Without matinee idol good looks and with A-listers scared to be on screen more than five minutes with him, he'll never be chased by photographers or be able to open with nine-figure numbers. But Cheadle still never phones it in.
In 2003, an aspiring screenwriter and an up and coming, hot-shot marketing and production guru sat with a producer named Jeff Clanagan pitching a project. Clanagan liked the project. He leaned back in his chair, clasped his hands and said “If you can get Don Cheadle interested, I can close this deal.”
Okay, the two guys, whom I know very well thought, it’s as simple as calling his people and getting him to read the script and come and sit down and start talks.
Call his people they did and they found out that Cheadle, one of the best character actors to emerge in the last 20 years, was booked solid through 2009. And that was 2003.
It’s 2008 now and with the release of Cheadle’s movie Traitor one can venture to guess that if the six-year rule holds up, he might be unavailable well into Barack Obama or John McCain’s second term as president in 2014.
Real Donald Frank Cheadle fans know him as an expert poker player and a man who gets onscreen with the likes of Denzel Washington, George Clooney and Brad Pitt and eats their lunch right in front of them. This is a specific reference to supporting performances in 1995’s Devil in a Blue Dress, 1998’s Out of Sight. and of course, every Ocean’s 11 installment.
Even the best don’t come with their A game every time but Cheadle does.
Case in point, him telling fellow Crips, and I quote, “hey man shut the #$@$ up,” as the ominous and malevolently loco Rocket in 1987’s Dennis Hopper helmed flick Colors, – a film that made people in St. Louis, Kansas City and Little Rock, Ark. start gang banging – is enough to get the academy to start a new category for one liners. He would have won twice in that case as no one has ever said on film, “Bust a cap in his ass,” quite like Cheadle.
Yet even with a stellar body of work over the years, including a heartbreaking, earth shattering turn as Hutu hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina in Hotel Rwanda -- often called Schindler’s List for sub-Saharan Africans -- there was always a pop-cultural impediment, an obstacle between Nova and SuperNova.
There was always this sense that without matinee idol good looks and with A-listers scared to be onscreen more than five minutes with him as the urban legend goes, that Cheadle would be relegated to being the black Phillip Seymour Hoffman or poor Phillip being the white Don Cheadle. We’d love to see them go at it, wouldn’t we?
In Traitor, Cheadle gets his chance to carry a movie by himself. It’s too bad that the script was subpar, the plot completely improbable and the dialogue laden with vague liberal drivel that you might here on Air America broadcasts.
Nevertheless Cheadle proves his mettle in working with what is given to him, in blowing up, kicking ass and taking names, literally and figuratively and in leaving both Jeff Daniels and Guy Pearce devoid of a juicy ham sandwich with every second of screen time they get with him (Yeah he ate their food too.)
Watching Traitor, one gets the feeling that if all the stars were aligned, this stand-alone movie could have been the chance for Cheadle to ride the wave of a Jason Bourne-style franchise all the way to the bank and into the pantheon of the greatest actors ever.
Uhh not so much.
Thankfully though Cheadle will next year get at least two more shots at Oscar gold if not the induction of more members into his fan club.
In the upcoming Brooklyn’s Finest, Cheadle stars in a flick where three unconnected Brooklyn cops wind up at the same deadly location, despite enduring vastly different career paths. If past performances are any indication, Richard Gere, the talented Ethan Hawke – what a cool name, by the way – Wesley Snipes and Ellen Barkin better all fill up on carbs. You see, Don is going to eat….No? Not again? Alright, alright, you get the picture.
Finally, what this prodigal son of a Blolumnist is really waiting with bated breath for is seeing Cheadle as Toussiant L’oveture, the Haitian who not only freed slaves in the former French colony but led a revolution that led to the formation of the first independent republic in the Carribean and one of the first in the whole Western Hemisphere. Danny Glover is slated to direct "Toussiant" and Wesley Snipes, Angela Basset, Jonathan Rhys Meyers and the outrageously gifted Afro-British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor are scheduled to star in that film.
Ejiofor, by the way, who starred alongside Cheadle in Talk to Me, is one of the only people aside from Luiz Guzman in Traffic to even get chips and a pickle in scenes with Cheadle. Sorry, had to do it one more time.
So for anyone wanting to cast this guy in 2020, start writing your script now, get representation, call producers, call Cheadle’s publicist or barber. Otherwise you’re out of luck with this man.
To sum it up, who better than Cheadle’s character from Mouse from Devil in a Blue Dress, give it to you like this: “Well (expletive) Eazzzzy! If you didn’t want him dead, why you leave him with me?”
Attention everyone: Don Cheadle, no matter the subject matter, doesn’t turn in whack performances, doesn’t phone it in and if you don’t want him to kill it, don’t leave it up to him.
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