“Political correctness is boring, man. Just because you use a different word just means you’re hiding better”
“mostly about the weather”.
Early award-winning turns in Devil in a Blue Dress and Boogie Nights proved he was a heavyweight contender, but the relationships he forged at Steven Soderbergh’s Section 8 production company were about more than networking. Cheadle and chums George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon – all erstwhile stars of the Ocean’s series – represent a new, globally minded kind of Hollywood player.
“I think it’s something we discovered in each other’s company,” says Cheadle. “We have similar concerns. And we’ve been able to put together organisations to try to address those things. And the beat goes on. It’s not a one-off thing. Because the kind of issues we’re talking about too often get some attention and then none. That, and we’re all in it for the money, you know.”
His work on Terry George’s 2004 Rwandan civil war drama Hotel Rwanda was a particular turning point. Cheadle, a tireless campaigner for the end of genocide in Darfur, was named as an Environment Program Goodwill Ambassador by the UN last year.
“It’s a full-time concern. It’s not some celebrity thing. It occupies a lot of my brain. Every year we’re doing something with fundraising or something to move the needle. But it’s difficult. Things are very fractious at the minute. It’s always wait and see. The stability is just not there yet. There are so many variables. But the big general picture is about justice and charity and power-sharing. That requires effort and participation from world leaders. And that, unfortunately, has been slow in coming. The money is important, but it’s not as important as facilitating political negotiations.“
Despite his glamorous chums, Cheadle has raised his teenage daughters in ordinary south California suburbs and swears that playdates with Matt Damon’s family aren’t as Hollywood as they sound.
“We do hang out with the Damons a little bit, but they’re even more low-key than we are,” laughs Cheadle. “If we lived in that world I could see how it could be a problem raising teenagers. But we don’t party. We’re not jet-set. And even if we were, my teenagers would not be impressed. They’re not looking to take advantage. They want to do their own thing. They don’t want to latch on to actors or dad. They’re not impressed by my job or Hollywood or any of that stuff.”
And that’s probably just as well, he admits. Times are tough out there for the socially conscious artist or the actor looking to avoid tent-pole bit parts. Cheadle, who is currently between meetings for a long-cherished Miles Davis project, says getting movies made is getting harder all the time.
“Miles is my main man for the last few years because I’ve been studying his music solidly. The first record I ever wore out the grooves on was his Porgy and Bess. So I’ve always been a fan. But now I’ve invested a lot of time for something you have no guarantees with. It’s not easy getting any movie made,” he says. “It’s a grind. There’s no rulebook. If you have James Cameron onboard and you’re aiming for a $150 million budget you can probably get that movie made, regardless of what it is. If you’ve got Will Smith and $100 million and an action script, you can probably get that made. Otherwise, good luck.
“There are a lot of movies like The Guard out there, and all they have going for them is that they’re very good. But what’s the poster? Will it sell foreign? It’s all that stuff that gets in the way.”
He’s hopeful that The Guard will buck the system, though he will require some acclimatisation should the demand for a sequel arise.
“I think probably the biggest cultural difference between you guys and us is that it’s not mandatory to drink Guinness every day in the United States. I do hope that for an American and a neophyte I acquitted myself all right. Because I love, love, love Guinness. I started looking forward to wrapping every night so I could start getting them in. And sometimes, on this particular shoot, we didn’t wait until quitting time. It’s a slippery slope, your country.”
Iron Man 2; Ocean’s Hamburger Hill