Don Cheadle Talks Iron Man 3: ‘I Think There Are Places To Go With War Machine’

The actor behind Colonel Rhodes talks about Iron Patriot and his writing projects.

With Iron Man 3 currently destroying the UK box office to have the biggest opening weekend this year - and even beating The Avengers’ opening weekend internationally - we bring you the last of our round table interviews with the cast.

We sat down with Don Cheadle, who reprises his role as Tony Stark’s friend Colonel James Rhodes, aka Rhodey, aka War Machine, and now, The Iron Patriot. You can read our interviews with director and co-writer Shane Black here, Rebecca Hall here, and Sir Ben Kingsley here.

Cheadle talks about the reference to the Iron Patriot in Black’s film, reflects on Steven Soderbergh’s retirement and gives us hints about his upcoming projects as a writer.

On putting on the Iron Patriot suit.
It’s very heavy, it’s really cumbersome, the elbows don’t articulate far so you can’t touch your face. You have be fed and watered through a straw, and they hold the weight off you when you’re shooting. You’d think they’d be able to come up with something lighter - how much money they spend, it doesn’t have to be actually metal! Those guys are idiots… [laughs] They put the dots on too [for sensors], so you wonder why they don’t just do that all the time. I think they’re just trying to see how much you can take.

On imagining the look of Iron Man when working in green screen.
It’s all new. It’s another situation where you don’t know where everything is, and you have to trust that the team is doing that they say they are doing. My friend Philip Seymour Hoffman was in Twister, and it was the same thing of green screen, and not knowing what’s happening. They were saying, ‘Okay, the twister is coming, it’s a big one guys! A big one! Guys, it’s not that big.’ There’s a lot of trust. You have to give it up and fully go for the thing and hope when it comes out you don’t look like a complete asshole.

On his knowledge of Iron Patriot.
I wasn’t really aware of the place that Iron Patriot held in the real Marvel universe. People started tweeting, Iron Patriot and War Machine are not the same, Iron Patriot is a bad guy. I’m a passenger, I just go with it. Rhodey could go back to being War Machine, I guess. I was like, really, I’m going to wear the flag? Patriotic? I don’t know if I’d use that word, but I’m proud to be an American. I did have questions about what that would look like, and I was pleased the script did approach that. I think there are places to go with War Machine. What if he went against orders, got a dishonorable discharge, and went rogue? That would be interesting.

On the success of the first Iron Man, despite it not being a hugely popular Marvel character.
It’s largely contributable to Robert, and his characterisation. It’s a really good marriage of a character and an actor, which doesn’t always happen. With who Robert is, and what he brings to it… it’s enigmatic.

On Shane Black’s ‘buddy movie’ influence.
I thought it would be a lot of fun for Tony and Rhodey to go at it, and it was. The things we did between the two characters was discovered in improv before shooting, with myself, Robert, Shane, Drew Pearce and Kevin Feige. SO there’s a lot created off screen. I think it’s a classic buddy picture feeling; two guys that are friends, but needle each other to death, undercutting any sort of sentimentality. On set, we would have to go, ‘Should we do the straight version now?’ As so much of it was just taking the piss.

On getting physical fighting scenes.
Clearly I got to do a lot more action outside of the suit in this one. I loved working with the stunt team and second unit, and the opportunity to be the action guy. I hope to have more opportunity to do that in the future - not just on these films.

On cinema dealing with terrorism post-9/11.
We deal with it in an elliptical way. It’s in the zeitgeist of the world right now. All art does is reflect what’s happening, and comment on it, and bring it to the fore. It’s something I mentioned early to the producers, and they said, we’ll let it be what it is. It’s interesting when he’s working under the government he keeps messing up, it’s when he hooks up with Tony is when he gets it right. Trust the private geniuses!

On the pressure on the team following The Avengers.
I know they felt it - they actually said it was a lot of pressure after The Avengers. The bar was set high, and you don’t want to let the fans down. It felt like we were stepping up to something. You’re dead in the water if you try to [emulate Avengers]. We did our own thing, but we were mindful of the Avengers and what had happened in that universe.

On the difference between Jon Favreau and Shane Black.
They have a very different energy and approach. It feels like everyone’s hanging on for dear life, as things are being dictated to by the effects and the universe, but both are collaborative, knowledgeable about what they’re trying to accomplish. So much of that is set up before. This one is interesting as it could be a trilogy, and it could be the end. We don’t know if we’re coming back for more. If it is the last one, I’m glad to go out this way, outside the suit.

On whether his children are excited about his role in Iron Man.
I wish it mattered to them at all. I have two girls, 18 and 16, and they’re like, ‘You’re doing what? Oh, you’re still here?’ You get treated as a dad of teenage girls - I’m there to put gas in the car, give them money and leave them to do what they want to do.

On his friend Steven Soderbergh’s retirement.
He hasn’t hired me in a long time, and I’m pissed off about that! [laughs] I think he’s probably going to not completely retire. I have a couple of his paintings, and he can definitely do that if he wants to. Cable is a place you can do a lot of things you can’t do in America cinema, so it’s a great place for him. I know I’m having a lot of fun. The writing is there, and you’re not worried about that first weekend of underperforming and it’s gone. You can take a little bit more time, and you can nurture ideas. That’s something missing from filmmaking in America right now.

On what he would be doing if he weren’t an actor.
I would probably be homeless! I graduated from high school with scholarship opportunities to study music - I studied jazz and was a vocalist. I don’t think that’s on the cards any more. It’s a muscle I haven’t flexed in a long time. I could get it back, but I’d have to be shit for a long time. I don’t know where the kids would go to school. I write, I’ve sold some screenplays and some shows. I’d like to go back and do more theatre. I’m developing a play with a public theatre right now, that I may or may not be in.

On his current writing projects.
I’ve got a couple of things. I saw The Following and that kind of put a pin in my script I had going. There are other things I wouldn’t want to give away, because my company has a development deal at Showtime to create content. We have some things teed up that are really interesting, some that I’m writing, some that I’m developing with other writers. I’d love to get a show on the air that I don’t have to be in. That’s my next goal.

On wearing his writer hat while acting someone else’s script.
I was always doing it before I became a writer. Almost everyone’s wearing multiple hats. It takes everyone’s full creative faculties to bring this stuff to life. If you’re doing it the right way, like experiences I’ve had with Steven Soderbergh, it’s collaborative. The best answer wins. During Traffic, he was telling the A.D. he wanted the extras in the foreground, the A.D. was adamant they should be in background. Steven agreed in the end.