Mad Money

Don Chea­dle’s new Show­time com­edy, Black Mon­day, in­tro­duces an over­looked (and equally rep­re­hen­si­ble) wolf of Wall Street

Newsweek - - Culture - BY ANNA MENTA @an­nalikest­weets

it’s a mo­ment that will un­doubt­edly haunt him as long as he lives: Don Chea­dle, dressed as a car wash at­ten­dant, backup danc­ing in a 1989 mu­sic video for R&B star An­gela Win­bush’s hit song “It’s the Real Thing.” Chea­dle, then a strug­gling ac­tor, had showed up for a friend’s cast­ing call and was re­cruited by the chore­og­ra­pher, Debbie Allen. The re­sult, an ’80s ex­trav­a­ganza of cheese—big hair, shoul­der pads, be­daz­zled hats and syn­the­sized beats—would look right at home in Chea­dle’s new Show­time com­edy, Black Mon­day (pre­mier­ing Jan­uary 20).

The se­ries takes place dur­ing what is of­ten called the Decade of Greed, an era of con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion fos­tered by the Rea­gan ad­min­is­tra­tion— in­spi­ra­tion for not only Oliver Stone’s bit­ing cri­tique of fi­nan­cial pre­da­tion, 1987’s Wall Street, but also the cur­rent U.S. pres­i­dent, whose iden­tity was forged in the gilded ex­cess of the ’80s. Chea­dle plays a manic stock trader named Mau­rice “Mo” Mon­roe. The ac­tor has a cu­ri­ous nos­tal­gia for “the clothes, the shoes and the ter­ri­ble synth mu­sic that came out of that time,” but his fondness ends there. “I grad­u­ated from Calarts in ’86,” he tells Newsweek.

“It was a very demon­stra­ble pe­riod: Show out, show off, be loud, be bold. Do all the drugs. Have all the sex. There wasn’t a lot of in­tro­spec­tion.”

Chea­dle has no par­tic­u­lar fondness for films or shows about peo­ple with money ei­ther. “Ac­tu­ally, a lot of times it dis­gusts me,” says the ac­tor, a noted ac­tivist in­volved in hu­man rights and cli­mate change is­sues. (Chea­dle has co-au­thored two books, in­clud­ing Not on Our Watch: The Mis­sion to End Geno­cide in Dar­fur and Be­yond.) “That kind of glut­tony is hard to take.”

And yet, just two years af­ter the 54-year-old wrapped five sea­sons of Show­time’s House of Lies— where he earned a Golden Globe play­ing a ruth­less man­age­ment con­sul­tant named Marty—he’s back in the world of money, money, money. “In both cases, I blame David Nevins,” says Chea­dle, re­fer­ring to the CEO of Show­time. What makes his new dark com­edy “palat­able and en­joy­able,” says the ac­tor, is that it is also a scathing take­down of ex­cess. Black Mon­day flirts with satire, the tone as fren­zied and ir­rev­er­ent as the ti­tle char­ac­ter, who, among other things, does coke with his ro­bot but­ler and karate-chops doors down. “I hope peo­ple want to watch us, be­cause it’s not like any­thing I’ve ever seen on TV be­fore.

[My char­ac­ter] is wild in the best way— made of gam­ble, in­sanely un­afraid, with no an­chor and no bal­ance.”

The story, from cre­ators David Caspe (Happy End­ings) and Jordan Ca­han (My Best Friend’s Girl), fic­tion­al­izes an ex­pla­na­tion for the stock mar­ket crash on Mon­day, Oc­to­ber 19, 1987. (The open­ing cred­its of the pi­lot, di­rected by Seth Ro­gen and Evan Gold­berg, claim “no one knows what caused the crash…un­til now.”) Mo’s goal is to take his No. 11 team to No. 1 on Wall Street—if only he had the cun­ning of Marty on House of Lies. “Mo’s not nearly as in­tel­li­gent,” says Chea­dle, an ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer of the show.

Per­haps not so true to life is that Mo’s rag­tag team of Wall Street traders is re­mark­ably di­verse for the time. There was no push­back on such re­al­ity-bend­ing, says Chea­dle. “That was the point of what we were try­ing to do. These char­ac­ters get to do things that you wouldn’t get to if we were a tra­di­tional ‘house’ of 98 per­cent white men. We al­ready know how it would be if it was Leo Di­caprio and Jonah Hill. How do these guys do it?”

Regina Hall (Girls Trip) plays fierce trader Dawn; An­drew Ran­nells is the firm’s only straight white dude, a fresh­faced new­bie named Blair; Ho­ra­tio Sanz, as Wayne, is Latino; Yas­sir Lester, as Yas­sir, is Mus­lim. It was Chea­dle who pushed to cast Hall, who re­cently be­came the first black woman to win a best ac­tress award from the New York Film Crit­ics Cir­cle, for 2018’s Sup­port the Girls. He had seen her pull an au­da­cious stunt at the 2016 Amer­i­can Black Film Fes­ti­val Honors. “Regina King was be­ing hon­ored,” says Hall. “She and I get con­fused all the time—her pic­ture gets put in for mine and vice versa. So we played a joke. We didn’t tell the stage peo­ple, but when they an­nounced ‘Regina King,’ I walked out giv­ing kisses, wav­ing, got to the podium and said, ‘Thank you so much ev­ery­one!’”

Chea­dle was im­pressed. “Her hu­mor and her hu­man­ity—it all came through in that three min­utes that I saw her on­stage. I thought, That’s Dawn! A lot of other names and dif­fer­ent eth­nic­i­ties came up, but I said, ‘If Regina says yes, just give it to her.’”

Hall loves that Dawn is “a woman whose func­tion is not in con­nec­tion to the male char­ac­ter—mean­ing that she isn’t the wife, and it doesn’t feel aux­il­iary. She plays the same game men play.” Dawn is a mar­ried woman who, none­the­less, ex­ploits the un­der­ly­ing ro­man­tic ten­sion with Mo; by the third episode, she has tricked him into mak­ing her a part­ner at the firm.

As it turns out, there was a black fe­male trader in the ’80s—a sur­prise to Hall, who tracked her down. “We talked about how force­ful she had to be just to be heard,” the ac­tress says.

Chea­dle turned to the 1991 book Den of Thieves, James B. Ste­wart’s best-sell­ing ac­count of the in­sider trad­ing scan­dals of the mid-’80s. Though the junk bond deals of fi­nanciers like Ivan Boesky and Michael Milken were il­le­gal, the laws were rarely en­forced un­til 1989, when Boesky and Milken were con­victed of fraud. “One of the most in­ter­est­ing things Ste­wart shows,” says Chea­dle, “is how peo­ple were will­ing to work around ev­ery rule and reg­u­la­tion be­cause the re­ward is so po­ten­tially— well, re­ward­ing.”

The big­gest chal­lenge was play­ing high. “Mo’s done a lot of coke,” says Chea­dle. “Your body doesn’t know that you’re just act­ing when you’ve been do­ing that for 14 hours. You leave the set, and you’re like, ‘Wow, why do I feel so edgy and ner­vous?’ That can be hard to drop.”

Did he, as ac­tors of­ten do, have to find a way to em­pathize with Mo? “No,” he says flatly. “Peo­ple like that are mak­ing moves for them­selves and shit­ting on ev­ery­one else. I don’t have a lot of em­pa­thy for him, and I tend to cheer when he gets his come­up­pance.”

The se­ries is ob­vi­ously crit­i­cal of both the decade and Wall Street, but it’s not, says Chea­dle, a com­ment on cur­rent cor­rup­tion. Nor is it “try­ing to make some state­ment on race,” he adds. “It’s not medicine in any way, shape or form.” Rather, it’s a new story that “you wouldn’t get to with 98 per­cent white men. We are the wretched refuse of the up­per crust of blue-blood, elite white boys.”

ţshow oɼ be loug be bolg. Do all the Grugs. Haye all the se[. There was­nšt a lot oi in­tro­spec­tion.”

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DEALER BEWARE Hall stars as a black fe­male trader “who plays the same game men play.”

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