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The Untold Truth Of Don Cheadle

All over the world, Don Cheadle is a famous face. While his work in the massively popular Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, in which he portrays the superhero War Machine, has certainly helped to expand his profile, he's proven to be quite ubiquitous even outside a metal suit of armor. His Oscar-nominated work in Hotel Rwanda elevated the profile of both Cheadle and the real-world problems that drama focuses on. His comedic work in the original Ocean's Eleven movies proved extremely popular, while he made for an acclaimed foil to Brendan Gleeson in The Guard. He's also established himself with a whole new generation of kids by playing Donald Duck on Ducktales and one of the villains in Space Jam: A New Legacy. Cheadle has tackled a wide variety of projects in his expansive career, and in the process, he's become familiar to fans of all kinds of movies.

But just because he's a dominant face in pop culture doesn't mean that every part of Cheadle's life is well-known to the public. In fact, there are plenty of under-discussed parts of Cheadle's life and career. We're here to shed further light on a man whose layers make him an even more compelling actor.

Don Cheadle was a high school mime

Colorado is known for its beautiful mountains and soothing hot springs. It's also the birthplace of numerous famous celebrities: Hattie McDaniel, Lon Chaney and Douglas Fairbanks are just a few of the famous actors to hail from the legendarily beautiful state. Also on that list? Don Cheadle! The Hotel Rwanda performer was born in Kansas City, Missouri, but he spent his high school years in the Denver area, where he studied hard and eventually became a graduate of Denver's East High School in 1982. 

Cheadle's years in Colorado included some serious foreshadowing of his future career as an actor. Most notably, Cheadle worked as a mime. "In high school, I was in a mime show," Cheadle said of his earliest acting exploits. "But that's a whole story." 

Though his career as a big-time actor has taken him to all sorts of locations across the globe, Cheadle has frequently returned to Denver, including for a 2016 event that saw him stump for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. While he's known to audiences the world over as a Marvel superhero and an Oscar-nominated performer, to many in Colorado, Don Cheadle will always be thought of as just another East High School graduate making good on his potential.

Devil in a Blue Dress was Don Cheadle's breakthrough

Though today Cheadle is most well-known for his work with Steven Soderbergh and in the Marvel Cinematic Universe's movies, his big breakthrough as a film actor came outside those two domains. Instead, Cheadle exploded as a big-screen performer in the 1995 neo-noir Devil in a Blue Dress. As Mouse, Cheadle conveys a sense of live-wire unpredictability that makes it impossible to keep your eyes off him. It's a character he imbues with so much charisma, in fact, that it's no wonder Cheadle's work as Mouse ended up garnering him plenty of attention.

In his review for Variety, Todd McCarthy said, "Don Cheadle steals all his scenes." Entertainment Weekly went even further in 2005: "Cheadle steals the movie from [Denzel Washington] with his funny, frightening, inventive performance." These sentiments were echoed by enough critics that Cheadle even managed to make a minor breakthrough in that year's award season: He took home trophies for Best Supporting Actor at the Los Angeles Film Critics Association Awards and the National Society of Film Critics Awards. After those achievements, Cheadle quickly gained more work.

Don Cheadle has mastered the saxophone and trumpet

Cheadle's talents as an actor and comedian are extremely well-known, but his gifts as a musician fly more under the radar. As revealed by The New York Times, Cheadle played the alto saxophone in high school. That wasn't the extent of Cheadle's foray into musicianship: He has since learned how to play the trumpet as part of his preparation to play Miles Davis in 2015's Miles Ahead.

The saxophone was Cheadle's first instrument, however, and it's the one he's delved into deepest, as he discussed in an interview with Rolling Stone. He's been playing the instrument since he was 10 years old, it turns out. Given that he's been committed to the saxophone for so long, one can't help but wonder if Cheadle ever contemplated taking on that instrument as his primary job, rather than acting. In that same interview, he revealed why being a saxophone player never became his full-time career: "When I graduated high school, I had music scholarships and a few acting scholarships," explained Cheadle. "And I saw what my musician friends were doing and thought, 'Practicing for four to five hours, just woodshedding with my instrument ... no. I can't get to the place they're getting at.' It was just too hard."

Don Cheadle starred in a short-lived Golden Girls spin-off

The Golden Girls is a classic show beloved by millions. However, the program's short-lived spin-off, The Golden Palace, is not nearly as well-known. Reuniting all the leads of The Golden Girls save for Bea Arthur, The Golden Palace also featured a number of new characters, including a new male lead in Roland Wilson. This character was played by none other than Don Cheadle.

Wilson, who is the manager of a hotel the three lead characters decide to invest in, was a major get for Cheadle. The role was Cheadle's first time playing a regular on a TV series: He had only played guest characters on programs like The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air until this point. However, despite being an extension of the Golden Girls universe, The Golden Palace was not destined to stay on the air for long. The show's ratings were never as strong as they should have been, and it was canceled after one season. Cheadle's first series regular role left as soon as it arrived, though the fact that he began starring in more major movies shortly after The Golden Palace's demise makes the cancellation easier to stomach.

Don Cheadle didn't Initially know Iron Man is human

Don Cheadle entered the Marvel Cinematic Universe by taking over the role of Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes from Terrence Howard. Rhodey is the long-time best buddy to Iron Man lead Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.). Despite playing someone with a close connection to Iron Man himself, Cheadle, a self-professed comic book fan, was not an Iron Man expert before taking on the role. In fact, Cheadle didn't even know that Iron Man is a human character!

In a 2010 interview with The Houston Chronicle, Cheadle remarked, "I thought he was a robot" when talking about his pre-Iron Man 2 knowledge of the titular superhero. Though it sounds strange to hear today, it really wasn't an unheard-of sentiment at the time: The character just wasn't well-known enough, and much of the general public, including Cheadle, assumed him to be a fully-mechanical superhero. This perception went so far that Marvel hired director Tim Miller to make animated shorts involving Iron Man, to help correct a perception among children that Iron Man was "a robot". 

Of course, Cheadle knows better now that he's worked in the Marvel Cinematic Universe for over a decade since his Iron Man 2 debut. The same can be said for the general moviegoing public, who turned Iron Man from "a robot" into one of the biggest solo superhero movie acts of all time.

Don Cheadle also works as a director

Don Cheadle has long harbored ambitions of directing. The road to doing so hasn't run smooth, however: Most prominently, his adaptation of Tishomongo Blues fell through in the 2000s. If anyone thought that would be the end of Cheadle's dreams of working behind the camera, though, they had another thing coming. Nearly a decade later, Cheadle would finally get to manifest his directorial dreams with the 2015 Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. Cheadle didn't just direct this feature, either: He also took on the task of writing the screenplay with Steven Baigelman, and also starred in the project as the titular musician himself.

Cheadle did not take the usual route when it came to Hollywood biopics on Miles Ahead. In fact, his approach was a bit less reverent than usual entries in the genre. "I didn't want to attempt to be playing cute with the story in saying, 'This is a true story,'" Cheadle explained to Billboard. "I wanted the storyteller in the movie, being Miles Davis, to say, 'If I'm gonna tell a story, I'm gonna tell a story, and I want it to be creative and interesting and different." In the end, Cheadle's ambitions and multiple talents paid off, as Miles Ahead received largely positive reviews.

City of God is one of Don Cheadle's favorite movies

Some actors confine themselves to one genre. That's not true for Don Cheadle. He's starred in superhero movies, heist capers, gritty dramas, and even dabbled in comedy. Cheadle's versatility makes it hard to speculate as to what his personal favorite movies are. Sometimes, an actor's career reflects their specific interests in films, but Cheadle goes so all over the map that it's hard to guess where his cinematic passions could possibly lie.

Some clarity was given in a 2008 interview with Rotten Tomatoes, in which Cheadle revealed some of his favorite movies. Receiving particular praise was the 2003 movie City of God. "Today, I'll say City of God though that could change tomorrow," Cheadle said. "It is so special in its storytelling, a perfectly executed, beautifully shot, wasting nothing, brilliant acting, etc. What's not to like?" City of God is indeed widely acclaimed for those attributes. Given its status as a widely beloved and uniquely potent feature, in fact, it shouldn't come as any surprise that a versatile artist like Cheadle would be among the members of City of God's fanbase.

Don Cheadle regularly works with Steven Soderbergh

One of the directors Don Cheadle has worked with most is Steven Soderbergh. First collaborating in the film Out of Sight, Cheadle has gone on to work with this auteur in the Oscar-winning Traffic, as well as through all three Ocean's movies. The duo haven't slowed down either, reuniting recently for the HBO Max movie No Sudden Moves, in which Cheadle plays the lead role.

Cheadle has talked openly about his positive experiences working with Soderbergh over the course of two decades. "He's always been someone that I can go to and kind of chop stuff up about what we're doing creatively," Cheadle told Forbes. "We always have each other in mind ... And it's at a point now where there's never been more places to sort of use our voices in terms of how much streaming there is, places that want these kinds of stories that we're telling. So it's a relationship that's continued now for many, many years and I'm appreciative of it." With this kind of positive rapport between the two artists, expect plenty more Cheadle-Soderbergh collaborations in the years to come.

Don Cheadle engages heavily in activism

Many actors use their enormous clout to raise awareness for causes near and dear to their heart. Don Cheadle is no exception to this norm: The performer has spent a great deal of time crusading for urgent causes. His activism has been especially apparent in his campaign work for Democratic political candidates, his awareness efforts regarding transgender rights, and especially in his humanitarian work in Africa. The latter was inspired by Cheadle's work in the movie Hotel Rwanda. Having starred in a movie about real-world atrocities, Cheadle could no longer stay on the sidelines, and proceeded to take his activism to the next level.

"I'm not an expert and have never claimed to be," Cheadle said to The Seattle Times regarding his efforts raising awareness about the humanitarian crisis in Darfur. "I'm a student, and I'm still learning. I just happened to be part of a movie that was about a similar situation in Rwanda, and as a result of this confluence of events got drawn into it ... which is one of the best things about what we do as actors — it opens doors to all these places and personalities that you might never encounter if you were in a regular job." With those doors opened, Cheadle has backed his words up with actions by continuing to be a presence in the world of activism.

Don Cheadle is one of only four people to voice Donald Duck

Don Cheadle has inhabited many famous characters in his career. But perhaps the most surprising character he's portrayed is Donald Duck on the acclaimed reboot of Ducktales. For two episodes of the show, Cheadle's distinctive pipes come out of Donald Duck's mouth — a sharp contrast to his usual vocals, which sound so much like an actual duck that it can be hard to tell what he's saying.

Not only is Cheadle's brief work as Donald Duck notable for how different it is, it's also noteworthy for making him only the fourth person in history to take on the role. Clarence Nash voiced Donald Duck from his first appearance in 1934 all the way up until 1984. Since the 1980s, Donald Duck has been voiced by Tony Anselmo. Mickey Mouse Mixed-Up Adventures saw Anselmo take a break from the character, passing the reins briefly to Daniel Ross. Anselmo plays Donald Duck for the majority of the new Ducktale's run, save for the two episodes in which Cheadle takes over the role. Those guest appearances put Cheadle in the history books as only the fourth actor in history to provide the voice for the cranky fowl.