In The Guard, as FBI agent Wendell Everett, Don Cheadle is sent to Ireland to investigate an international drug smuggling ring. There, he meets the take-no-prisoners cop Gerry Boyle, played by Brendan Gleeson. The clashing pair soon realize, of course, that they’ll need each other to crack the case, and eventually form the most unlikely cop combo since Chris Tucker and Jackie Chan. The Guard doesn’t reach Rush Hour-levels of infamy, but its charms are abundant, not the least of which is watching Cheadle navigate the Emerald Isle. Here, the actor talks about his fish-out-of-water experience.
You’re an actor as well as an executive producer on this film. How did you get involved? It came to my attention via my team. It was a script that they really responded to, and thought it was really funny and different. I read it and had the same reaction. We met with the director John Michael McDonagh and he gave us his ideas for the vision of the film and who he wanted in it. I found out that Brendan was going to be a part of it, and that was just it for me. Shooting on location in the area that it’s based in, and with this cast, it was a no-brainer. I said yes immediately.
This is McDonagh’s first feature as a director. What do you like about working with first time directors? Very often their best film is their first one, because it’s something that they have lived with for a long time. They are passionate about it and thorough with their point of view. Sometimes they don’t want to change a word and they’re not open and maleable, but that wasn’t the case with John. He was very open to our interpretations of the material. Although, ultimately, 99.9% of what we did was on the page. There was not a lot of improv or ad-libbing.
This movie has a lot of style. Was that on the page or did that take form later during the performances and in the editing? It was on the page, but it was enhanced by all of the ancillary things like music, editing and the pacing of it. However, I felt that same pace when I read it. When you get real people saying those lines, it surpassed what the experience was just reading it. It kept its humor and pop.
Tell me about filming in Ireland and it’s importance in the movie. I think Connemara and Galway is another character in the movie. Shooting against that landscape with those people in those areas, you couldn’t have bought that. It really laid the framework for where we were and what my character had to deal with.
How did the locals take to you guys shooting in those areas of Ireland? Every night we went to the pub, had Guinness and hung out. Everybody was really great and open and welcomed us.
Had you ever been there before this movie? No, I’d never been there.
Your character is a fish out of water in Ireland. Did you feel that way yourself? Absolutely. That was one of the reasons why I wanted to do it. It’s not often that you marry the circumstances of your character to the circumstances that are actually occurring, which is, I don’t know where I am, I don’t know what’s going on, and everybody has more information than me. In the movie, my character is very arrogant and sort of looks down on these people. He hasn’t done any homework to even know that they speak Gaelic there. This is because he’s not going to spend time there. That’s not the plan. This is one place where these drug smugglers may show up. He’s going to come there, debrief the local yokels, tell them what to look out for, and then he’s out of there. He doesn’t anticipate the fact that he is going to be sitting there for a minute and the character Gerry Boyle, who seems like a buffoon at the beginning, has more information than anybody. Boyle is really the smartest guy in the bunch.
On the surface, Everett and Boyle are totally different. But how are they the same? My character couldn’t be more uptight and his character couldn’t be more loose. As far as the case goes, justice and what they want to address, they are very much the same. They are both serious about what they are going to do and how they approach their work.
There are a lot of racist jokes. Do you think Boyle is the Irish Archie Bunker or is he just testing your character? I think Archie Bunker believed all the things that he was saying. I don’t think Boyle believes the things he’s saying. He’s saying them to get a reaction, push and prod and to keep me off balance.
You have played a lot of law enforcement parts during your career, but you always bring something new to each one. I am trying to. And it’s not like it’s just me that brings it. It’s the script, director and the people that you’re playing with. I am not trying to do that character over and over again. And I am not trying to not do that character over again. I am trying to do what the film and the director’s vision dictates that we do.
You travel out of the country for movies like this one, but when you’re in the States what restaurants do you like to frequent in New York City and Los Angeles? In LA, I frequent Madeo and the Katsuya in Brentwood. In New York, I am always going to go to Nobu. I also like Indochine and La Esquina.
You have a television series coming up. It’s a Showtime piece called House of Lies. Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, Josh Lawson and Griffin Dunne are the other castmembers. It’s one of those classic Showtime characters who is out of his mind, self destructive, driven, and a mess. Tune in and brace yourself!