There's a really good story about thespian Don Cheadle (Hotel Rwanda, Crash) in this month's issue of GQ magazine. In it, the writer discusses with Cheadle how and why he has remained out of the spotlight and, subsequently, out of the $10-to-20-million-per-picture salary range of his African-American counterparts like Will Smith and Denzel Washington. Even though many consider Cheadle's acting chops equally marvelous.
Cheadle, in short, believes actors - and for that matter, any professional - make money by doing the same thing over and over again. Tom Cruise, whether he's in Cold-War-inspired Top Gun or the alien-infused War of the Worlds, is almost always the same guy on screen. Same thing with Denzel, who's Deja Vu character isn't all that different from his Inside Man character. Cheadle, on the other hand, has tackled roles opposite Denzel (Devil with a Blue Dress), George Clooney and Brad Pitt (Ocean's 11, 12, and 13), starred in Oscar-winners (Crash, Traffic) with star-studded casts, while also taking on starring projects in Hotel Rwanda and the upcoming film about a D.C.-'70s Era Radio personality in Talk to Me opposite Cedric the Entertainer and Chiwetel Ejiofor, who was also in Inside Man and will again be paired with Denzel in this year's American Gangster.
Cheadle doesn't do typical. He doesn't do safe. Cheadle is all about range. Similarly, there are some notable African-Americans whom have made both millions and careers in spreading themselves into various roles and/or fields. Will Smith went from Grammys to Oscar nominations, Jay-Z has gone from The Blueprint to the boardroom of Def Jam, and Oprah has done everything from producing her own hit TV show to a Broadway production to her own magazine and book club. Still, there are others who have been successful with range in their careers.
There are corporate executives and government officials turned authors and nonprofit managers. There are athletes turned agents and actors. There are entrepreneurs turned educators, and vice versa. There are so many out there. Unfortunately, there are so many unknowns.
Real Role Models will hopefully help uncover their stories of risk-taking and endless ambition and ceaseless drive. Then Cheadle won't have to feel like a loner.