Articles: From Rat Pack To Man In Space




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Denver Native Don CheadIe
Stars in "Mission to Mars"

Gordon Jackson

  Like his latest movie role, Don Cheadle's career has taken off.

  The Denver-bred thespian continues to take giant leaps in the film industry. Cheadle plays an astronaut in the recently released film, Mission to Mars. Like the dedicated actor he is, to prepare for the part, he participated in a training program for space travelers.

  "First, I liked the script," said Cheadle. The script contained everything except its ending. "It's rare to read a movie script and not know how it ends. It intrigued me."

  Cheedle went to Cape Canaveral and observed how today's space program is run. He spoke with NASA officials and met several real-life astronauts and got to see a space shuttle launching. During filming, he engaged in philosophical conversations with the other actors.

  "We'd get on the set and talk about how space plays a role in all of our lives," said Cheadle. "I spent a lot of time on the set at night by myself. I wanted to get as much of a feel as I could. Any little trick you come up with, you do."

  Another challenge for Cheadle was doing a film with heavy special effects. It left a lot to his imagination in order for him to accomplish it successfully.

  "When you do science fiction, you're playing to what you do not see," Cheadle, said. "I spent most of my time in front of a green screen. A lot of limes, I was looking at nothing. You just trust the situation and go with your instincts."
Despite the positive experience of making Mission to Mars, Cheadle said he was not inspired to travel to the red planet whenever real-life technology enables people to go.

  "No, I would not go to Mars," assured Cheadle. "I am definitely an earth-bound person."

  Cheadle has shown that he doesn't back down from the challenge of playing interesting characters, which is probably a major factor behind his success. He displayed that quality in one of his most recent projects when he portrayed the late great entertainer Sammy Davis, Jr. in the HBO movie The Rat Pack. He only had a couple of weeks to prepare for the role. He learned to play the trumpet, at least convincingly enough for the film, and took tap dance lessons from famed tapper Savion Glover.
Born in Kansas City, Missouri, Cheadle's family moved to Denver when he was in the 5th grade. He graduated from East High School. Soon after graduating, he headed for Southern California. In 1985, he landed his first part as a "Juicy Burger" worker in the film Moving Violations.

  "I love just the fun of creating a character,' said Cheadle, 'and how to manifest that character. In every role, there's usually something I learn."

  His learning has led to impressive roles, which have included playing a victim/survivor in John Singleton's controversial film Rosewood, and a rescuer with Tommy Lee Jones in Volcano.

  Despite his success, Cheadle doesn't give the industry high praise. He is fully aware - and disdains - the politics in the entertainment capital, especially in the way it affects Blacks in the industry and portrays them in their films. Cheadle is not surprised because he says Hollywood is a parallel reflection of society in general.

  "I don't think Hollywood is going to look any different than the American public," said Cheadle. "It's a microcosm. Most of the writers there are White men. I don't expect White writers to know how to write about Black people, or Hispanic people or women, for that matter. There's not enough interest for the White producers to gain entry into these other worlds."

  In some ways, Cheadle says things have gotten better for Blacks and.other minorites in the industry, while some things have not.

  "The opportunities for Blacks keep opening and closing," he said. "It's not a constant wave."

  Cheadle believes the best way to conquer the obstacles is through his own individual success. He's currently working on two interesting projects behind the camera. He wrote a play titled Groomed, which was just bought by Showtime. He is also directing a film titled Knife Hand, with Danny Devito in a key role.

"From Rat Pack to Man in Space" first appeared in the April 2000, issue
of The Urban Spectrum, Colorado's largest Black newspaper.


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