In this week’s The Guard, Don Cheadle stars as Wendall Everett, a fish-out-of-water FBI agent on the hunt for international drug smugglers in Galway, Ireland. His partner: a sort of racist Irishman played by Brendon Gleeson. We spoke with Cheadle, who also executive produced the movie, about his delightful rapport with Gleeson, why he didn’t ante up in this year’s World Series of Poker, and where he is with that Miles Davis biopic.
One of the greatest things about this movie is the relationship between your character and Brendan Gleeson’s. You have a great chemistry.
You can fake a lot of stuff on-camera, and we’ve probably seen relationships onscreen where we’re like, "Wow, I bet those guys really got along," but actually they hated each other. This wasn’t that case. I was a big fan and admirer of Brendan’s work for years. We met in L.A. back when he was nominated for a Golden Globe for Into the Storm. It was pretty evident from the first minute we started talking that we had an affinity for one another. We saw the piece very similarly and we really wanted to get the same things out of it, so it was easy.
You filmed in Ireland in the worst winter in recorded history. How did that affect filming?
We had the gods smiling on us, because we only got boned one day and we were actually able to get that day back later. We kept waiting, thinking we were going to get blown out, but every time the rain would hit we’d have an interior scene, and every time we’d have an exterior scene the sun would show up. It was a charmed life we were leading. It could have been a disaster.
But were you still able to golf?
I golfed every weekend. I golfed in the rain. I didn’t care. I was like, "I’m in Ireland. I’m golfing."
Besides starring in The Guard, you also executive produced the film. Which role do you prefer?
I’m more and more drawn toward the production side — writing and directing and not having to be the neurotic actor in front of the camera. I like seeing the elements come together. It’s different people telling stories from their different disciplines. Finding the right DP, putting the right music supervisor on, and, if you’re in the position of putting the whole thing together from the beginning, getting the director there. Seeing all those elements coalesce is really exciting. I’m kind neurotic about being the focal point on-camera. I never walk away thinking, Yeah, I nailed that. I crushed that performance. I’m always like, Man, I wish I had a few more takes or another shot and why didn’t I do this or that. It’s not always the most enjoyable part of the process.
There’s been talk of a Miles Davis biopic that you’ll star in and produce for a few years now. What’s the status of that?
It’s day by day. I actually just got off the phone with the studio executives about putting it together. It’s a difficult time to make films, especially ones that don’t have people flying or sequels or cars. So we’re grinding, you know. We’re struggling through, but it’s going to happen.
Last year you were appointed a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador for the environment. What does that job entail?
It’s constantly trying to find different ways to make noise about one of the most important issues that we have facing us in the world, and not just in this country — though we’re one of the main abusers of environmental resources worldwide. It’s just trying to gain attention in different, funny ways. I was involved in a Twitter war with Gisele Bündchen, the other ambassador, trying to get more of my fans to sign up online for World Environment Day activities than hers. We’re figuring out new ways to keep the volume up on the issues.
You’re a hard-core poker player and a founder, along with Annie Duke, of the Ante Up for Africa celebrity poker tournament. Did you have any involvement in this month’s World Series of Poker?
No. We didn’t do Ante Up this year because a lot of people were busy. And I can’t go out there and play in the World Series. It never seems like it would work out. Either I play and get busted out the first day and it’s like, “Wow, that was great, I paid ten grand just to sit there,” or it lasts for too long and you don’t make it and then you’ve spent two and half weeks without making the final table. The only thing to do is to win it. If you sit there and really believe you could win it, then yeah, you should play in it. But I’m not harboring that fantasy.