Don Cheadle loves it when a plan comes together. As Mockney geezer Basher Tarr, he jollified the Ocean's Eleven franchise by blowing things up. As "Rhodey" in Iron Man 2, he pursued elaborate plans to keep Robert Downey Jr in contact with his marbles. Elegant, and somewhat prolific, Cheadle's ability to headline both action movies and more cerebral fare (think Crash and Hotel Rwanda) has put him in that rare breed of A-listers who confer instant credibility on even a mainstream project.
His latest project is the TV series House of Lies, a dark, edgy comedy that takes a cynical look at management consultants, the high-paid "fixers" whose job supposedly involves sorting out troubled companies. The show's bashing of this opaque industry, and by extension of big business in general, chimes neatly with Cheadle's other public persona. Away from the acting game, he's a prominent Hollywood liberal, known for supporting of Barack Obama, hanging out with George Clooney, campaigning against climate change, and dispensing nuggets of clued-up Leftism via his Twitter feed.
In House of Lies, Cheadle plays Marty Kahn who, in the argot of Wall Street, is a big, swinging dick of the consulting industry expert in the art of dispensing cost-saving, reputation enhancing advice to feckless corporations. The show was inspired by a 2005 bestseller subtitled How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time. Its premise is that consultants, who supposedly dispense cutting-edge advice to corporations, are in fact malign hucksters whose aim is not to solve a client's problems, but to convince clients that they're solving problems that may or may not exist.
The show, of which Cheadle is an executive producer, has been called a hatchet-job by the consulting industry. Fuelling their ire is the fact that, Kahn is also a serial sexual predator, who likes (in Cheadle's words) to "angry bang" everyone from his ex-wife, to clients, to strippers he picks up in lap-dancing clubs. He also enjoys fabricating vast expenses claims.This schtick feels comfortingly topical in the post-crunch, post-Occupy era and the show has already been picked up for a second series. "I feel like the curtain's being pulled back by the financial collapse," says Cheadle. "Look at how people have responded to Marty. He's really not a nice person. In fact, he's just an animal. But there's something about Marty they seem to like. They enjoy living vicariously through his sociopathic behaviour."
It was partly the chance to play an anti-hero that attracted Cheadle to House of Lies. "I've played murderers, I've played bad cops. When the likeability thing came up, I just thought: 'Eh, whatever!' To me, Tony Soprano wasn't likeable but he was eminently watchable. That's exactly the kind of character I want to play."
Now 47, he lives in West Los Angeles with Brigid Coulter, his partner of 15 years, and their two daughters. "The movie business has changed dramatically since I started," he says. "It's affected everything. Today, you have to make either big tentpole films; you can still get those made. Or you can get a movie made for six million dollars. But those mid-range movies, those 30, 40 million dollar films, have gone. No one wants to take a risk on them." The dearth of challenging indie film projects drove him to TV, he adds. "These days, most of the interesting stuff tends to be happening on TV."
Cheadle's move into television has also been prompted by domestic pressures. "Things have changed in my life a little bit," he says. "I have daughters in high school. When they were little, we just took them everywhere. When I did Hotel Rwanda, we put them in school in Africa for three months. These days, I wouldn't want to do that, even if I could. I want them to have continuity in their lives. That stuff's important. The most I've allow myself to be away from Los Angeles in the past few years is about three weeks."
- More about: