The Unwind is Yahoo Life’s well-being series in which experts, influencers and celebrities share their approaches to wellness and mental health, from self-care rituals to setting healthy boundaries to the mantras that keep them afloat.
"I don't care about that," Mackie, who will soon star in a new Captain America film. "The pressure that comes along with being Captain America or being Falcon really is something I never think about or pay attention to. That's why I live in New Orleans — the only thing I've got to worry about is where I'm getting my red beans on Monday."
According to the father of four, the only feedback he truly cares about comes from his kids.
"Trying to get my kids to like me, that is the most stressful thing on earth," he says with a smile. "I always said I didn't want to be the cool parent, but now just ... when I send my kids something and they send something back, that is the most stressful [process]. Like, you sit there and wait to see if they're gonna text you back; you call and you see if they're gonna call you back. It's one of those things where I never realized how you go through the whole scope of your life not caring about recognition or acceptance from anybody. And this one 3-year-old can break your heart in 30 seconds."
Mackie's family ties are strong. It's the influence of his late dad, a carpenter who ran his own roofing business, that's inspired the actor's latest non-Marvel project: partnering with the roofing manufacturer GAF in repairing and replacing roofs in 500 hurricane-devastated homes in the Gulf Coast region, 150 of which are in his own native Seventh Ward in New Orleans. For Mackie, the Community Matters initiative represents an opportunity to both honor his dad's legacy and help out neighbors in need — many of whom have had to rely on temporary blue tarps in lieu of roofs.
Giving back, he says, keeps the star "grounded" and "humble."
"A lot of times you drive past people and you never know what their experience is in day-to-day life," he says. "So when I give back, it's really an opportunity to see what other people are going through and how other people live, so I can know how fortunate I am and so I can know how fortunate my kids are.
"After [Hurricane] Katrina, I learned very quickly that there's nothing more important than home," he adds. "So to give somebody the opportunity to make their home whole, holistically that helps me mind, body and soul because it makes me feel good. And I learn a little bit more about myself. It's not so much I need a pat on the back or not so much I want the recognition, but the idea of seeing someone smile — seeing someone being transformed by the idea of social work and aid — if I can give that little bit of joy, that makes me feel good as well."
The idea of restoration also holds an appeal for Mackie, who has spoken about the therapeutic benefits of working with his hands and fixing cars.
"There's something very methodical about it, something that forces you to focus and use different parts of yourself and your mind," he says. "I hate taking my cars to mechanics. I love working on my cars myself, just figuring out the problem, assessing it and fixing what needs to be fixed — that is something very powerful. And I learned that from my dad. When I was a kid, he used to always say there was something magical about taking up a piece of dirt and making it a home. Working with his hands was something that was very dignifying for him. I've kind of inherited that trait from him."
The Hurt Locker actor says that building things and spending time more or less off the grid is key to his mental well-being.
"I'm a really big outdoor person," Mackie, 44, says. "I always say I'm not a cellphone person. I love taking my cell phone and leaving it somewhere and not looking at it all day. As long as I know my kids are good, I'm good. I love to go fishing. I love to be out in the woods. I love to be out in the backyard, doing some landscaping in my yard or just building stuff.
"I'll build anything — I don't care if it's Popsicle sticks," the father of four adds with a laugh. "Just something to take my mind off the outside world, because we're faced with so much ridicule and judgment and so many questions. At what point do you step away from that and just take care of yourself? So I use those things to kind of take care of my mental [health]."
In terms of personal growth, the 8 Mile star says he's trying to be a more patient person.
"My big thing I'm always working on is patience," he admits. "I ... expect so much in such a short time, because I've had so much happen with my life, personally and career-wise, in such a short time. So patience is a virtue I've always worked on, and something I've always, even now, steadfastly tried to focus on. It's a whole litany of things that I try to do to correct and work on my patience and give people the space they need. 'Don't take everything personally' has always been my big thing. Just patience, patience, patience."
The Juilliard graduate is also committed to setting a positive tone on set, citing the example set by Samuel L. Jackson.
"Very early in my career, I watched Sam Jackson on a set and literally people would light up when he would come to set," Mackie recalls. "I always wanted that reaction when I went to work. I always wanted people to know — from the mailman who brings stuff to the office, to the director — you're equally as important. You matter, your name matters, the idea that we finish this project together matters, and you played your part in making it happen.
"Morale, I feel like in a group setting, is something that's very important," he adds. "Even if it's making fun of myself, I always try to keep the morale going and keep people upbeat and looking forward to coming to work."
But fostering goodwill can't come at the expense of people-pleasing to the point where he's no longer being true to himself.
"I read this quote when I was a kid and it is always kind of stuck with me. It might not be the most popular thing, but it's always stuck with me. It said 'if I come back and they say that I am their friend, that means I betrayed you,'" he says. "And I always thought it was so interesting, that sometimes you're going to be perceived as the a**hole. And sometimes — most of the time — people aren't going to like you. That's because you're not doing what they want you to do. And for me, that's very important. You follow the beat of your own drum, and don't let anybody dictate to you what you should be or what you can be or what they think you should be. Be whoever you want to be. And if they don't like it, that's their problem, not yours. And that's kind of something that I've always kind of lived by."
He pauses, then lets out a hearty laugh.
"That's probably why I'm always in my backyard alone, gardening."
—Video produced by Kat Vasquez.
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