Smooth List – Don Cheadle

As my final Smooth Man of 2012 it makes sense that I’d follow a post about Robert Downey Jr. with a post about one of his costars. Don Cheadle is truly a man of superb talent and stellar intelligence. He manages to take the ordinary and make it something completely different, twisting even his dialect to fit any mood. It’s not so much the fact he can mould his accent to fit perfectly with his character, it’s that he’s bold enough to take on those characters without apology and without attempting to oversimplify it to ensure his particular level of “cool” is intact.

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Though most would point first to his work in the Ocean’s 11 series, my first flirtation with the brilliant thespian was in a biographical role. Earl “The Goat” Manigault was a basketball player who, quite frankly, was probably the greatest man to ever pick up the ball. However, life choices and lacking opportunity saw him fall prey to the annals of should-have-beens that seem to pepper a lot of history. Cheadle’s portrayal of the man was smooth, sexy, confident. He managed to carry all the arrogance of the streetball player, even walking as if the man had taken over his body. However, the most impressive aspect of his performance was his ability to manifest the vulnerability when Manigault was at his most melancholic. It was a wonder to see a man, especially a Black man, able to express emotion with such subtlety, such elegance. It was almost heartbreaking in its rendering.

However, I can’t deny the truth. What made me pay attention to Cheadle’s work was his turn as Basher in the 2001 remake of Ocean’s 11, a role that he, surprisingly, wasn’t credited for. Despite the cast list flub, the fact of the matter is his ability to put on a Cockney accent to portray the sly munitions master warmed my heart and my love for Don Cheadle along with it. Call me silly, but the first time I saw the film in the cinema I honestly thought the man was from North London. I know, I know. But his ability to move smoothly through the character was commendable, if not awe inspiring.

I don’t doubt it’s his work as a stage actor that allows him to adapt to characters and their histories so thoroughly. His portrayal of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager who housed over 1000 refugees during the horrific Rwanda Genocide of 1994, was absolutely astounding. Hotel Rwanda is a undoubtedly one of the post poignant films to come out of the early 2000s. Such a story isn’t one meant for the faint of heart — either as a viewer or as a participant. Cheadle managed to bring so much depth and focus to the character, one almost felt as if he were the saviour of these people and would do anything for the safety of his loved ones and his country [1].

Of course, most would point to his work as Lt. Col. James Rhodes (a.k.a. Rhodey) in the Iron Man series; however, even his wit and patience with his philandering companion pales in comparison to the grander scale of his catalog of work. His portrayal of Petey Green in film Talk To Me pushed his versatility to a grander stage, while such works as Crash [1] showcased how brilliant the man is at zeroing in his grandeur in order to give height to quite moments.

Indeed, what makes this man an integral part of my Smooth List is his attention to detail, his desire to lift the craft and, most importantly, his total abdication of self when throwing himself into a role. Don Cheadle will forever be one of the most remarkable actors it’s been my pleasure to know. Reliving the work that made me fall in love with him is something that will forever bring a smile to my face.

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