Don Cheadle has been building his career since the 1980s and in those years he’s had some brilliant roles that have managed to stand out against the stars and other brilliant actors, here’s some of his best movie roles.
This week finally sees the UK release of Miles Ahead, a film in which he stars, directs, produced and co-wrote, and even learned how to play all of Miles Davis’ trumpet solos for the biopic. In Miles Ahead, the narrative springs back and forth between Davis’ life during his burgeoning career in the 1940s to the late 1970s when he becomes a drug addict and social recluse.
This month Cheadle also appears in Captain America: Civil War as War Machine, so what better time to look back at some of his most standout roles.
And even though he’s often referred to as a scene-stealer like in many of the movies below, the man himself doesn’t think it to be a noble honour.
“But I don’t think it helps to be thought of as a scene-stealer. That’s not comforting for other actors. They think, ‘Well, I don’t want to work with him. Go steal from someone else.’ So I’m never going into a movie thinking that I want to grab the attention. Quite the opposite: I give that stuff away, because I’m wanting to make the best whole piece. I want to look back at my resume and think, ‘That was a great movie’, not, ‘Oh, those four movies were shit, but I was good in them’. I want to be a part of great things.”
Don Cheadle’s best movie roles
Cheadle won international acclaim for his powerful turn as real-life hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who provided sanctuary to more than a thousand refugees during the Rwandan Genocide of 1994. As directed by Terry George (Reservation Road), the film is a harrowing account of an unspeakable historical event and earned heaps of praise, much of which centered on Cheadle’s performance. The role anchors the political themes of the film and earned Cheadle his first and only Academy Award nomination to date.
Cheadle gave another solid performance as a cop with racial prejudices of his own in this polarising best picture winner. The merits of the movie are still debated to this day, but Cheadle’s performance was electric. Cheadle served as one of the film’s producers, he also earned BAFTA and SAG Award nomination for his supporting role as Detective Graham Waters.
Cheadle teamed up with director Steven Soderbergh for the third time with 2001’s Ocean’s Eleven, a remake of the 1960 Rat Pack heist classic that united some of Hollywood’s biggest actors.
For Eleven — as well as its two sequels — the Kansas City-born Cheadle got to strap on a Cockney accent for the role of explosives expert Basher Tarr, a part that made up in funny lines (and earth-shaking stunts) what it lacked in screen time.
In a movie peppered with bad guys you love to root for, Cheadle is the one you actually have to root against — but he’s so much fun, you almost wish things were different. As part of a supporting ensemble that included Ving Rhames, Steve Zahn, and Albert Brooks, Cheadle was an important part of the reason Roger Ebert called Out of Sight “Steven Soderbergh’s best film since Sex, Lies and Videotape a decade ago.”
Cheadle executive produced and starred in this biographical drama about talk show host and community activist Ralph “Petey” Greene. The film — directed by Kasi Lemmons — spans nearly 20 years of Greene’s life and features an outstanding supporting cast that includes future Oscar nominees Chiwetel Ejiofor and Taraji P. Henson. For his role, Cheadle once again earned a slew of praise and an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor. Moreover, it marked the actor’s continuing evolution into more instrumental creative roles behind the scenes.
Once again the actor managed to stand out in an all-star cast (which included Michael Douglas, Catherine Zeta-Jones and Benicio Del Toro) in this Academy Award winning film about the intricacies of the drug trade. As a narcotics cop who loses his partner tragically but triumphs in the end, Cheadle is unforgettable.
Cheadle’s first big breakout role and he ends up stealing this neo-noir thriller right from under its star — Denzel Washington. Cheadle plays Mouse Alexander — Washington’s character’s trigger happy friend whose nickname couldn’t be less appropriate.
How do you take a movie about a porn star with a famous appendage and turn it into Oscar bait? You write a knockout script, of course — and then you cast your film with a crowd of stellar character actors, including Burt Reynolds, Julianne Moore, John C. Reilly, William H. Macy, Philip Seymour Hoffman, and, of course, Don Cheadle. As the part-time porn actor and hi-fi enthusiast Buck Swope, Cheadle helped leaven some of Boogie Nights’ darker moments, and his character’s ultimate fate in the final act gave audiences a crucial reminder that sometimes, all that stands between you and your dreams is a well-timed purchase at the neighbourhood doughnut store. It might not have been his biggest role but it was certainly one that we’ll always remember.