The Guard - Don Cheadle
Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

Known in the business as an ‘actor’s actor,’ Don Cheadle has created fascinating roles in such successful movies as Devil in a Blue Dress, Traitor, Talk to Me, Traffic, Iron Man 2, Out of Sight and Hotel Rwanda.

He does double-duty with his new movie, The Guard, starring opposite Brendon Gleeson, and being the Executive Producer. Cheadle plays FBI agent Wendell Everett, who is assigned to a case in County Galway, Ireland, to break up an international drug-smuggling gang. It turns out that his biggest headache is his working relationship with Sergeant Gerry Boyle (Gleeson), an unorthodox Irish policeman with a confrontational and crass personality and a subversive sense of humor.

span class=”frolc”>How did you come to the project and how did you decide that you wanted to executive produce this as well as star in it?

The Guard - Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson
Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) and Sgt Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

Because I’m a megalomaniac! No, my agent sent it to me and I read it and loved it, from the first page to the last page, and laughed the whole way through it. It had that nice dark Irish humor that just makes me laugh because it’s just so not right.

I was really vested in seeing it happen, and met with John Michael McDonagh, the writer/director, and he told me he had written it for Brendan Gleeson and he wanted him to play the guard. I thought that was great. I’ve been a fan of his for a long time and wanted to work with him. So it was kind of a no brainer.

I came on as an Executive Producer, in addition to being kind of the green-light element to getting it to go, to help shepherd it and do what we have to always do with these small projects that don’t have a lot of studio support. You have to roll up your sleeves and start beating the bushes and trying to find money and do whatever you can.

Do you remember your first trip to Ireland?

The Guard - Don Cheadle
Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

Yeah, my first trip was to shoot The Guard. It was weird, I was there but I was making a movie too, so it was strange. We’d go to the set and we’d go to pubs and put back a fair amount of Guinness.

I had a great driver who had such a thick brogue Irish people were saying, ‘I don’t know what the hell he’s saying.’ No one understood him, but we had a great time, we went everywhere together and hung out.

Did the driver know who you were?

Once they told him who I was he did!

Do you ever jog along the ocean like you do in the film?

No, I don’t jog. I don’t swim in the ocean, I’m Black (he laughs). I walked around a lot. The countryside was unique, and it was great to take advantage of being able to shoot in the region that the film is set in. You don’t often get to do that.

Being a fan of his, what was it like working with Brendan?

The Guard - Don Cheadle and Brendan Gleeson
Agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle) and Sgt Gerry Boyle (Brendan Gleeson) © 2011 Sony Pictures Classics

I didn’t imagine that he was going to be as big an ass as he was! (he laughs) No, the first day I met him, he came out here and he, John and I just read through the script and in the first couple of moments we started laughing, and I was looking at him like, ‘Oh, you’re twisted.’

He’s like, ‘We’re both there,’ and all three of us were like, ‘We’re all twisted, this is going to be great.’ We wanted to push it even further and we all said, ‘No, that’s for us, we can’t do that.’

What did you want to do?

Oh, between you, me and the door? No, my parents are still alive, I can’t tell you.

What part of your character was already on the page and what part was a back story that you gave him?

I thought it was very interesting, the stuff that John put in there, that he was from Wisconsin, but that he was a cop in Atlanta. This is just extrapolation that I did from what was there, that he lived in the south for a while, then he went to an Ivy League school.

He’s got a lot of questions about who he is himself, I think, and who he wants to come off as.

There was all this stuff that I kind of built in that was great for Brendan to be able to poke at. It’s nothing that I revealed to him, these are secrets you have for yourself, but it went to fleshing him out and creating this character who is kind of conflicted and had a chip on his shoulder.

What do you think this film teaches us about prejudice?

People see this and say, ‘Oh God, Gerry is such a racist.’ It’s not like we walked into a room and he didn’t see us there, and was talking in this way and we overheard it. He’s looking at me saying [racist things] to me just to get a reaction.

Like when Gerry says, ‘So did you grow up in the projects?’ He makes my character go, ‘No, I didn’t grow up in the projects. I went to an Ivy League school.

I’m a genius, and you’re an ass.’ And he’s like, ‘Wow, that’s a big reaction.’ Wendell gets his back up and I think that’s what is fun about that part is that he needles him and you get to see that blustery [reaction]. And he has to learn how to go, ‘I’m not taking anything you say seriously anymore.’

I never read it going, ‘Oh this dude’s a bigot.’ This character doesn’t believe what he’s saying, he’s saying it to see if he can make you react.

What can you say about Iron Man 3?

That there probably will be one!

Judy Sloane

Judy is Film Review Online's regular Los Angeles based reporter.