If there’s a trophy for “coolest actor on the planet,” Don Cheadle is vying for it. He rocked a Movember-worthy moustache in 2007’s Talk to Me (see photo), he’s made Showtime’s House of Lies a hit, and in his latest action drama, Flight, he returns to more dramatic roots alongside Denzel Washington. We asked him about his new flick, comic timing and, sigh, nude scenes with hot chicks.
MADE MAN: How was it to work again with Denzel, who plays Whip, an alcoholic pilot?
DON CHEADLE: I think when you cast somebody like Denzel in a part like this you can expect to see a real willingness to go to some pretty uncomfortable places. Everyone wants to be liked, to be thought of as the good guy, but Whip has got to unleash some demons to let this happen and in the process, let the audience see the uglier side.
I’m interested in compelling characters in life in general, whether I like them or not. I wouldn’t want to necessarily hang out with them, but I want to know and understand them.
MM: And Whip learns something very relatable for audiences.
DC: It’s mostly about a person confronting who he really is. Will he allow himself to be pulled under by those parts that are less buoyant, or will he fight and struggle to find some sort of a peace and release that may actually turn out to be spiritual at the end of the day?
MM: Do you actually like your character on House of Lies?
DC: I try not to judge a character so that I can really give everything over and let him be whatever he needs to be and serve the stories as they are written. I am interested in compelling characters in life in general, whether I like them or not. I wouldn’t want to necessarily hang out with them, but I want to know and understand them.
MM: Have you learned how to b.s. more?
DC: I’m an actor and I play poker too! I’m pretty straight up and I’m a dad and a husband too so you gotta try to be honest…
MM: You have a consistent film career and are actually producing films. What made you decide to do a TV series?
DC: House of Lies is something that the producer, in his inestimable wisdom, saw fit to want me to be a part of, and we just thought it was going to be a good marriage. I still do films. It wasn’t really out of the ordinary for me. It was something that I thought would just bring a lot more to me as a creative person; the ability to stretch a little bit and spread my wings, so to speak. So I was very happy to get the shot.
MM: You have wonderful comic timing on this show. Where did you develop those chops?
DC: I don’t know! I would have to say I come from a long line of jokers. We played a lot in my family; comedy just was a part of our lives together. We listened to Richard Pryor when I was a kid. I grew up with that sort of mentality already, and one of the first jobs I had was as a stand-up. I did it until I bombed, and I was, like, “Well, that’s enough for that!” It’s something that’s been in my DNA for a long time, and I just haven’t had a lot of opportunities to express it. So it’s great to have a shot with these clowns to kind of do that now!
MM: It seems like Kristen Bell and Dawn Olivieri are just cutthroat as your character.
DC: The character Kristen plays is just as much a shark as anybody, even more of a shark a lot of times. She uses her femininity in a way that’s a weapon. They all use whatever they have to get what they want and in that way it’s all equal opportunity. Everyone’s using what they can.
MM: How do you deal with all the nudity on the show?
DC: I knew it had to happen, you expect that with a Showtime show. Look, it’s very unnatural and uncomfortable but you just grin and bear it. We had a very sensitive crew.
MM: Were you very self-conscious?
DC: Luckily I never go too hard on the junk food! I just try to stay two or three weeks away from being combat-ready.