Lt. Colonel James “Rhodey” Rhodes can't stay still. Between the first Iron Man and its sequel, he traded Terrence Howard for Don Cheadle and transformed from Tony Stark's best friend to his militarized, suit-wearing mimic War Machine. And now, between Iron Man 2 and its sequel, Rhodey's changed again in response to The Avengers. After aliens nearly destroyed New York, the government decided "War Machine" sounded a bit too hostile, so they repainted his black suit to flag-waving red, white and blue and re-dubbed him Iron Patriot.
For Cheadle, the best change was that Iron Man 3 gave him a chance to do even more stunt work. You wouldn't expect it, but the Oscar-nominated star of Hotel Rwanda and Crash loves dangling from wires—as long as the crew doesn't string him up and then break for lunch. In this exclusive interview, Cheadle tells Fandango what new-to-the-franchise director Shane Black (the writer of Lethal Weapon and helmer of Kiss Kiss Bang Bang) brought to Iron Man 3, what he'd really do if given the Iron Patriot suit for a day, and why Tony Stark should tell Rhodey, "You complete me."
You're Academy Award-nominated Don Cheadle. But I heard that when you first started in Hollywood, you wanted to be a stunt man.
I toyed with that idea originally, yeah. I'm a physical person and I like the idea of doing stuff that looks incredibly dangerous, but not being injured.
Not being injured is good.
Some people are masochists. They don't mind it. I actually don't want to get hurt.
So is the Iron Man series your perfect synergy of stunts and acting?
It became that—it turned into that. I was glad that in this one, I had the opportunity to do a lot of stuff outside of the suit. That wasn't the case in the second one. But I had a lot of fun working with the stunt team and doing the wire work.
You've said that Rhodey fills in holes that Tony Stark has. What are those?
I think that Rhodey tethers Tony. He keeps him more grounded. But conversely, I think Tony helps Rhodey get out of his shell a little bit, and that's always the push-pull between those two characters. That's why it's a good match.
There's so much of Tony's personal life in Iron Man 3, and his question of whether he's doing right by his loved ones to keep putting himself in danger. We don't get to see Rhodey wrestle with those questions.
I think that's his job. When he signed on the dotted line, he was like, "That's what I do—I run to the problem. I don't hide." That's the contract when you say yes and you take that oath: You're saying that you run to problems.
That kind of sounds like being an actor who's just agreed to a challenging role.
Challenges, yes. Not actual danger. I think Rhodey runs to danger, and actors run away from danger and tell the stunt men to run to danger for them.
Shane Black comes to the franchise from buddy action movies. What was different about having him at the helm?
It's what you just hit upon: he's someone who uniquely understands that genre and kind of coined it in a way. So it was great, especially the stuff with me and Tony, but also the relationship stuff between Tony and Pepper—to have his hand in that, it grounds the movie in a way, and gives it another beat than just this sort of spectacle of CGI and motion capture.
You're also a film producer (Crash, Darfur Now). What would you do if you had Marvel money?
If I had Marvel money, the size of films that I produce, I could do a hundred of them for the budget that we had on this one.
Would you rather do 100 films than one big one?
Yeah. Not be in them—but I would rather have a full complement of movies.
If you could wear the Iron Patriot suit for a day in real life, what would you do?
I'd fly around a lot—that sounds fun. I don't think I'd use the gun, because that's pretty wicked.
Would you rather save a puppy, a kitten, or a human female?
A human female—that's so specific! Not a man or a boy?
I was picturing a girl screaming at the top of a building.
I don't see a lot of that. It's not really a King Kong world out there. But I'm an actor for a reason: I'm not in the military, I'm not a cop. Those guys are the ones who could probably use a suit or two.
How heavy is the suit?
It's heavy. I don't know the exact weight, but it's heavy. It feels like wearing a person.
That's a little creepy.
Can you fully move in it?
What if you have to take it off?
You can't take it off. You have to have help. You have to be taken out of the suit and put back into the suit.
That seems a little nervewrackingly claustrophobic.
If they wanted to put me on a wire, haul me up in the air, and go out for lunch, there's nothing I could do about it. But I believe that the people around me have my best interest at heart.