Don Cheadle, actor

ShoWest 2007 male star of the year

The thinking man's character actor, Don Cheadle has proved for two decades that he has the chops to carry a movie, whether in a leading role or not. Best known in the past for his splashy performances in 1995's "Devil in a Blue Dress," 1997's "Boogie Nights," and 1998's "Out of Sight," Cheadle, 42, is finally getting bigger parts in bigger films -- and he's producing the pictures he wants through his Crescendo Prods. Since 2004's "Hotel Rwanda" and 2005's awards-season darling "Crash" (which he helped produce) sent his stock soaring, the Missouri native has been making the most of that momentum. On the eve of his being honored as Male Star of the Year at ShoWest, Cheadle spoke with Wolf Schneider for The Hollywood Reporter about procuring the financing for "Crash," his upcoming Miles Davis project and creating his own heat in Hollywood.

The Hollywood Reporter: Is this the hottest you've ever been in Hollywood?
Don Cheadle: I've got (Focus Features') "Talk to Me," (Sony's) "Reign Over Me," (Warner Bros. Pictures') "Ocean's Thirteen" and the documentary "An Indifferent World" that I made with Warner Bros. about activists in (Darfur, Sudan). I kind of try to make my own heat. It's mostly me going out there hustling, trying to put things together.

THR: You're starring opposite Adam Sandler in the $20 million "Reign Over Me," set to open March 23. You get to play the slick yuppie psychiatrist -- a change from the bad guys.
Cheadle: I've played slick yuppie guys before. I played one for years on "Picket Fences" on TV.

THR: You're executive producing the upcoming feature "Talk to Me." You also star in the film as Ralph "Petey" Greene, an ex-convict who reinvented himself in the '60s as a talk-show host and activist.
Cheadle: Yep. I was involved with the casting and helping to work on the script. I didn't initiate the project. I first heard about it years ago from Ted Demme, who's not with us anymore. Teddy and I tried to do it, and then it went into turnaround.

THR: You were one of the producers of "Crash." What did you do as such?
Cheadle: Soup to nuts. It started as script that Bobby (Moresco) and Paul (Haggis) had. They hadn't really gotten any traction on the film. I met with them at Paul's house. They said they'd like me to be part of the film. I said I'd like to help it get made, too. They said, "Why don't you jump on and help us produce?" I said, "That'd be great." That was a very long process -- nobody wanted the film. It took close to a year. It was a lot of work getting the cast together -- Paul was a first-time director, and the material was what it was. Certain people had to be massaged and brought into the same ideology.

THR: Was there some key casting that got "Crash" greenlighted?
Cheadle: Sandra Bullock was very important. Brendan Fraser was important. Matt Dillon. Thandie Newton. It sort of all came together, and then the money started stepping up.

THR: What's the status of the "Crash" TV series you were going to produce?
Cheadle: It's a "We'll see." We're just turning in the script, actually, to FX.

THR: "Ocean's Thirteen" also is on the way. Anything new for your cockney explosives-expert character in that one?
Cheadle: Well, at the end I'm not playing a Londoner. It's going to make my friends across the water very happy. (Laughs)

THR: I'm curious about the "Untitled Miles Davis Biopic" that you're slated to star in and direct.
Cheadle: Slated? All I can tell you is, I've been having a lot of talks with the family, and we're trying to find a way to make that movie. I happened to work with these writers on another project ...

THR: You're talking about Christopher Wilkinson and Stephen J. Rivele?
Cheadle: Yes. And they said, "Since we wrote (2001's) 'Ali,' we've been trying to do this thing and figure out an angle." Then I got put in touch with Sony, which had just gotten some of the music rights. All these things just started to come together, so maybe we have a shot.

THR: You've worked with Steven Soderbergh five times now, in "Out of Sight," the three "Ocean's" movies and 2000's "Traffic." Is there any other director with whom you would like to collaborate as much?
Cheadle: I'd like to work with Kasi Lemmons more. Terry George. Carl Franklin.

THR: Soderbergh has said, "If Don were white, he'd have three-picture deals and be making way too much money." Was that music to your ears?
Cheadle: I think the ka-ching in the bank would be the music to my ears. (Laughs)

THR: You drive an eco-friendly Toyota Prius, right?
Cheadle: I did; it got totaled. We're an all-hybrid family. We have Lexus hybrids. I don't think I'm ever buying another car that's not a hybrid. I kind of believe in the whole global warming thing.

THR: No kidding.
Cheadle: I don't think it's a hoax. I think it's really actually going down. But whatever the car, you want a good stereo.