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Global crises pull Cheadle into action

Actor to receive BAFTA/LA's Humanitarian Award

BAFTA/LA’s presentation of its humanitarian award at tonight’s Britannia Awards ceremony to Don Cheadle is a case of life imitating art.

Cheadle, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his portrayal in 2004’s “Hotel Rwanda” of a hotel manager who housed a thousand refugees and then led them to safety, will be honored for his work with Not on Our Watch, a nonprofit organization the actor co-founded to focus attention and resources on combating mass atrocities around the globe.

The group, also headed by George Clooney, Brad Pitt, Matt Damon, Jerry Weintraub and David Pressman, has done particularly exceptional work in Darfur, granting more than $6 million in the last year to aid refugees displaced by continued violence there.

“Ordinary citizens are being systematically eliminated,” says Cheadle of the genocide in Sudan’s western region. “It may seem like it’s happening a world away, but it affects all of us, because it has to do with justice in situations where people in power have clearly been undertaking horrible acts.”

The actor will receive his award two days after the U.S. will elect its first new president in eight years, a matter of timing that isn’t lost on him.

“America has always been a leader,” Cheadle says. “Hopefully our new administration will address these crises not just militaristically — because violence often begets violence — but diplomatically. It’s going to be a long process, but hopefully we can help broker peace.”

Though Cheadle has been involved in multiple projects that explore human rights violations, such as “Hotel Rwanda” and the 2007 documentary “Darfur Now,” the actor says he doesn’t think there is a direct link between what he’s seen through his charity work and the roles he chooses.

“I’m sure everything impacts my work as an actor, but I don’t want to sound sanctimonious, because I couldn’t draw a positive line,” says Cheadle, who first visited Darfur in 2005. “That being said, I have met some beautiful people and seen some things that have put my life in perspective.”

Cheadle will next be seen in director Antoine Fuqua’s “Brooklyn’s Finest” opposite Richard Gere and Ethan Hawke, and in the DreamWorks comedy “Hotel for Dogs” opposite Emma Roberts. Both films are slated for release in 2009.

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