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THESP FILE
What actor or actress would you most like to work with?
“There’s a lot of them: Gene Hackman, Morgan Freeman, Meryl Streep, Gary Oldman. They have such a great wealth of experience and they’re all so good. I would learn things that I can’t even imagine.”
What’s your favorite film from the past five years?
“City of God.” “Just look at it. I think it’s a remarkable piece of filmmaking — from the acting to the direction to the photography. Every part of it. There’s nothing in it that’s bad, and you just don’t see that in films.”
Which character in a film have you watched and wished you could’ve played them?
“I haven’t spent a lot of time thinking about that. … There are tons of roles I think have been fantastic, but for a lot of them I can’t imagine anybody other than the actor who did them doing them.” “There are different projects that I’m developing right now with writers and directors.” One of the down-the-line projects is “Tishomingo Blues,” based on the Elmore Leonard novel, which he is planning to direct and star in.

“Hotel Rwanda” was the toughest movie of Don Cheadle’s career — but not in any way moviegoers might expect.

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In a film based on actual events, he portrays luxury hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who offers refuge to 1,268 people as nearly 1 million of his countrymen are slaughtered over the course of 100 days.

“It would be great to say how much emotion it took out of me, but to be real about it, this is what I do. I knew what the job was when I read the script,” Cheadle says.

The job included a scene when his character graphically realizes the scope of the genocide. He is returning to the hotel through dense fog with a truckload of food when the vehicle starts to bounce. At first he believes the vehicle has gone off the road, but he learns the truck is actually running over the bodies of hundreds of murdered men, women and children.

“It’s really not important so much how you feel (about doing those scenes),” Cheadle says. “It’s important that you tell the story and what the audience takes and feels from it.”

Early in the production, writer-director-producer Terry George wanted Cheadle for the lead. It is the 40-year-old’s biggest bigscreen performance after a lengthy list of supporting roles.

“Rwanda” was filmed on location in South Africa, where the weather often didn’t cooperate. Securing the needed financing was never easy for the producers. And Cheadle was constantly battling just to stay healthy during the rigorous three-month endeavor.

“There were a lot of things about it that made it kind of hard,” Cheadle recalls. “Ultimately it all really served the film because being in even a somewhat adversarial environment gave us an inkling that our backs were against the wall the entire time, which is a good way to feel for this film.”

While “Hotel Rwanda” is at times graphic and brutal, Cheadle says George was careful to not go too far because “it puts people off and you just can’t stomach it.”

“The way the film is done really makes it an accessible experience,” Cheadle adds. “I don’t think it loses any emotional impact. Paul would talk about how the actual events were much more graphic and much more harrowing than what’s in the film. But you couldn’t show that film.”