Film Scouts Interviews

Don Cheadle on "Rosewood"

by Henri Béhar

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The character bursts into your world with the energy of an atom bomb. As Easy Rawlins's sidekick friend in "Devil in a Blue Dress", Mouse was a motor-mouth, foul in every sense and dangerously funny. Denzel Washington's former co-star and the actor who played Mouse, Don Cheadle is a slim, slender, quiet man. But firm: as "Rosewood" 's Sylvester Carrier, he's the only black man who dares reprimand white folk for wolf-whistling at black women. And you suddenly realize how much Mouse has overshadowed everything else Cheadle has done, including HBO's "Rebound", the descent into drug hell of a basketball prodigy.

You ain't seen nothin' yet. Already in the can are at least three films Cheadle appears in: "Volcano" (no, he hasn't seen "Dante's Peak", and even if he had...), "Anaconda" (don't ask), which he shot with Jon Voight in the Amazon, and "Boogie Nights", a closer look at the porno industry.


ON WORKING WITH SINGLETON. "He was really driven. When we started the rehearsal period, we said a prayer and hoped we would have all the spirits' energy with us to help us see this thing through. From that moment on, John really grabbed the reins and drove this piece to the end. He is a real take-charge person - and then he takes the drugs that he's been prescribed and it levels off. (laughs)

"No, seriously. He knows what he wants, knows how to get it, and it was good to have him at the helm."

ON VING RHAMES: "Was I intimidated by Ving Rhames? I was Mouse, I don't worry about anything." (He laughs)

ON MOUSE AS THE TURNING-POINT ROLE. "It definitely got me a lot of attention and a lot of press for the fact I didn't get nominated. But to that point I had been working constantly since 1985. Not in such high profile thing, but I've been fortunate to have been able to support myself on acting, right out of school.

"When I got the part, it was just another job. Another job that I wanted to do a really good job at, and it became something more, because of Denzel, because of Walter Mosley and Carl Franklin, because the prestige."

ON *NOT* BEING NOMINATED. "Was I disappointed? For that morning. But I was already deeply into 'Rosewood'. That day, I woke up early and watched TV to see if they'd announce me, and they didn't. I was disappointed for about an hour, then I had to go to work.

"Then as I found out how much politics, publicity, marketing are involved in that selection process - things that really don't have anything to do with your performance at all - I became less and less concerned about it.

"I'm glad, though, and honored to have received two major critics' awards."

BIRTH OF AN ACTOR. "I grew up in Kansas City, Mo., then Denver, Colo, and Nebraska. My relatives have told me that I've wanted to act since I was 5. I don't remember that. I was shown pictures of myself at that age: in every picture I'm posing. So I guess it *was* something I wanted to do.

"My parents have only and always been totally supportive. I was going to go into jazz music too. When I graduated from high school, I had scholarships to go to jazz schools or to acting schools. It was really kind of a coin toss, my picking California. The climate, I guess.

"I got my bar-mitzvah in acting at CalArts, and my first professional job playing the Juicy Burger worker in 'Moving Violations'."

ON DIRECTING. "I'm going to direct a small film I wrote that is a modern version of 'Antigone' set in Venice, California. It has to do with black and latino gangs in that area. I haven't found my Antigone yet. She's gotta be an 18-year-old Latino bomb. She's got to beat the shit out of everybody."

ON 'BOOGIE NIGHTS'. "It's about the porno industry in the 1970s and the '80s, when it went from film to video. It follows a misfit, dysfunctional family of pornographers through these 10, 15 years. I play a porno actor.

"Was it fun? (He strikes a pose) "Grueling. Late-night, long, long, long hours." (He laughs). But it will make Demi Moore's 'Striptease' look *very* tame. It's really an out-there movie. (Director) Paul Thomas made it like Coltrane playing. I mean, it's waaaay out, but kind of brilliant. It's not rated yet.

"I had a lot of qualms about doing it. Julianne Moore is in it. I'd worked with her at the Guthrie Theatre before, I knew she had signed on to do it, so I called her a couple of times. She really had to convince me to come on board. I was really reticent to do it.

"I objected to the subject matter, and I wasn't sure it was going to be done in a way that I thought really looked at these people's lives. I didn't want it to be a sensationalist look at these people, but to truly investigate why these people are the way they are.

"I knew Paul didn't want to come out saying bluntly, "Porno is bad", but I was going to make sure that he showed the result of that disjointed lifestyle, and he definitely did."

ON SUCCESS...: "That basically means more jobs, and hopefully better jobs. The worst part is being away from my family. The best part is... being away from my family. (laughs) No, it's being able to pick and choose a little bit, you know. I'm seeing more scripts now. I am by no means set up, by no means I'm made - the main man in Hollywood who gets tons of scripts and nothing but the best. But I've been offered a few interesting things. And to have people like John Singleton contact me after seeing my work, then after I've worked with him, another director contacting me that want to work with me is, you know, cool."

...AND HOW TO COPE WITH IT. "I have two children. I'm not married, but I live with my kids' mom. She plays my wife in 'Rosewood'. It was kind of difficult. Our daughter was with us on location. We had three weeks of night shoot in a row! So just as I would be getting home, she'd be waking up. And we'd be too tired to play with her. Then she'd be taking her nap and we'd have to go to work. That, really, is the difficult part of working as much as that. You miss a day in a one-year-old's life, or two days, you've missed something. Something they weren't doing two days ago.

"And suddenly they're in Harvard. ((He bursts out in mock tears) So hopefully this year, there'll be one big movie, I'll make seven quabillion dollars and not work for the rest of the year. Stay home and And watch Oscar night on TV with a bucket of the old Haagen Dasz."

ON BEING ARRESTED. "No way near what happened in Rosewood! But I definitely sensed it, growing up in the Midwest, being black. My father is a psychologist, my mother at the time was a manager in a bank, so we were a middle-class family. Yeah, there was racism all the time.

"Actually, I experienced it more in my later years, as a young kid moving to LA, having guns put on me by the LAPD... That's the most violence I've ever been the unfortunate subject of: at the hands of the LAPD, having guns put to my head.

"For what? For walking down the street. Or driving. Wesley Snipes calls it D.W.B. 'Driving While Black'. And it's the same story every time. 'You match the description'. You always match the description! You ALWAYS match the description in something that just went down.

"So, yeah, I've had guns pulled on me by police for, literally, no exaggeration, walking down the street. A car would tilt up on the sidewalk and cops get out, 'Get against the wall'.

"When Darryl Gates was the police chief, they had this program called 'The Hammer', I think. And that was basically the m.o.: Harass. Go Harass young black men. I was stopped... I can't even count how many times.

"So yeah, it was racism, 'cause I was generally stopped by white cops. But it's not like black cops won't do it. The black cops are worse than white cops: they have to show them they would be just as hard on you."

ON RACIAL TENSIONS TODAY. "Is this country is in a better place, worse place, same place than it was seven years ago?

"It depends on who you ask.

"I'm sure the people whose churches were burnt down would say nothing has changed. We obviously have made some strides, it would be ignorance to say the contrary.

"Jon Voight and I had a real good talk last night. He can't work from a place of guilt, he said. 'I can't think, 'I'm a white man, I'm guilty'; that doesn't work for me.'.

"But in a free nation, if some people are guilty, everybody is responsible. We are all responsible to this legacy that WE didn't want, but got dropped in our laps. And we have to put as much energy into trying to dismantle that part as we do into trying to own a big house, have a good job, live a good life. That kind of xenophobia between people just retards our development and makes things like burning churches down or killing your kids and blaming it on a black guy always possible."

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