yes Anthony Mackie will be soon taking over the mantle of Marvel’s Captain America on the big screen. But there’s another seismic shift afoot in his career: He’s entering the dad-role phase.
“Last year I became the father. COVID has made a father,” Mackie says while discussing his new project, the family-friendly horror comedy You Have a Ghost. “I was handsome boyfriend. [Then] COVID. [Now] Dad.”
Mackie has had a real-life paternal role for many years now. He has four children with his ex-wife, Sheletta Chapital. Entertaining the youngsters was one of the key reasons the 44-year-old New Orleans native signed up for his new Netflix film.
“For me it’s just being able to do something that I could watch with my kids. I was looking for a cute, fun movie that was interesting, that I was excited about,” he says. “Having all those come together, and be in New Orleans, and spend time with my kids, it was the perfect storm for me.”
The Beetlejuice-esque You Have a Ghost follows a family of four who score a great deal on an old house, only to find its attic is haunted by a schlubby, bowling shirt-clad spirit named Ernest (David Harbour). After teenager Kevin (Jahi Winston) discovers Ernest is actually quite photogenic, dad Frank (Mackie) starts a YouTube channel, immediately transforming their (mostly) friendly ghost into a national sensation.
Written and directed by Christopher Landon (the Paranormal Activity and Happy Death Day filmmaker who is also the son of late Little House on the Prairie star Michael Landon), the film is based on Geoff Manaugh’s 2017 Vice short story “Ernest.”
“I knew exactly what the movie was the second I read it,” says Landon, who cites Peter Jackson, Tim Burton and Steven Spielberg as influences on the film. “I just immediately started writing the movie. And the rest is history. It was just something that I really connected to on a personal level.”
“For me it really feels like it E.T,” says Harbor (Stranger Things, Black Widow). “But instead of an alien you have a ghost as the fulcrum of this family’s journey throughout, and coming to terms with how they need to be more of a family. And I think Ernest’s struggle reflects that, and reminds [Kevin] and his father of what’s important.”
“For me, it was an opportunity to really make [the kind of movie] that made me want to be an actor,” says Winston, who got his start on Broadway’s The Lion King before breaking out onscreen in the Sundance premiere Charm City Kings. “I used to watch movies like this that had a lot of adventure and a lot of heart. … So that’s exactly what this is. It’s fun, it’s exciting.”
But when it comes to the existence of spirits offscreen, Mackie, Winston, Harbor and Landon are decidedly split.
Mackie falls into the believer category. One specific moment as a child swayed him, and it was during a school visit to the famous tomb of “voodoo queen” Marie Laveau. “Living in New Orleans, you see and hear stuff,” he says. “They do tours and stuff to every grave site, crazy enough. And when I was in elementary school, [we went there on a field trip]. You’re supposed to walk around each grave, and make three Xs [on her tomb], and put a quarter down on her grave. That was the [ritual].
“And there was this one kid, he wouldn’t do it. He goes back to the bus to go back to school. He slips off the bus and busts his mouth on the step.
Mackie takes a long pause for effect. “That really happened, dude! The one kid who wouldn’t do it slipped and busted his whole face on the floor. He was all messed up.”
“The jury is still out for me,” says Winston. “I haven’t had any real encounters. … But I’m open to the possibility. I’m really interested in that stuff.”
Despite battling supernatural monstrosities Stranger Things and Hellboy, Harbour, however, doesn’t believe in ghosts. But he admits his first girlfriend in high school had “an experience with ethereal thing” that made him question whether there are ghostly forces. “But guys showing up in bowling shirts [and scaring you]those guys I don’t think exist.”
Landon, on the other hand, speaks matter-of-factly about his first-hand experience.
“I lived with a ghost,” he says. “But he was nice. I think it was a he. [There were] lots of doors opening and closing. Lights turning on and off. Footsteps. I had a friend spend a night on the couch and the ghost tucked her in, like tucked all the blankets around her.”
As a writer on most of the Paranormal Activity movies, Landon has also spent a lot of time with paranormal experts.
“I would hear a lot of stories,” he says. “And from people who are very level. Not like crazy wack jobs. People whom I trust. And they all had experiences, so I believe in it.”
You Have a Ghost premiers Feb. 24 on Netflix.
Watch the trailer: