Puerto Rico, followed by the global pandemic, meant it was beaten to the spot by WandaVision.
That show's stars are revelling in their new-found home on the small screen, riffing on classic sitcom and TV tropes far from the bombast of a typical Avengers movie. Judging by The Falcon and the Winter Soldier's first episode, not to mention Mackie's revelation that it had a budget in the "hundreds of millions", this latest series could be a little more explosive.
"Just because it's on TV doesn't mean it's not going to be as big as it could possibly be in a movie, which is why it really starts off with a bang," Feige explains. "We kept saying if we're going to do a series with Falcon and Winter Soldier in it, we need to at least start off with the best action we've ever seen, and we've seen a lot of cool action with both of them before."
Series director Skogland agrees with Feige. She says, from the outset, they set out to make a six-hour film, and had some very clear ideas about what sort of film it was going to be. "I did a lot of looking at movies that were in our paradigm because we have a buddy cop kind of relationship going on.
"We looked at some of those, a lot of different influences, to help me put it into a box. I looked at David Lean, Midnight Cowboy. I really go very wide and then try to put it in a pot and come up with something unique."
The new series takes up shortly after the events of Avengers: Endgame, with the two protagonists each struggling with their own demons in the wake of "the blip," a five-year period when half of the world's population simply ceased to exist, before being brought back to life by the surviving half of The Avengers.
Bucky Barnes, or the Winter Soldier, played by Sebastian Stan, is in therapy, while Mackie's Sam Wilson is struggling financially – if you think your bank is a stickler for paperwork, try talking to them after you disappeared for five years – and with his sense of unworthiness at being asked by Steve Rogers to carry the Captain America mantle forward at the conclusion of Endgame. Naturally, being Avengers, it's not long before the pair are required to save the world.
We've already seen elements of the love-hate relationship between the two in the Avengers movies. While both were, for the most part, secondary characters in the movies, this time around they're front and centre, and the dysfunctional duo slip surprisingly well into the buddy cop, odd couple dynamic Skogland describes.
Mackie says this dynamic does not disappear when the cameras turn off. "You can't find two people further opposite than Sebastian and I," he says. "But there's a mutual respect, understanding and appreciation of that person. We listen, learn and teach each other a great deal. We are, I would say, friends, and that isn't a term that either of us uses lightly. I think because of that, as Mr T would say, there's no jibber-jabber."
That friendship may prove useful for dealing with the undeniable pressure from Marvel's legions of dedicated fans when the new show is released. It was, bear in mind, initially intended to be the small-screen continuation of Endgame – until this week, the highest-grossing movie ever made – in the real world and the on-screen one.
Fate may have dictated that WandaVision was to come first, but that show is such a quirky outlier that it is almost absolved of any debt to Endgame, and was almost universally well-received regardless.
Now, Mackie and company are faced with the dual responsibility of reaching the bars set by both, its behemoth big-screen predecessor and its much-loved small-screen one. The star seems unfazed. "Endgame was a monumental shift of the superhero universe. The scope of that movie, the idea of that film is something larger than I think anyone imagined," he says. "So our goal was not to mess it up."
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier releases on Friday, March 19 on Disney+ on OSN