“Iron Man 3,” Disney and Marvel Studios’ latest film in the Robert Downey Jr.-helmed franchise, reunited the previous film’s star-studded cast, including Academy-Award winning actor Don Cheadle as James Rhodes, Tony Stark’s best friend and the operator of the re-branded Iron Patriot suit. In advance of the film’s May 3 release, Cheadle spoke one-on-one with Comic Book Resources about suiting up for the film, joking that despite vocally equating wearing the suit to a type of torture, a scene where Rhodey is literally tortured by being in the suit was not inspired by his on-set troubles.
“A lot of things were shifting and changing throughout. When Robert tweaked his leg, we kind of had to move things around, shift things around, but that was always in [the script]” Cheadle laughed.
The Iron Patriot suit was assembled through a combination of CG, stunt doubles and Cheadle himself in the armor, which the actor confessed was hard to operate, let alone emote in.
“You can’t really move around in it. It only works in a couple of positions! You can’t touch your face, if you want to drink somebody needs to bring you a cup and a straw, you can’t scratch your face. Literally, between takes they would come hold it off of me, because it’s really not comfortable,” Cheadle said, demonstrating how assistants would lift the suit top off him a couple of inches and hold the bottom so as to take the weight off him.
“It’s made for the pictures; it’s not made for human beings!” Cheadle said, laughing again. “But I can’t complain too much about it. It’s funny to gripe about it, but at the end of the day, there are many harder things to do to make a living.”
In the film, Cheadle has a fair share of armorless screen time as well, acting beside Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark. Describing their scenes together as the film’s “buddy-buddy” moments, the actor explained that the pair engaged in a fair amount of improv on set, including ad-libbing lines and insults in a climactic scene where they argue about sharing gun magazines.
“We found a lot of that on the day. When I say improv, we’re still there with [director] Shane [Black], obviously. We’re doing it under the auspices of what’s happening on the set, but a lot of that stuff was discovered on the day.”
“He just fit right in, he came right in,” Cheadle said of Black, who replaced “Iron Man” and “Iron Man 2’s” Jon Favreau in the director’s chair. “To some degree, we’re all trying to deal with the scope and scale of what’s happening around us. We’re all sort of dwarfed by all of the technical aspects that are happening around us. It’s good to have him at the center, because he really understands that genre, the buddy flick thing.
“He also just gets the relationships. Clearly, that’s what grounds the piece is that these relationships you believe, with Tony and Pepper, and Tony and Rhodey, you understand why they’re all together.”
Beyond a possible appearance in “Avengers 2,” which the actor told CBR he would be more than open to, Cheadle said there has also been some level of discussion about a solo War Machine/Iron Patriot movie. “We’ve kind of beat it out in some ways already,” he said. “We’ve discussed all aspects of how this character might go forward in ‘Iron Man 4,’ in ‘Avengers 2,’ his own spinoff. I’m amenable to all those things. It would be fun! I think we need to figure out a way to get the suit a little better, but I’ll deal with it!”
While Cheadle is one of Hollywood’s most recognizable actors, the range of roles he’s inhabited in his career rarely fit one particular category or into on easily labeled box. Ranging from dramas like his Academy Award-nominated performance in “Hotel Rwanda,” to sitcoms like Showtime’s “House Of Lies,” to kids fare like Disney’s “Hotel For Dogs,” Cheadle cited personal interest as one of the main reasons he takes on a role.
“It has to be something where, when I read the script, I’m excited about it. That I feel there’s something for me to bring to it, that in some way that it feeds me. I just try to keep myself interested.
“Quite honestly, a lot of it is about what’s available to me and fits into the schedule of all the other things I do. I have kids. I can’t necessarily traipse off to Tunisia for six months to do something — things have to fit with my family.”
“I did ‘Hotel For Dogs’ because I hadn’t done anything my kids could see in the past eight years. And then by the time the movie came out they were already past that age, so the timing was just a little bit off!” Cheadle laughed, shaking his head.
A grinning Cheadle also joked that despite starring in “Hotel Rwanda,” “Hotel For Dogs” and beginning his acting career in the 1988 “Golden Girl” spinoff “Golden Palace” in the role of hotel manager Roland Wilson, “There’s no theme here! It’s not part of a design; it just happened!”
Cheadle has also proven himself as a Hollywood producer, evidenced by his “Crash” television show, the documentary “Darfur Now” and producing Showtime’s “House Of Lies,” which he also stars in. Though a project he and “Boondocks” creator Aaron Mcgruder was passed on at NBC a few years back, Cheadle says he still hopes to do something with the writer in the future. In the meantime, he has a number of other projects in the works at Crescendo Productions, his production company, saying, “We’re developing things. We have a couple of movies in the pipeline, we have a few TV shows we’re working on.”
Cheadle denies having a dream role mapped out for himself, opting instead to keep himself open to anything that should happen down the road. “Really, I don’t have a prescription to the next thing. I’m just staying open to things that are interesting and exciting for me and literally fit in this slot between when I have to do the show and when another one of these [Marvel movies] needs to happen,” he explained.
Despite a full plate on both the acting and producing ends of his life, Cheadle said the most challenging part of his career to date has been shooting the action scenes on “Iron Man 3.”
“The most fun I had in the piece was being able to do the stunt work and all do the wirework. It was sort of a wish fulfillment from being a kid, getting a chance to do a lot of action. It’s something I would like to do even more as my career goes on.
“I mean, it may be counter-intuitive that as I get older I want to do more action, but I do. I feel like I’m in good shape, I have fun doing it, so it’s something I’d love to see more of!”
“Iron Man 3” opens in theaters May 3. Check out CBR’s review here.
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