What Is Don Cheadle Hiding Behind That Smile?

Feb 9, 2019 Justin BettmanDon Cheadle thinks he’s boring. “I'm a dad. I go to work, I go home,” he tells me in mid-January in the suite of a Midtown Manhattan hotel, where he’s doing press rounds for his new show, Black Monday (Sundays at 10pm on Showtime), a comedy about the stock market crash of 1987. “I don't eat out, I don't go out partying, I don’t do whip-its.” He doesn’t keep up with pop culture; he’s concerned about his appearance on The Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon scheduled for later today. “I live in a cave,” he tells me before turning to his publicist and requests half-jokingly, “Have Fallon ask me only Don Cheadle-related questions, like ‘Where did Don Cheadle lose his virginity?’ I know that one.” Even the paparazzi find him boring. In the nineties, as Cheadle’s star rose in the wake of his role as Denzel Washington’s sidekick in Devil in a Blue Dress , the celebrity press began following and photographing him. But he says that “after five minutes, they were like, ‘You're not doing shit!’” He flashes a satisfied smile. “I told them, 'Not true! I'm going to Whole Foods!’" Cheadle, 54, prides himself on being a man of routine: In bed at 9:30 p.m., back up at the crack of dawn to shower, moisturize, dress, and head to set. Sometimes he practices the bass; sometimes he smokes a joint and cleans the house; sometimes he tweets. But he’s usually hanging out with his family. Which is why it’s so unusual that the day we meet, he’s all over the tabloids.> It's not like shit talking is new. But now, it's supercharged, and some people take it too much to heart."The day before, in response to Cheadle’s tweet promoting a campaign to reduce advertising dollars funneled to bigoted websites, famous person Kathy Griffin slammed him for not supporting her two years ago, when she was widely criticized for releasing a photo in which she held the decapitated doll head of a Donald Trump lookalike. “I will never forgive you for your nasty tweet the day my smear campaign started,” she wrote, apparently in reference to a tweet he sent at the time that that read, in part, “That pic tho…” Within minutes, Cheadle replied with the same question you’re asking right now: “Huh?” That didn’t sit well with Griffin, who unspooled her aggravation over several tweets posted in quick succession, calling Cheadle, among other things, “a dick in real life” and “just another Hollywood movie star phony.” News of the spat spread, mostly because it seemed unprovoked and one-sided, which it was. Later that day, Cheadle addressed the issue more directly, tweeting, “I don’t hate @kathygriffin or harbor any ill will… I’m not sure how/why this all bubbled up over a cap but let’s dead it. ” In turn, Griffin laid down her arms, tweeting, “Thank you for this, Don. I have a lot of respect for you.” Justin BettmanWhen I ask Cheadle about what went down, it’s clear he’s not over it. “She was making a strong political statement,” he says about her 2017 video. “If you're going to do something like that, you shouldn't be surprised by the blow-back.” He’s pleased that Griffin ended her attack as quickly as she started it, but he suggests that she either grow a thicker skin or get off of social media. “When that kind of blowback happens, it doesn’t mean it’s warranted or that you should lose your career, but a lot of shoulds and shouldn’ts happen. It’s about what’s real. It's not like shit talking is new. But now, it's supercharged, and some people take it too much to heart. Certain people aren't built for it.” Not that Cheadle thinks the internet should be a free-for-all slugfest, where the right to say anything means you should say everything you think. Take the case of Roseanne Barr, who last year was kicked off the revival of her own show after she made a string of bigoted statements. Referring to her firing, Cheadle says, “Does she deserve it? What's deserve have to do with it, really? You're working for a corporation that sells time to advertisers who reject that kind of thing or are afraid you’re bad for their brand. You should be able to see the endgame. Free speech doesn't mean free of consequences.” At 16, Cheadle once found himself on the other side of the conversation. He and a friend tried their hand as a comedy duo at an open-mic night in Denver. The set-up for their first-ever joke involved the pope, on a toilet, in conversation with his assistant. The punchline went something like this: Pope: Hey Vicar, why doesn’t Jesus eat M&M’s? Vicar: Why, your Eminence? Pope: They fall through the holes in his hands. Their first two sets killed. But they bombed the third and, as it turned out, last time, mostly because of one joke so offensive that he refuses to repeat it to me. “I'll only say it involved refugees,” he says. “It was bad.” Worse still, Bettye, his mother, and Donald, his father, were in the audience. “On the way home, my parents didn't talk about the show at all. You know it's bad when all they talk about is the weather.” For Cheadle, the audience’s reception caused the most lasting pain. “When you die on stage like that,” he says, “there's just no worse feeling.”> “Have Fallon ask me only Don Cheadle-related questions, like ‘Where did Don Cheadle lose his virginity?' I know that one."By then, Cheadle was a seasoned performer. Throughout his childhood, his family bounced from one Midwest city to the next. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, he moved to Nebraska at a young age. His parents were in graduate school: Bettye for teaching, and Donald for clinical psychology. For stretches, Cheadle and his sister, Cindy, lived with their parents in student dorms. When Cheadle was six, they relocated to Denver for good. He was always a decent student, but he shined onstage. He played the saxophone from a young age, and he starred in plays as early as fifth grade. He was first drawn to acting because found it fun. As he moved into adolescence, his mot ...Read more

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