Don Cheadle is a heck of an actor and is by far one of the most sought after talents in the business. The Oscar-nominated thespian hailing from Kansas City, Missouri, has graced our screens for more than four decades and during that time has earned a multitude of awards and nominations.
Teaming up with Showtime in 2019, Cheadle has starred as Maurice "Mo" Monroe in the dark comedy series Black Monday, which looks at the drama behind the 1987 stock market crash. Now that season three has officially kicked off on Sunday, May 23, the adventures and antics of Monroe (Cheadle) and his co-star Dawn Towner (Regina Hall) are ramping up.
As the executive producer of the series, the 56-year-old says that he has looked forward to the propelling movement to push the narrative.
“I'm just happy to continue to, hopefully, push the thing into interesting places and challenge us to do things that we haven't seen before,” he says. “In this space and to continue to tell stories, centering people that often aren't centered, and having that be reflected both in front and behind the camera.”
In an interview with BET.com, the seasoned industry vet shares his views on telling Black stories, what is on his checklist before he accepts any role and why you should say “No!” more than “yes.”
BET.com: Black stories are universal stories and they sell all over the world. What does it mean to you to continue to tell the stories?
Don Cheadle: I think it's great. I mean we have aligned this season [of Black Monday], not with respect to Black, white, or Black-other but in respect to women and men, where there's something going on, it's really suspect and dangerous. I keep attributing it, the person doing it being, “he” and we don't know who it is and Dawn [played by Regina Hall’s] the genius character says or “she,” we won't be truly equal until we can be equally terrified of both men and women.
When we can all be reprehensible or you know heroes or villains and it's not we don't have to be siloed off into being a noble savage. I was told this when I was on Picket Fences that I was the heart of the piece and I was like “I don't want to be the heart of that thing I want to be the balls of the thing.” When we can, we can all be all things, then there will truly be more equality.
BET.com: Don, you are the executive producer of the Showtime Series, Black Monday. And have said in the past that the work that comes with the title means a little more than the title itself. What is it about being an EP that gets you out of bed every morning?
DC: I love the people that I get to play with every day, both in front and behind the camera. This was something that was brought to me by David Nevins, Seth [Rogen] and Evan [Goldberg], who thought that I would be a good fit for this role. Then we went about building this together and putting the people and the actors in play and the creative team behind it. So there's a lot of authorship, I feel with this.
BET.com: Where do you see Black filmmaking and storytelling going?
DC: I think that there's room for every kind of storytelling. There's room for serious narratives and irreverent and ridiculous narratives as well.
There used to be so much onus on anything that came out because there were so few things that we had to represent us. So, it had to check every box if it wasn't, quote-unquote Black enough it would be a slam, if it was, quote-unquote too Black it would be a slam. If it didn't represent us in every light that it needed to so that we could walk away feeling that we were not just seen but also honored and respected, it would be slammed. The problem is when you can't ever make a mistake because the bar is set too high. I just look forward to having a lot of things out. Now that there are so many places to create content, there are a lot of opportunities for multiple perspectives on us, and it's truly representative of the diaspora of us. You don't have to neatly fit into any box or attempt to make sure that we've checked off every box, hopefully.
BET.com: You are extremely fearless when it comes to the characters that you take on but are you someone who is always that go-getter, that tackles anything that comes your way?
DC: Oh hell no. I mean, I haven't shied away from things because I felt like that may be controversial or that may not be something that people are going to respond to favorably. If I was that dude I would be on Twitter. It's not that.
I've said no to tons of roles though. As far as me taking the job, that will be months out of my life and live on forever, and it will be something that is disruptive potentially and I have to up-end everything I'm doing and time away from family all of the reasons that all the things that saying yes to a job results in. There have to be several things that work in order for me to say yes, and there's not a ton of things that fit in that, although it looks like probably especially this year if you like this n**a says yes to just everything.
BET.com: Can you tell us a few things that are on your checklist before you say yes to a job?
DC: It has to have a reason that I can justify to myself for being in the world, [we are] pushing something out in the world. If it's just about like trying to come up or get paid, that's not enough of a reason. It has to be something that is fun, interesting, different than I've done before, offers a challenge for me.
You have to have at least an argument for understanding that there are people that want to see this. What do they want to see? Who are we talking to when we're doing this? Can we smuggle in some great cultural stuff? Can we talk about today without doing something that's polemic or being too proselytizing?
I'm always trying to smuggle that stuff in. But if all those things checked off, and if there are 15, that isn’t, 50 nights out of the 70-day shoot or 30 days of rain in a 70-day shoot, I’m like okay. But [I would be saying no to those kinds of shoots]. I say no to most shoots though.
BET: Do you think we should say no more than yes?
DC: It's the only power that you have in this business right? We don't have the power of yes. I'm not the person at the studio who's deciding what we're going to make, and when and how we're going to make it all. All we have as actors is our own compass, and our own decision-making around the things we will or will not do. And that's it.
I owe me, I look in the mirror after I've done it and say: are you cool with that?
Watch Black Monday on Sunday's at 9PM ET only on Showtime.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
(Photo by Chris Pizzello)