Oscar nominated actor Don Cheadle is best known for his acclaimed dramatic work in films such as “Hotel Rwanda,” “Crash” and “Traffic.” But next summer the actor will take on a new character — that of costumed superhero. Cheadle takes over the role of James “Rhodey” Rhodes (A.K.A. War Machine) from Terrance Howard in the highly anticipated “Iron Man 2.”
Cheadle’s casting in the sequel made headlines earlier this year when it was announced that he would be replacing Terrence Howard, who played the role of Tony Stark’s best friend, Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes, in the first Iron Man film. Marvel fans were excited when Howard’s Rhodey spoke the line, “Next time, baby!” in the last film, hinting to the character’s future as armored hero War Machine. By all accounts, that promise has been fulfilled, as footage shown at last month’s Comic-Con International clearly shows Cheadle’s Rhodey as War Machine. With Cheadle signed on for both “Iron Man 3” and a possible Avengers movie, it seems that the actor will be wearing the grey suit of armor for the foreseeable future.
CBR News had the opportunity to sit down with Cheadle at last month’s CCI and speak to him about the upcoming film. The talented actor spoke frankly about “Iron Man 2,” stepping into the role of “Rhodey,” working with Robert Downey, Jr. and director Jon Favreau, and what it was like wearing the War Machine armor.
CBR: To begin with, Marvel Studio’s Kevin Feige has stated publicly that as an actor, you really embody where they wanted Rhodey to go in this sequel. Can you tell us more about that?
DON CHEADLE: Well, I’m not sure exactly what he was talking about but I think they knew that I was coming into a situation that was a little different. They were very open and allowed me to sort of figure out who he was on my own. Robert [Downey, Jr.] was very collaborative and Jon [Favreau was] as well. It was just a very creative process that made me feel like I wasn’t just jammed in trying to fill someone’s shoes.
Were you intimidated at all to be stepping into a role originated by another actor in a movie of this size and scope?
Well, I did a big CGI movie [before] but it didn’t perform like this one did and I wasn’t replacing anyone. But I was encouraged to find my character by myself and figure out who he was, and not have to try to play any of the beats or character dynamics that Terrence had. I was my own man.
Were there any ideas that you had about the character that you were able to bring to the film?
Well, mostly it was based off the script, what the dynamics were and what was already kind of established. But I just really had more questions than answers about the relationship. When I looked back over the comic books, all of the different iterations of Iron Man and Rhodey that there have been, the one thing that seemed like it was always there was this friendship. There was a real friendship and underlying kinship. I was always asking, “Where did it come from? What’s it based on? How tenuous is it, now that Tony is kind of a free agent and Rhodey is a military man? How does that work?” That’s what drove my questions about our relationship for the whole movie.
Fans were extremely excited when they heard Rhodey’s “Next time, baby!” line spoken in the first movie. How does it feel to fulfill that promise in this film and what’s it like to put on the War Machine armor?
Well, it was amazing. [Comic-Con] was the first time I’d seen that footage, so I didn’t know what to expect. In a movie like this, you do your performance and then you hand it off. Then teams of people flesh it out and create what we saw, so you have to trust a lot. But wearing the suit, it’s heavy this is true.
How much of the film’s story is Rhodey’s and is it possible that we’ll see him breakout into his own film at some point?
We haven’t discussed that. I have no idea. Maybe. Potentially. But, he’s an integral part of the “Iron Man 2” story, for sure. His relationship with Robert is a big part of the story, what happens with Tony Stark and me.
Were you a fan of the superhero genre before shooting this film? Was playing a superhero something you always wanted to do?
Sure. You fantasize about it as a kid and think it would be a lot of fun. Then you’re 40 and you’re like, “Nah.” But I saw the first “Iron Man” and I just really enjoyed it. I thought they did a great job. They were able to really combine the CGI and the pyrotechnics with some real character stuff going on, so I thought it was a very interesting mix. When I got the call I had to ponder it for a while but ultimately I thought, “Yeah, this is a good thing to do.”
Tell us about acting opposite Robert Downey, Jr. Were you really looking forward to going head-to-head with him?
Yeah, we had a lot of that. That’s basically what we were trying to find. That’s the kind of friendship question I was asking. “Why are these guys friends? On what level do they connect and on what level do they miss each other?” So it was constantly tweaking stuff, improv-ing a lot and grinding over scenes to figure out how that worked. You know, under obviously the watchful eyes of Jon and Kevin Feige.
As a director, what does Jon Favreau bring to the film and how did you enjoy working with him?
I think the fact that he is an actor himself, he understands that process and understands what you need. It was really helpful. He was always trying to make sure that we were attending to that, as well as paying off everything we had to pay off with the effects, the suit and the mythology of the story. You know, we’ve got to feel like this is really real because I think that’s what the first movie did very well. It gave you both of those dynamics and that juxtaposition made it enjoyable for kids and for mature people as well.
What was the biggest surprise for you making “Iron Man 2?” Was there anything that happened that you just didn’t expect?
I didn’t expect the “Rhodey CGI” character to work more days than me. I didn’t think my stuntman would work as many days as I did. But you know, really it’s a combination of your work. You’re in this motion capture suit, then stuntmen do some stuff, you get to do some stuff, then they don’t need any of you and they draw it themselves. So it’s really a very interesting process.
Finally, what’s next for you? After shooting “Iron Man 2,” are you looking forward to returning to a smaller film?
I’ve got to get this Miles Davis project off, so that’s going to take my time. It’s going good. We have a script that we’re working on. It’s not a cradle to grave story at all, but it touches on a lot of parts of his life. It’s not a biopic. We’ve just got to go beat the bushes.
“Iron Man 2” opens next summer.