Don Cheadle, co-star of the "Crash" Movie!
An acclaimed character actor of the stage, screen, and television, Don Cheadle may not do it on purpose, but somehow, regardless of the roles he plays, he manages to steal most of the scenes in which he appears. That is no small feat, for the slender African-American actor has, at first glance, a rather unassuming physical presence, particularly when compared to some of his big-name co-stars. An actor whose style compliments rather than overshadows the performances of those around him, Cheadle stands out for his rare ability to bring a laid-back intensity and subtle charisma to his roles. A native of Kansas City, MO, Cheadle was born on November 29, 1964, to a psychologist father and bank manager mother. During his early childhood, his family moved to Denver and then Nebraska. One thing that remained a constant in Cheadle's childhood was his interest in performing, which began around the age of five. In addition to acting, he was interested in jazz music and his parents supported both of these endeavors. By the time he graduated from high school, he had scholarships from both music and acting schools; choosing the latter, he attended the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia. Following graduation, Cheadle made his film debut with a small role as a hamburger server in Moving Violations (1985). He honed his acting skills as a guest star on television series ranging from Hill Street Blues to Night Court, and, in 1992, he landed a regular role as a fussy hotel manager on The Golden Palace. Although the show faltered after only one season, Cheadle landed on his feet, subsequently snagging the plum role of earnest district attorney John Littleton on Picket Fences (1993-1995).
While he was building a career on television, Cheadle was also earning a reputation in feature films. He first made an impression on audiences with his lead role in Hamburger Hill (1987), and, in 1994, he had his true screen breakthrough portraying Denzel Washington's best friend in Devil in a Blue Dress. So good was his performance -- which earned him a number of film critics awards -- that many felt an Oscar nomination was inevitable; when the Academy passed him over, many, including Cheadle, wondered why. However, the actor chalked it up to politics and got on with his career, working steadily throughout the remainder of the decade. 1997 proved to be a big year for him: he co-starred in three major films, Volcano, Boogie Nights, and John Singleton's Rosewood. He won particular praise for his work in the latter two films, earning nominations for SAG and Image awards.
The following year, Cheadle made a triumphant return to television with his portrayal of Sammy Davis Jr. in The Rat Pack, winning an Emmy nomination and a Golden Globe award. Also in 1998, he did stellar work in Steven Soderbergh's Out of Sight and Warren Beatty's Bulworth, playing a down and dirty ex-con in the former and a drug lord in the latter. Another Emmy nomination followed in 1999, for Cheadle's powerful portrayal of a school teacher sent in to counsel a young man on death row, in A Lesson Before Dying. Cheadle would become something of a fixture in Soderbergh's films, gaining positive note for his role in Traffic and later turning up in the director's remake of the Rat Pack classic Ocean's 11 the following year.
More fun facts about Don Cheadle
Height 5' 8½" (1.74 m)
Brother of Colin Cheadle.
Lives with Bridgid Coulter, who plays his wife in Rosewood (1997) 
Has a sister, Cindy.
Graduated from East High School in Denver, Colorado.
Appears uncredited in two back-to-back movies, Rush Hour 2 (2001) and Ocean's Eleven (2001). He played a criminal in both films.
Drives a hybrid car, Toyota Prius.
After acting in Hotel Rwanda (2004), a film about the early 1990s Rwandan genocide, he became an activist to raise awareness of the mid-2000s genocide in the Darfur region of Sudan. In January 2005 he traveled to Sudan with five members of congress to see refugee camps and to meet survivors of the genocide. Upon his return, he reported on his trip for "ABC News Nightline" (1980).
His personal quotes:
But I don't think it helps to be thought of as a scene-stealer. That's not comforting for the other actors. They think, 'Well, I don't want to work with him. Go steal from someone else.' So I'm never going into a movie thinking that I want to grab the attention. Quite the opposite: I give that stuff away, because I'm wanting to make the best whole piece. I want to look back at my resume and think, 'That was a great movie,' not, 'Oh, those four movies were sh*t, but I was good in them.' I want to be a part of great things.
I've been doing this since I was 10 years old, inhabiting different people and playing different roles. Thirty years later, there's still the same sort of excitement I get from it. It's still fun to inhabit different characters and play different things, so it's all in that panoply of acting.
I also believe that you are what you have to defend, and if you're a black man that's always going to be the bar against which you are judged, whether you want to align yourself with those themes or not. You can think of yourself as a colourless person, but nobody else is gonna.
Don Cheadle, a Star But Still in Character
Consider Don Cheadle, the character actor's actor. He is, shall we say, "almost famous," the guy who first stole the show from Denzel Washington in "Devil in a Blue Dress," and then moved on to stealing thunder from the likes of George Clooney, Michael Douglas and Sean Penn. He's the bit player who, at long last, is getting his chance to be the guy who appears above the credits. Finally, after nearly two decades in the business, Cheadle gets to play the leading man, starring in "Hotel Rwanda," a big, beefy role based on a real-life horror story, a tale rich with drama and big acting Moments.
Let's take a moment, then, to consider the character actor. His is the role of the perpetual second banana, consigned to appear briefly on camera, illuminated with a flash that all too quickly recedes. Careers are built on being the hey-that's-the-guy-who, the steady freddy who can be relied on to get the job done but rarely gets to play front and center.
So it is interesting to note that, when faced with such an opportunity in "Hotel Rwanda," Cheadle, stealer of thunder, second-bananas himself in interviews about the film. It's his time to shine -- he also produced his first movie last year and directs his first in 2005, and his star turn is already generating Oscar buzz -- but he'd rather talk about the story behind "Hotel Rwanda," which opens in Washington tomorrow.
That, he says, is what really matters: How Rwanda hotelier Paul Rusesabagina saved more than 1,200 refugees during the massacre of 1994 by giving them shelter at the swanky Hotel Mille Collines. Cheadle felt so strongly about the story that, when director Terry George approached him to play the role, he didn't take offense at George's caveat: If Denzel or Will Smith showed interest, then all bets were off. George would have to go with the A-list, the better to obtain funding. After all, movies about massacres in central Africa aren't generally considered a box office bonanza.
Yes, of course, Cheadle told him, in an anecdote that has become part of the press junket lore. "I thought getting [the movie] made would trump me being in it," Cheadle says.
("He's very humble, he's the real deal, a proper actor," says Sophie Okonedo, the British actress who plays his wife in "Hotel Rwanda." "There's no ego. It's very unusual.")
The film was important, he says as he sprawls about in a hotel suite at the Ritz-Carlton, looking more than a little fatigued by his latest round of interviews, because: "It put a human face on what Rwanda was about."
What Rwanda was about, of course, was the wholesale murder of 800,000 ethnic Tutsis by their countrymen, the Hutus, a genocide that happened over a 100-day period while the rest of the world watched and did little or nothing. Rusesabagina, a Hutu married to a Tutsi wife, was and is a man with a strongly pragmatist bent. He had connections, from high-ranking European bureaucrats to high-ranking Hutu warlords, and he used them all to save his family, his neighbors and the Tutsi and Hutu moderate refugees who'd stumbled into his care.
Cheadle had read the stories behind the headlines, but like most Westerners, he knew little of the origins of the Hutu-Tutsi tensions. He didn't know about its roots in Belgian colonialism, where 19th-century Belgians picked the taller, more European-featured Tutsis to rule over the shorter, more "Bantu"-looking Hutus. "It was really diabolical," Cheadle says. "Like something out of 'How to Make a Slave 101.' "
But he didn't, he says, understand the full import of what had happened until he started doing his research. The horror of it stayed with him. He e-mailed Rusesabagina, who now lives in Belgium, quizzing him on the most mundane aspects of his life, "blanket questions" like "What do you like to eat?" The e-mails progressed to phone calls, and then he flew to Africa to meet Rusesabagina.
"I was surprised by how calm and together he was," Cheadle says. "He's haunted; he has those moments. . . . But there's a real joy about him, too. This is someone who believes every day is a bonus."
Filming "Hotel Rwanda" in South Africa, confronting genocide, day in and day out, even in a game of make-believe, Cheadle says, altered him.
"I go through a mere fraction of what Paul went through . . . but the actual performance of it" was therapeutic. As any performer knows, he says, by acting out, he got to work through a host of painful emotions. His family was on location with him and it was hard to stay morose, he says, when his daughters were crawling all over him, demanding to tell him about their day.
This sense of family has its roots in his own bourgeois childhood. He was born in Kansas City and grew up mainly in Denver, the son of a clinical psychologist father and a psychology teacher mother. Growing up black and middle-class, he says, anchored him. He's partnered -- his long-term love is the actress Bridgid Coulter, who played his wife in John Singleton's "Rosewood" -- with kids, two little girls who figure often in his conversation. He's a soccer dad. He drives a Prius.
He got his bachelor's degree in fine arts from CalArts in Los Angeles, got a gig on the TV show "Fame" and got his first movie role in 1987's "Hamburger Hill."
His face is that of a Gambian mask, an artisan's study in ebony curves and angles. He's a musician, a saxophonist who's been jonesing to portray Miles Davis, and you can see it, yes, in the lithe frame and the air of nonchalant cool. In his roles, he is both comedian and tragedian, wringing humor out of drama and pathos out of humor. He made his mark on the stage in the off-Broadway production of the Pulitzer Prize-winning "Top Dog/Underdog," as the much-put-upon younger brother who flips the script in a Cain vs. Abel twist.
Take his early, scene-stealing turn as "Mouse" in "Devil in a Blue Dress," starring Denzel as Easy Rawlins and Jennifer Beals in the tragic mulatto role and based on the novel by Walter Mosley. As Mouse, he was Washington's sidekick, the hoodlum whose best friend is his shotgun. At a pivotal moment, Easy leaves a witness/bad guy under Mouse's care. Mouse, being who he is, kills the witness, which infuriates Easy.
"If you didn't want him dead," Cheadle/Mouse deadpanned with a line that brought down the multiplex, "Then why'd you leave him with me?"
With his roles, Cheadle says, "I always want there to be a lot of elasticity, jarring and arresting characters that do things in interesting ways." Those roles are few and far between, he says; "I don't see a ton of scripts" -- a statement that seems a bit disingenuous for someone who works as much as he does. In the past two months he has appeared in "Ocean's Twelve," with Clooney, Brad Pitt and Julia Roberts, and "After the Sunset," with Pierce Brosnan and Salma Hayek. Next up he serves as the moral compass for Sean Penn's seriously addled Everyman in "The Assassination of Richard Nixon," which opens here Jan. 14.
"The scripts I do see aren't overwhelmingly great," he says. "I get a lot of biopics . . . enough already. My manager and I are always calling it 'What Did Your Grandaddy Do?' movies."
More often than not, though, he is called on to fill in the blanks with underwritten roles, to give heft where there is none. This gives him a steady paycheck but doesn't always satisfy. "It doesn't serve me" as an actor, he says. "And sometimes you get on set and say, wait a minute, this isn't what I signed up for."
Still, after nearly 20 years in the business, he's able to call some shots. Like the time he appeared in "Rush Hour II" in an uncredited scene opposite Jackie Chan. He agreed to do the scene under two conditions: One, he had to fight Chan. And two, he had to do the scene speaking only Chinese. It is this sense of quirkiness, frequently playing against race, that shapes his disparate performances, from the country-western porn star who just wants to settle down with a nice girl in "Boogie Nights" to the resolute cop in "Traffic" to the explosives expert with the Cockney accent in "Ocean's Eleven" and "Ocean's Twelve."
"He has that chameleon-like ability," says the Irish-born George, who wrote "Hotel Rwanda" with Cheadle in mind. "The ability to disappear into a role. . . . He's an actor of enormous talent."
Now Cheadle is looking to stretch those talents. Last year he produced "Crash," an ensemble film directed by Paul Haggis and starring Cheadle, Sandra Bullock and Matt Dillon, which is scheduled to open in April. He's directing "Tishomingo Blues," a film executive-produced by Steven Soderbergh and based on the novel by Elmore Leonard. And he's at work on a screenplay with Soderbergh, the director with whom he worked in both "Ocean's" films and "Traffic."
With so much crammed into his calendar, his second-banana days seem to be coming to an end, which is probably a good thing for those A-listers whose thunder he's swiped. But don't hate him because he's a scene stealer, says his "Hotel Rwanda" co-star Okonedo: "He doesn't mean to do that. He's just brilliant."
Don Cheadle Talks About "Hotel Rwanda"
Don Cheadle stars as real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina in "Hotel Rwanda," the dramatic true story of the genocide in Rwanda. Rusesabagina was a hotel manager at a 4-star hotel who not only saved his own family during the genocide crisis, but wound up saving the lives of more than 1,200 Rwandans.
Director Terry George had a rough time securing backing for "Hotel Rwanda," but never faltered in his determination to get the film made. George knew the success of the film would hinge on casting the right leading man and with Don Cheadle, George found an actor more than capable of handling the many aspects of the character. "Don is one of the best actors in the world, and we wanted him as our lead from the start.
When this project first came up, his name was in my head right away," recalls George.
INTERVIEW WITH DON CHEADLE ('Paul Rusesabagina'):
What would you say to potential moviegoers who might think this movie is like a “Schindler’s List” in tone and might be tough to watch?
I would say that it’s A) it’s a PG-13 film which should let people know right there it can not be “Schindler’s List.” It doesn’t have graphic violence and it’s not gratuitous in that way. In fact, we had to go to the ratings board and get them to overturn the R rating that they gave the film. They kind of were hoisted on their own petard because when pressed to give a reason why they gave it the R, they couldn’t flag any of those things. There’s no graphic violence. There’s no strong sexual content. There’s no foul language. One person says the F-word once. They just said it was sort of for general impact was the reason it really got the R, which is really not a justifiable reason. I mean, this is an event that happened in the world. 14 and 15 year-olds are not inured to the kind of emotional impact this film has. It’s not overwhelming. And ultimately, it is an uplifting story. It’s a love story at its core. It’s a thriller, but it’s really a love story. It’s about a man who perseveres, and good triumphing over evil. In my opinion, it’s a very encouraging story.
A lot of people are suspicious of films that have a message.
I don’t like message movies either. I don’t like movies that are trying to preach and trying to tell you how to feel. I don’t think this one does. I think this one is just chronicling certain events that happened during this time, and you take from it what you will. But I think it’s very hard to see this movie and not come out with a position or with a point of view either about our responsibility and/or involvement and and/or apathy and/or the nature of how you insert yourself or not into a situation like that.
Why did you want to do this film in the first place? How much were you aware of this situation prior to becoming involved in the project?
I was cursorily aware of it. I didn’t know that much about it. I had seen some stuff on the news. In America, it was way down the line. In the newspapers, it was the seventh or eighth page, a little paragraph. It wasn’t much. Then years after that, a few years after that, I saw the Frontline piece that they did on it, the documentary about it, which was hard to watch. That one was overwhelming to me and I became interested in that way. And then when I read the script, it was just satisfying on a purely artistic level.
As an actor, it was a very well crafted script that, to me, took into account the genocide in a way that you could still go through it. You could watch it and you could deal with it. And ultimately you were following the story of this man and his family. I thought that was a brilliant way to deal with it because it’s not sort of an educational piece about the genocide. It’s a story about this man and his family’s triumph over these incredible circumstances. So when I read the script, immediately I was drawn to it. I thought this is, even beyond me playing the role, I thought this is a great story to tell and it would do the world well to know this.
How did you nail the accent?
First, thank you. I worked with a dialect coach immediately and had thousands of tapes. I took him to South Africa and there was another woman there that I worked with, too, quite extensively. And also just to be… It was like total immersion because the sound of that dialect, the music of that dialect, was on the set from everyone that was there. From the crew, from the other actors there, from Day 1. It was just sort of like this total immersion. The music was always in my ears. And one day one of the cast members who plays Gregoire [Tony Kgoroge], he came up to me and he started speaking in [a foreign language] to me and went, “Oh wait, you don’t speak that.” I was like, “Man, you don’t know what that did for me. You don’t know how that made me feel right there.”
Did you spend a lot of time with Paul Rusesabagina before filming?
Once I got the role, I called him. He was in Brussels at the time. We spoke over the phone a few times, which was kind of tricky because, you know, the distance and time gap. When Paul’s talking, he’s translating through Kinyarwanda and then French and then he speaks English. And you can’t see someone’s face so that made communication a little tricky. But then once I went to Africa then he came to Africa before we started filming. I was able to spend some good quality time with him and really just not grill him – I felt like that could actually be an affront and I didn’t know where he was as far as his processing of what had happened. It was only 10 years ago and I mean he lost many, many people.I just felt that that would have been an affront. It was more just sitting with him and us gaining sort of a comfortableness with one another. He would just start talking. He would just tell me things. But knowing that he had signed off on the script and was wholeheartedly supportive of the story that we were telling, made me pretty confident that I could trust that and rely on that.
What was your impression of him as a man?
Paul is great. At first, you know, you see him and you think that he’s potentially this very… His comportment is so specific and he’s so well put together and always has a tie on and a jacket, and is very thoughtful with his words and thinks about everything he says. Then when you get to know him for a while, you’re like, “Yeah, because you’re translating through two languages and you’re picking every word.” When [he] speaks Kinyarwanda or when you hear him speak French, he flies because that’s in his comfort zone. You go out to dinner with him and he drinks. He loves to drink, loves to eat, loves to crack jokes, and loves to party. And what I started to get from him was a real sense of his joie de vivre, this joy that he just had of being alive, which makes so much sense. Which I didn’t expect. I thought I was going to find a shell of a man who was just completely crushed. It was quite the opposite. He’s just very open and ebullient and just light.
How did they locals handle working on this film?
Some of them were survivors of the genocide.
Was there a therapist on set?
No, we didn’t have that kind of budget. For a lot of them, I think doing the movie was kind of a therapy for them. One day in the hotel, one of the women, one of the extras was having a really hard time. Whenever I would see someone just in the throes of something, I would just assume that they were a survivor and they were just dealing with it. Her friend came over and said, “Can you come meet her and you just come talk to her for a second because she’s really having a hard time?” I came over and she just started telling me her story of what she had gone through. I just said, “You know, you don’t have to be here. I know you’ve been established in this shot but it doesn’t matter. We can work around it. You don’t have to go through this.” She said, “No, I have to. I have to be here.” It was very important to them that they be there and that the story be told, and that it get out because they felt ignored by the world.
Will you talk a little bit about the tie scene where the whole situation really seems to hit Paul extremely hard? Did you talk to Paul about that and did that really happen?
No, Paul had many of those [moments] over the course of the whole event. I don’t think there was any one time where he just became undone. He had a lot of, over the 100 days, smaller ones. Every day he said he thought he was going to die, and every day it was gripping like that.
When Terry [George] and I were looking at the script, he’d had a scene in there that was kind of different. We were talking for weeks about what we were going to do, and how we were going to structure that, and where we were going to place something like that. We didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. When we shot, I didn’t know exactly what it was going to be. We just said something needs to happen here to sort of encapsulate all of this that has happened.
It was like this train that had been going on this track and Paul never allowed himself to deal with it or feel it, because he couldn’t. If he had come apart, everybody was going to come apart. So he couldn’t really deal with that publicly and had never even given himself a chance to deal with that privately. But it seemed like a time and place after the river road scene, to let that happen and then get it back and go on.
Can you talk about location shooting?
I actually never got to go to Rwanda because I was doing that other film. As soon as I got there it was like 2, 3 weeks rehearsal and then we started the movie. They went there – Terry went there – and they shot some second unit stuff there. We shot the movie in and around Johannesburg. But there were a lot of Rwandans who were on the set because a lot of Rwandans now, when there was the mass exodus, they went north or east and some went south and ended up in Johannesburg. But that was an amazing thing. I brought my family there and put my kids in school. I have two little girls and I put them in school there. That was just a great experience for them and great to be able to do that as a family.
The world hasn’t really learned much from the Rwanda situation and now we’ve got the problems in Sudan. Is there evidence that if big powers go in there to do something it will really stop anything? Shouldn’t the United Nations be involved?
Yes, it’s the United Nations but they have no teeth. They can’t do anything. Two squads of the LAPD could have stopped the Rwandan genocide at that point. They had a witness come forward, a moderate Hutu, who told them where all of the weapons were. They had been building weapons up for a year, for about a year. There was a great plan in place. They had been stashing machetes and tools that they’d put together. They’d been stashing them around the country for when it jumped off to happen. There was one of the higher-ups who was a moderate in the Hutu militia who knew where all the stashes were and came forward and told the UN, “This is where all the stuff is. You can stop this.”
When DeLair sent his communiqué back to the UN he mis-worded it. He used the word ‘offensive’. They wrote back, “You can not do anything offensive. You are there as a peacekeeper, not a peacemaker.” And not only could they not do anything but because of the rules and their charter was set up, they had to be naked with their involvement. So they had to tell the Hutu that they knew where everything was. The minutia of that and how these things go south… It’s amazing all these little steps that led up to it. But had they been given the mandate, had they been allowed to do it, they could have gotten rid of all those weapons in two weeks.
Maybe it would have all come in another way and there would have been another situation that occurred, but the pressure of that imminent threat would have been off. I think when you’re not under those kinds of heightened situations and those kinds of circumstances, there’s a potential for people to talk. At that point, there was no potential. Everything was quiet in Rwanda. There’s a saying that when the Rwandans get quiet, it’s bad. And no one was talking and they just knew it was about to be on.
Have you ever found yourself watching the news, seeing something horrible and going right back to dinner, kind of ignoring it, like the scene in the film?
Not dinner, necessarily. But it’s different. I’m an artist so I’m already predisposed to be kind of sensitized to stuff like that for my own selfish reasons of wanting to feel it and wanting to understand it and wanting to know about it, and become more interested in it. I understand somebody who works eight hours a day in a job that they may or may not like and just trying to put food on the table and going A) it’s way over there, B) it’s too overwhelming for me to know what to do with, and C) what can I do anyway? So I understand that sort of apathy that can happen. But I do think it’s what allows things like that to continue to happen.
How did you decompress from "Hotel Rwanda?"
Drugs. (Laughing) I find that’s the quickest way. Sure, there are other ways, but that just handles it. No, this movie was book-ended by another film I was doing – “Crash.” I think the Friday that I finished shooting on “Crash,” Monday I was on a plane to Africa. I went to Africa, finished there, and came back and three days later had to finish shooting “Crash.” Then 10 days after that I was on a plane to Chicago doing “Ocean’s 12.” So there wasn’t really time. The work kind of decompressed it. I had to shift really fast and it was just like I had to do it.
This is such a gut-wrenching experience and you know it’s true, even though it’s a movie. To go from that to the ultimate fluff in “Ocean’s 12” – was that a relief? And you also had “After the Sunset” squeezed in there somewhere.
“After the Sunset” was first. It was “After the Sunset,” then a week and a half or two weeks later I started “Crash.” Then I did “Hotel Rwanda” and then I finished “Crash” and did “Ocean’s 12.”
If it weren’t all of my friends again, and if it wasn’t really a reunion of sorts that was such a joyous reunion to just be back with those guys and play with them, and go on a whole other trip of, “Now we’re going to Amsterdam”… We were in Amsterdam for five days and then we went to Paris and then we went to Italy. It never stopped. I didn’t have time to be reflective. Then I had to work again. I hate that. I was the only one who had to work on “Ocean’s 12” (laughing) because I had to do this dialect that f***ing killed me. It’s like, “You guys are all sitting out here playing around, and I’ve got to go how does he sound? Who is this guy?” I had all this stuff to do again.
Did “Hotel Rwanda” stay with you?
It absolutely stayed with me but I had to go to work. I didn’t have the luxury. It stayed with me now to the degree and it’s all coming back around now that it’s out. Since it’s about to come out and we’re doing all this press.
You always stand out in these ensemble films. Why are the leading roles so hard to find?
That’s a studio question (laughing). There just haven’t been a lot that I either A) have been attracted to or B) was able to get. That they weren’t looking for an A-List actor from whatever category to put in there. It hasn’t been from lack of trying, I assure you that. But most scripts are terrible. Most projects are bad, that’s just kind of the way it is. And I’m not really attracted to those.
Are you going to take a break at this point?
I’m kind of on a break now, you know? We finished “Ocean’s” in July. Right after “Ocean’s” was over I went to Lake Como with my family and went to George’s spot, which is ridiculous, and just hung out there. We were even there after he left (laughing). My family was still there. [We were] the houseguests who wouldn’t leave (laughing). He’s so great… George is the best. He’s like, “Here’s the car keys. Here’s the motorcycle keys. Here’s the boat keys. Just have a ball and lock up when you leave. Stay as long as you want. I’m not going to be there – stay as long as you want.”
What’s his place like?
It’s not huge. Well, what do you call huge? It’s seven acres (laughing). I don’t know, I didn’t measure it. It’s sizeable. It’s a nice house with a lot of rooms. He’s got a gym and a little screening room downstairs. It was great, it was just great. It’s on a beautiful lake and there’s a huge haunted house across the way. I mean, it dwarves his place. It’s just a huge, empty place that I think was built some time in the 1800s, I think.
Did you explore it?
We did. We were all going to go over to the haunted house and George was saying it’s a $10,000 bet to whoever will spend the night in there by themselves. So it’s like, “I’ll do it.” And everyone was like, “I’ll do it.” Then they went by it and it’s like, “There’s no f***ing way I’m spending the night there, but I will go in it.” So one night we were all up drinking wine. It was midnight and it was the witching hour and I said, “I’m going to get in a little skiff and go over there. Who’s going to go?” And Brad was like, “Well, if you go I’ll go.” Then Eddie Jemison was like, “Well, I’ll go if you guys go.” So Brad, me and Eddie and his wife went over at midnight and explored the haunted mansion. And Brad was killed (laughing). The Brad you see now, that’s not Brad. Brad was killed. Look in the eyes, there’s a deadness. There’s a deadness (laughing).
So how do you feel about “Ocean’s 12?”
Better than “Ocean’s 11.” I think it’s a lot better than “Ocean’s 11.” I had a ball. It’s a lot more cinematic. It’s a lot more Technicolor. I think that Steven [Soderbergh’s] brilliant because he could have just tried to do the first one again, but he’s too smart and artistic for that.
How do you feel about the buzz over your performance in “Hotel Rwanda?”
There’s buzz? Keep it buzzing.
Don Cheadle: Hotel Rwanda
“ I tried to just keep myself as ignorant as I could about certain situations so that I could react and respond truthfully ”
The purveyor of the screen's worst Cockney accent since Dick Van Dyke, Don Cheadle is also one of Hollywood's best kept secrets. Now his performance in Hotel Rwanda has garnered a well deserved Oscar nomination he will doubtless see his profile rise even higher. Eye-catching roles in Devil In A Blue Dress and Out Of Sight established his reputation in the 90s, since when he has proved to be a masterful, compelling actor - a fact confirmed by his performance as Rwandan hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina. Screen wife Sophie Okonedo and writer/director Terry George have also been rewarded with Oscar nominations.
There's a lot of responsibility playing any real-life character, especially when their story is as poignant as Paul's. How do you set about doing it justice?
By really trusting the script and trusting Terry [George]. I knew there was a certain amount of preparation that I had to do in order to understand the historical context and to really educate myself about the history. But a lot of what happened in the film, my character didn't know and couldn't prepare for, so I tried to just keep myself as ignorant as I could about certain situations so that I could react and respond truthfully as a human being would in those moments.
Did you work closely with Paul himself?
I never really asked him specifically about the 100 days he spent with all those people, besieged in his hotel. It was more a case of trying to understand who he was as a person. When I first got the role I began e-mailing him right away, asking him a thousand questions some of which probably seemed ridiculous to him. But it was just a case of trying to get an idea of his interior life and what kind of a person he was in his spirit.
Did you draw on physical aspects of the man for your performance?
Of course I watched him. After I was cast Terry sent me some footage that he had taken of Paul on their trip to Rwanda and there was hours of that and I would just watch over and over again. And then when we both were in South Africa together during the rehearsal period, we'd go out to dinner, or we'd just be walking around the set, and I would keep an eye on him to surreptitiously try and get a handle on him, with his gestures and body language and all of that.
How did you hear about your Oscar nomination?
I was on a UN plane in Africa, going back to the hotel with Paul. Once I'd figured out the time difference I telephoned my wife. I knew it was early in the morning but she was awake, so I figured that someone had called and woken her up so it was presumably good news. She said, "did you know you got nominated?" and I said, "Oh wow, that's great." And then she started screaming and said, "And Sophie was nominated!" That was really the icing on the cake. And then she added, "Oh yeah, and Terry was nominated too."
What is it about this story the interests you? Is it because it's so different from the manufactured heroism of so many mainstream movies?
The fun for me is to mix it all up. I would actually like to do something as far away from what I've just done, just for my own personal joy and growth, for what I want to do. And also I wouldn't want to attempt to compare this to anything else. This is a singular sort of moment in my career, I think. It has allowed me to speak to a different audience. Paul and I just got back from Sudan, where we'd been with a congressional delegation, with two-star generals and high-ranking representatives from NGOs and we got to show some of the things going on in the Sudan that has really frightening parallels to the situation in Rwanda. I've been on CNN and doing all these other shows about something that's very relevant today. I've never been a part of a film before that offers such a platform into real issues, that raises social awareness and has the potential to change things. I say potential because I don't really hold out a lot of hope that any film can do that. I hold out hope, but don't really have high expectations.
But do you feel more frivolous films have their part as entertainment too?
Absolutely. I understand what's it like to work all week and on Friday night just want to go and leave your brain at the door, buy some popcorn and be thrilled by something. That absolutely has a place as well.
Don Cheadle: Ocean's Eleven
You've seen him in everything from "Boogie Nights" to "Bulworth", and now celebrated supporting actor, Don Cheadle, does the business again, as explosives expert Basher in "Ocean's Eleven".
Why is your character, Basher, a Cockney?
At one point, another character was going to be British and Steven thought, well, I don't know if we want to be courting comparisons. Then that didn't happen and he said we could change it to make him American, but I said, "well, let me just try it? It's not like there aren't any black Londoners." I wanted to do something different and I thought it would add another colour to this palette of 11 guys.
Do you know any rhyming slang?
It was like a Calculus test - you take the test and then you empty that file, and it's gone.
How did you enjoy the all-star aspect of the movie?
There seems to be some kind of latent desire to see that. I think it would have worked better if it had been like "Ten Little Indians", killing us off every ten minutes. You know, who's the next star they're going to pick off? You've got to kill stars. If you're not killing stars, I mean, what's it about?
Were you out drinking every night with the rest of the guys?
I had my family with me the whole time, so I went back to my room. I know there are stories out there, some of which have already hit the papers, but that's not really me.