Don Cheadle tells Tara Brady about his brush with the Garda,
Between blockbusters and acclaimed indie dramas, proudly political Don Cheadle has managed to find time to star in a proudly politically incorrect Irish comedy. So what brought the Oscar nominee to Connemara, asks Tara Brady
Aback in the 1980s, when actor Don Cheadle was starting out, Hollywood wasn’t exactly thinking outside the box when it came to casting. Black men were first-class privates and gangsters; black women stood on chairs in Tom and Jerry cartoons.
Two decades on and the Oscar-nominated star is Robert Downey’s BFF in Iron Man 2 while fellow thespians Will Smith and Denzel Washington enjoy “colour-blind casting” as the biggest box-office players in the market. Sure, it looks like progress, says the Kansasborn Cheadle, but let’s not get carried away.
“The fact that my character in Iron Man 2 is black – as indeed he is in the comic books – doesn’t mean anything,” says Cheadle. “It could do. But it’s not explored. I’m not crazy about this whole colour-blind casting thing. I think that when you hire a woman or someone of colour to play a part that was written for a white man it’s important to use that casting for more than saying ‘Look, we can all do the same jobs.’
“I was in a conversation the other day and someone says, ‘You can’t say that America is a racist country any more because there’s a LOWLY PRIVATE IN Hamburger Hill; the leader of the Crips in Dennis Hopper’s Colours; a hoodlum’s sidekick in Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead; black man in the White House and the majority voted him in.’ That’s a ridiculous argument. Racism hasn’t gone away. Racism exists. Sexism exists. Ageism exists. These things are worth talking about. These things need to be explored in art. That’s what art is for.”
In this spirit, Cheadle was more than happy to sign up for The Guard, a profane, proudly politically incorrect comedy from writerdirector John Michael McDonagh. In common with brother Martin, who directed Bruges and composed the demotic beats of the Leenane trilogy, McDonagh’s screenplay will not be remembered for its social niceties.
“What was so great about The Guard is that there’s no dancing around anything,” says Cheadle. “It talks directly. Political correctness is boring, man. It’s a lie. Let’s have the argument; let’s not pretend everything is peachy. Just because you use a different word just means you’re hiding better. I want to know what you’re thinking, not what you think is palatable for me to hear.”
The film, which sees Cheadle’s straightlaced FBI agent join forces with a renegade Connemara cop (Brendan Gleeson) to take down an international drugsmuggling gang, was, he says, a nobrainer.
“The size of the picture is never really a consideration for me. I responded to the script, which I thought was great. Imet John and took a liking to him. I remembered seeing Martin’s stuff on Broadway and thinking, ‘What the hell. Who is this guy?’ And I’d seen In Bruges and loved it. And I like that there’s a really sophisticated, smart kind of humour here. It may be very specifically Irish in terms of the references and colloquialisms, but it has a poetic universality. It gets people. And once I knew the other person I’d be playing with was Brendan, I figured it would only benefit me. Brendan is just one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. Great human being.”
Born in Missouri and raised in Colorado, Cheadle, 46, suspects his youthful interest in acting may have something to do with his dad’s work as a clinical psychologist.
“I never made the connection when I was younger,” he says. “But when I think about it now it seems so obvious. I do think about acting in very psychological terms – why are they doing that or why they behave one way around one person and differently around somebody else? They’re all little questions but they’re part and parcel of breaking down a character.” A gifted jazz prodigy, Cheadle was offered any number of musical scholarships but plumped instead for an acting bursary in California, a decision that, he says, was