“When you think of Enemy of the State, when you think of L.A. Confidential, when you think of The Untouchables, you never get to see the story of black America in the ‘40s and ‘50s, and that was a huge time of progression for us as a people,” Mackie comments. “We’re coming off the heels of Joe Louis, of Jesse Owens, Muddy Waters. That was our time of growth and shine and that’s what kicked into the Civil Rights Movement…[Harris] knew the beauty of a day of hard work and how it would pay off. That’s something that I wanted to bring to the screen.”

To understand the place in time, Mackie did what he always does – listened to music of the decade. He says he “defines” all his characters in this fashion. For this role in particular, he found himself drawn to the work of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, a musician he describes as “amazing,” and the “most talented woman at that time.” Tharpe was a gospel singer, pioneer, and rock n’ roll purveyor, and it was the stirring of her chords that set Mackie’s pace in the movie.

“She was looked at as a freak of nature because she was always the most talented woman,” he remarks. “All of the language and stereotypes that were put before her, she knocked down and became a world renown figure.”

Likewise, Mackie feels this movie tells the story of his culture that isn’t commonly depicted. While he’s portrayed a wide gamut of characters in the historical African-American experience throughout his career, Gangster Squad represents something new about an age of revival, encouragement and confidence.

“There’s just the story of pride,” he comments. “Black people were so proud. They were so proud coming out of the war, and that pride was something that I held onto.”

This year, Mackie, who also starred in the Academy Award-winning movie, The Hurt Locker, will begin filming another big-budget action flick, Captain America 2, and is rumored to be appearing in the follow-up to the Avengers. Despite his rising success as an action star, he says he’s still keeping his projects diverse, and points to the more story-driven and independent pictures coming out this year as examples.

For Gangster Squad, nevertheless, Mackie seems to have enthusiastically embraced his inner legionnaire once again, touting combat mentality, agility and tommy guns in nearly every scene. Though he loves to taunt Gosling, his friend and two-time co-star, with salacious pet names like “petit four,” “hot fudge sundae,” and “vanilla mocha fudge blossom,” Mackie’s says conversely, the same cannot be said about him.

He jokes, “I’m too tough for a nickname.”

Follow Courtney Garcia on Twitter at @courtgarcia