V Exclusive: Don Cheadle Calls New Comedy The Guard ‘Equal Opportunity Slander’

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kmurphy / August 5, 2011

As movie screenplays go, fish-out-of-water stories are par-for-the-course in Hollywood. But what happens when the go-to premise dives into brazenly shocking uncharted territory? You get a film such as The Guard, a dark comedy set in rural Connemara, Ireland that sidesteps the usual character stereotypes to create arguably this year’s most laugh-inducing big screen statement. The critically-acclaimed flick—which opened to limited theater release on July 29—is propelled by the unlikely partnership of an upper class, Ivy League trained African-American F.B.I. agent (Don Cheadle) and a foul-mouthed, hooker-chasing, pill popping, unscrupulous Irish cop (Brendan Gleeson), who join up to stop a dangerous drug ring.

Throughout The Guard, Gleeson’s Gerry Boyle takes glee in getting under the skin of Cheadle’s Wendell Everett with such jaw-dropping lines as “Did you grow up in the projects?” and “I thought black people couldn’t ski. Or is that swimming?” For Cheadle, the line-crossing barbs (his character has a somewhat pompous, arrogant view of the quick-witted Boyle and his fellow Irish brethren) gives the movie plenty of sparks.

“Everybody gets it in the story,” Cheadle tells VIBE. “It’s equal opportunity slander [laughs]. Every character has their own sort of bias. To me, Boyle was the least prejudice person in the flick. He’s clearly saying the things that he is saying to get a rise out of the people that are around him. He’s smarter than everyone else; he’s literate; he’s a cinephile; he knows what’s up. I just laugh at hearing those kinds of things and thinking of John (Guard writer/director John Michael McDonagh) actually putting those things down on paper. And Brendan was easy to work with…he’s such a talent.”

For Gleeson, when he was offered the chance to work with the Iron Man 2 star he jumped at the opportunity. “They told me they were going after Don and I said this will be just made in heaven,” he says of the Oscar nominated actor.” Just from Don’s work, I kind of knew before I even met him that I was going to love him because his work, kind of in an odd way, reveals who he is in a beautiful way.”

McDonagh believes the unconventional characters in The Guard allowed Cheadle and Gleeson to flourish on the screen. “Once you have the plot [involving] drug dealers, you have a cantankerous, confrontational character and then it would be, well who would [Boyle] upset the most? Well, that would be an American, right? Then an American F.B.I. agent. Then a black American F.B.I.  agent. But then I thought, well do I keep going? Is it a gay, black American F.B.I. agent? [laughs] I think that was enough there. So let’s work with what we got.”

“I was glad that somebody actually took some of those taboos on and just put it out there in a way to make it [funny],” adds Cheadle. “People talk like that all the time.”

Cheadle, who recently signed a production deal with Showtime via his company Crescendo Productions, is set to star in the cable network comedy House of Lies, due up early 2012.—Keith Murphy