Moviefone spoke with the Academy Award-nominated actor about what the advent of the Marvel Cinematic Universe means for his purposes, as well as his character's evolution from one hit film to the next, working with his friends Robert Downey, Jr. and Gwyneth Paltrow, and what he hopes Rhodey might have in common with his fan favorite "Boogie Nights" character Buck Swope.
Moviefone: It's interesting that in this film Rhodes is one of the most highly placed military officers in the country, working directly with the President. What's your take on Rhodes as a person and how he got to where he is? Don Cheadle: I think there's the comic book mythology and then there's the movie mythology. He was a lieutenant colonel in the last [film], now he's a colonel. If you want to talk about what happened in the movies, in the second installment he basically steals the [War Machine armor] for the country and goes on to be the kind of public sector superhero. I imagine, since we've seen him last, he's been working for the President, doing special missions that only a person in a metal suit can do. I guess if you play nice with others you get to move up that chain.
Have you read "Iron Man: Extremis" or any of the other comics that specifically informed "Iron Man 3"? No. I've read the Rhodey stuff, but in the comics Rhodey was in the Marines. Iron Patriot was a completely different character. There are two different Marvel realities that [Marvel Studios is] always trying to pay allegiance to. One is the Marvel [comics] reality and one is the movie reality. I trust them to do what they want to do and hand me the script and say, "This is the new Bible."
Was there a particular Marvel Comics arc for Rhodey that you enjoyed? I liked 'fro Rhodey, the sort of radical Rhodey! I know he becomes Iron Man at some point, when Tony goes down. That arc was kind of interesting to me. I don't know if that's going to happen [in the films]. The fun for me is seeing how we develop them now and seeing who they become at this point.
From listening to you and your cast mates on stage earlier, what you seem to get out of this experience is working with your friends and having fun, more than just seeing the movie or even the success of the movie. Well that's the only thing we can actually control, you know what I mean? How the movie performs or if it's accepted or not accepted by the audience, that's outside our purview. Hopefully we create a product that people want to see and are entertained by, but we can't do anything about that, ultimately. Getting the opportunity to be in a cool relationship with the people you've come to know and make these sort of transient families with, that's nice. It's fun to get back to doing that with Robert and Gwyneth [Paltrow].
Do you like these sorts of movies? As a viewer? Yeah. I loved "The Avengers." There's a 30-year difference between my daughter and I. We went and both of my kids loved it. It was nice to be able to experience it with the family. I love the big summer tent-pole movies.
Now that you've done a couple of these, what do you think is distinct about the "Iron Man" films as opposed to other films you've worked on? Not just in terms of the money and the special effects -- I mean, we imagine that working in front of a green screen sucks. It doesn't suck, but there's a lot of trust involved. You don't know what's happening around you but you get [a computer generated pre-visualization] and artist renderings and things like that. There's a certain amount of explanation that happens. But at some point you're out there reacting to things that aren't happening. That really is the main difference! The scenes where I'm working with Robert or when we're dealing with Sir Ben [Kingsley], that's no different than what happens on "House of Lies" or "The Guard." You're just trying to create real moments and have truthful beats happen between each other.
You're a part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which is more than just a trilogy -- it's a much larger story going through other trilogies and other franchises. Does that feel any different for you as an actor? Not yet! Hopefully there will be a different feeling if Rhodey gets to appear in some of those other ones. So far the Marvel Universe has been just these two films for me.
You work with really distinctive directors, like Steven Soderbergh. Shane Black is another guy who has a really idiosyncratic style. How are they similar or different? Oh, they're not similar. They're very dissimilar. But I think with a movie like this, where it's such a juggernaut and there's so much technical considerations that have to be taken into account, I think Shane was very smart in keeping ["Iron Man" and "Iron Man 2" director and "Iron Man 3" executive producer ] Jon Favreau close and pulling his coat and saying, "What's happening? How can I tackle these big things?" Really, on the day, it didn't feel that dissimilar to what Jon had to achieve [on the previous film] except the writer is right there. When we were going in and pulling the script apart and rejiggering things, it's one-stop shopping with Shane.
Would you agree that "Iron Man 3," even though it is a juggernaut, is still definitely a Shane Black movie? The aspect of my relationship with Robert -- with Tony and Rhodey's relationship, rather -- that definitely feels like it's got the patina of what Shane Black brings to a movie, with that sort of buddy cop, wry, irreverent-in-the-face-of-incredible-danger [style]. And we had to gauge that a lot of times. We have to feel like there's real danger. It's fine to be arch and be flip about stuff, but there's real s*** happening that we have to respond to. Finding that balance is interesting.
It seemed like a lot of that was taking the heroes out of their armored suits. It was cool that we got Rhodey out of the suit and still running around and kicking butt, because he is a military man. That's what I'm saying! We get to see it. Robert was saying that. He goes, "I've kind of got to be behind you now. I got to follow what you're telling me to do. When I'm in the suit, I'm the world beater, but right now I gotta go, 'What are we doing?'" That was kind of fun, seeing how they both needed each other.
What do you want to see Rhodey do next? Strip.
Strip? Take off the remaining clothes beneath the armor? Yes, just take off more elements of clothing until it's "Boogie Nights" Rhodey! No, I don't know, wherever it goes. We'll see!