Don Cheadle is as charismatic in person as he often is onscreen. In town last month for the Los Angeles Film Festival/West Coast Premiere of his new film, "The Guard," Cheadle sat down with a group of reporters. What follows is a fast and fun conversation with Cheadle regarding writer/director John Michael McDonagh, co-star Brendan Gleeson, and the movie - a hilariously dark Irish cop comedy about an eccentric Irish cop, Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), and FBI Agent, Everett (Cheadle), who are forced to work together to crack an international murder/drug trafficking case.
Don Cheadle on how he came to "The Guard," and why he wanted to star and Executive Produce:
Because, I'm a megalomaniac! (laughs) No... my agent sent it to me and I read it and loved it. From the first page to the last page, [I] laughed the whole way through... [it] had that nice dark, Irish humor that just makes me laugh, because it's so not right. I met with John Michael McDonagh, the writer/director, and he told me he had written it for [Brendan Gleeson] and wanted him to play the guard, and I thought that's great. I had always been a fan of [Brendan's] for a long, long time and wanted to work with him. So it was kind of a no-brainer.
As an Executive Producer, in addition to being kind of a "greenlight" element to getting it to go, [I also helped] shepherd it and do what we always have to do with these smaller projects that don't have a lot of studio support, [we] roll up your sleeves and start beating the bushes and try and find money.
On going to Ireland and the Irish experience:
My first trip [to Ireland] was to shoot "The Guard." It was weird because it was like I was there, but I was there making a movie too, so it was strange. We hung out a lot. We'd go to the set and go to the pubs - put back a fair amount of Guinness. And, I went to a lot of golf courses there because I want to play in the European clubs...
I had a great driver who had a such a thick [Irish] brogue, and [no one knew] what the Hell he's [saying] - (Don demonstrates the thick Irish brogue - a hysterical imitation of the driver). And I'd golf with him. Me and John, John was his name, we had a great time, me and my driver.
On being a fan and working with Brendan Gleeson:
The first day I met him... out [in Los Angeles], he and John and I just read through the script in a room. And from the first couple of moments we started laughing, and I said, 'you're twisted' and [he replied] 'you're twisted'... And all three of us... 'we're all twisted.' We wanted to push it further and we looked at each other and went, "No, that's for us." We can't do that; we still want people to see this.
Oh no, you all have tapes... my parents are still alive.
On making a back story for his character in "The Guard":
I thought it was very interesting the stuff [McDonagh] put in there: that [Agent Everett] was from Wisconsin, but that he was a cop in Atlanta ... caught the serial killer in Tennessee. So he was like this transplant... this is just extrapolation [from the script]... [Everett's] moved south and he's lived in south for a while, then he went to an Ivy League school... You name your kids Stokely and Huey, you're saying something; how you want to present yourself to the world.
So there was all of this stuff that I just kind of built in that was great for Brendan to be able to poke at. And it's nothing that I reveal to him. These are secrets you have for yourself, but it went to fleshing him out; creating this character who was kind of conflicted... [who] had a chip on his shoulder.
On working with first time directors, including, McDonagh:
I've worked with other first time directors, and it's been a nightmare. Sometimes everything is too precious; they've lived and dreamed and fretted over the experience forever... I've been on sets like that when the first time director has strangled all the life out of a movie because he's trying to control it.
That wasn't John. I read the script and went, 'you've written a good script,' and we met, and we had several meetings - 'tell me how you want to shoot it? What's the concept? Give me some kind of movies to talk about. What's the world that you're seeing? How are we going to pull this set piece off? Thematically what's this?'
You probe, you hang out, you get a feel for who the person is - 'oh you're sick, you're twisted. Oh we drink a beer together; oh you made that joke, oh okay, you get it.'
Then you just have to roll the dice. And they're rolling the dice too. They've created a character and they're hoping that you're gonna show up and do your thing. And I'm sure sometimes they're sitting on the other side of the camera going, 'oh no, you're ruining my whole thing.' We don't ever know. Then we do our whole thing, and then hand it off to an editor... An editor can take a bad movie and make it great. They can also take a good one and make it bad. You never know.
That's why I'm always thankful for the next job.
On the next job:
I start shooting [in July the Showtime series] "House of Lies." [It will] probably be out next year, February.
"The Guard" opens July 29 in Los Angeles and New York. It's 96 minutes and Rated R.
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