Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Blow Out the Candles: Don Cheadle

Don Cheadle
Born November 29, 1964

I think Don Cheadle is a great actor. When he’s attached to a film, I make a point of seeing it. He brings charisma and intensity to his roles that make him absolutely enthralling to watch on screen. I remember when I first saw Cheadle in a film. It was in Boogie Nights. That film showcased the talent of so many great actors in what was a formidable ensemble cast, and with Don Cheadle, it made me sit up and ask, “Who is this guy?”

Before Boogie Nights, Cheadle had several guest starring roles in a variety of television shows including The Golden Palace (the short-lived Golden Girls spin-off) and Picket Fences. Though Boogie Nights was the first film I saw Don Cheadle in, it was not his breakthrough film. His breakout role was opposite Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress. So good was his performance that many thought that an Oscar nomination was inevitable, but it didn’t happen for that role. Instead, Cheadle garnered much interest and began working a lot and nabbed roles in some impressive films.

In Out of Sight, he teamed with Steven Soderbergh in the first of several ensemble films that they would make together. Cheadle played bad so very, very well and delivered some hilarious lines as Maurice “Snoopy” Miller like, “The man don't just have to die, Foley. I mean, he could accidentally hurt himself falling down on something real hard, you know. Like a shiv, or my dick.”

Cheadle became somewhat of a fixture for Soderbergh after Out of Sight and one of his stand-out roles was as a federal drug agent in the director’s unflinching and powerful film Traffic, which traces the drug trafficking ring in North America through several parallel stories. Later on, he was cast alongside George Clooney, Brad Pitt et al in the highly-successful and entertaining Ocean’s Eleven heist film series based on the classic Rat Pat film. Cheadle got a lot of guff for butchering the London accent he used in the film, but he was a welcome addition to the great ensemble cast nonetheless.

The Ocean’s Eleven series wasn’t Cheadle’s first connection to the Rat Pat. Prior to appearing in that film series, Cheadle delivered an outstanding performance as Sammy Davis Jr. in the HBO film The Rat Pat. Cheadle nailed Davis’ affable showmanship and intensive, high-energy tap dancing moves to deliver an uncanny portrayal of the late entertainer. Cheadle was rewarded with a Golden Globe for his performance.

A few years later, Cheadle nabbed a richly-deserved Oscar nomination for his role as Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager whose hotel becomes a refugee camp after warfare erupts between the two classes of native Rwandans – the Tutsis and the Hutu - when the president is assassinated. Cheadle absolutely sunk his teeth into this role to deliver what is by far his most passionate and empathetic performance. The material demanded it and Cheadle proved that he was up to the task and then some.

Up next for Cheadle is the new Showtime comedy series House of Lies, in which he will play a cutthroat management consultant who will use whatever means necessary to give his clients the information they want. I don’t know about you, but the new series had me at Don Cheadle.


  1. Have you seen the Funny or Die clip of Don Cheadle as Captain Planet?

    That fucking floored me.

  2. It might be Adam Sandler's movie but I think Cheadle is fantastic in Reign Over Me. Such a good film in my opinion. Hotel Rwanda, Boogie Nights and Crash also great roles, great performances. Maybe not so much Crash actually. But it's the fault of the film not so much Cheadle.

  3. @Pete - Agreed - Reign on Me is a great film and Cheadle delivers a great performance in it. And he was also great in Crash. I'm hard-pressed to think of any film he hasn't been good in even if the film itself wasn't great.

  4. Good write up. You even mentioned Picket Fences, which is the very first place I ever saw him. His performance in Devil with a Blue Dress is criminally overlooked now (as is the movie.)

  5. @Chip Lary - Thanks, glad you liked the post. I watched Picket Fences, but I didn't remember Cheadle being on that show. I actually went on Youtube and watched a couple of episodes and kicked myself for not remembering Cheadle as a cast member.

    Devil in a Blue Dress is a greatly underrated good film with great acting.

  6. @JBT - It's been a while, but my memory is that Cheadle came in at the start of the second season and went through to the end of the show. He was a DA who was an opponent for "Douglas Wambaugh for the defense, Your Honor". His best episode was probably one during the third season that dealt with three different relationships on Valentine's Day. He had an 18 year old girl very interested in him. Even though she was legal, her age difference with him in his late 20s led him to turn her down. He explained to her that his job as a DA depended on the town looking up to him as someone with honor and that a relationship with someone as young as her would damage that, which might ultimately lead to a criminal being let go because he lost a case. He sacrificed his personal life for his professional one. There was also an episode where he and Wambaugh argued a case in front of the Supreme Court.

  7. I both hate and love that all these fine actors are moving to the small screen - but, once the shows are good I can't be too mad. Cheadle is a fine actor and it's a shame he hasn't had as fine a role as Traffic or Hotel Rwanda recently. He does elevate his material in almost all his film,s though.

  8. Great write-up. Big Cheadle fan too. He even put in a good performance in Hotel For Dogs. Also looking forward to seeing The Guard.

  9. Awesome post. Don Cheadle is a highlight in every film he's in, regardless the size of the role. I had no idea he's doing a TV show now, but I will definitely be checking that out.

  10. Happy Belated Birthday Mr. Cheadle. His Oscar nom for Hotel Rwanda was well-deserved indeed, he should've won it if you ask me.

  11. @Andrew: Encore Entertainment - I understand your love/hate towards actors on the small screen. Some actors are doing some incredible work in some shows that far surpass the quality of some major films these days, and then there are those actors who wind up on shows that don’t last a full season. I’m really looking forward to seeing Don Cheadle on Showtime’s House of Lies. I think he’ll be great in a regular tv role.

    @Ty – Thanks! Don Cheadle rocks. I’ve never seen Hotel for Dogs. The Guard does look promising.

    @Eric – Thanks for the kind words. He does have the ability to stand out even in mediocre films (i.e. Family Man.) The new show starts in January and I’m really looking forward to tuning in.

    @ruth – He was so deserving of the nomination for Hotel Rwanda. It was a brilliant performance. Jamie Foxx took the Oscar that year, but it could easily have gone to Cheadle. I think the Academy favours performances based on real people, and Jamie Foxx was uncanny as Ray Charles.


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.