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Don Cheadle Talks About "Hotel Rwanda"

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Don Cheadle Hotel Rwanda

Antonio Llyons, Sophie Okonedo, and Don Cheadle in "Hotel Rwanda"

© United Artists
Don Cheadle stars as real-life hero Paul Rusesabagina in "Hotel Rwanda," the dramatic true story of the genocide in Rwanda. Rusesabagina was a hotel manager at a 4-star hotel who not only saved his own family during the genocide crisis, but wound up saving the lives of more than 1,200 Rwandans.

Director Terry George had a rough time securing backing for "Hotel Rwanda," but never faltered in his determination to get the film made. George knew the success of the film would hinge on casting the right leading man and with Don Cheadle, George found an actor more than capable of handling the many aspects of the character. "Don is one of the best actors in the world, and we wanted him as our lead from the start. When this project first came up, his name was in my head right away," recalls George.

INTERVIEW WITH DON CHEADLE ('Paul Rusesabagina'):

What would you say to potential moviegoers who might think this movie is like a “Schindler’s List” in tone and might be tough to watch?
I would say that it’s A) it’s a PG-13 film which should let people know right there it can not be “Schindler’s List.” It doesn’t have graphic violence and it’s not gratuitous in that way. In fact, we had to go to the ratings board and get them to overturn the R rating that they gave the film. They kind of were hoisted on their own petard because when pressed to give a reason why they gave it the R, they couldn’t flag any of those things. There’s no graphic violence. There’s no strong sexual content. There’s no foul language. One person says the F-word once. They just said it was sort of for general impact was the reason it really got the R, which is really not a justifiable reason. I mean, this is an event that happened in the world. 14 and 15 year-olds are not inured to the kind of emotional impact this film has. It’s not overwhelming. And ultimately, it is an uplifting story. It’s a love story at its core. It’s a thriller, but it’s really a love story. It’s about a man who perseveres, and good triumphing over evil. In my opinion, it’s a very encouraging story.

A lot of people are suspicious of films that have a message.
I don’t like message movies either. I don’t like movies that are trying to preach and trying to tell you how to feel. I don’t think this one does. I think this one is just chronicling certain events that happened during this time, and you take from it what you will. But I think it’s very hard to see this movie and not come out with a position or with a point of view either about our responsibility and/or involvement and and/or apathy and/or the nature of how you insert yourself or not into a situation like that.

Why did you want to do this film in the first place? How much were you aware of this situation prior to becoming involved in the project?
I was cursorily aware of it. I didn’t know that much about it. I had seen some stuff on the news. In America, it was way down the line. In the newspapers, it was the seventh or eighth page, a little paragraph. It wasn’t much. Then years after that, a few years after that, I saw the Frontline piece that they did on it, the documentary about it, which was hard to watch. That one was overwhelming to me and I became interested in that way. And then when I read the script, it was just satisfying on a purely artistic level.

As an actor, it was a very well crafted script that, to me, took into account the genocide in a way that you could still go through it. You could watch it and you could deal with it. And ultimately you were following the story of this man and his family. I thought that was a brilliant way to deal with it because it’s not sort of an educational piece about the genocide. It’s a story about this man and his family’s triumph over these incredible circumstances. So when I read the script, immediately I was drawn to it. I thought this is, even beyond me playing the role, I thought this is a great story to tell and it would do the world well to know this.

How did you nail the accent?
First, thank you. I worked with a dialect coach immediately and had thousands of tapes. I took him to South Africa and there was another woman there that I worked with, too, quite extensively. And also just to be… It was like total immersion because the sound of that dialect, the music of that dialect, was on the set from everyone that was there. From the crew, from the other actors there, from Day 1. It was just sort of like this total immersion. The music was always in my ears. And one day one of the cast members who plays Gregoire [Tony Kgoroge], he came up to me and he started speaking in [a foreign language] to me and went, “Oh wait, you don’t speak that.” I was like, “Man, you don’t know what that did for me. You don’t know how that made me feel right there.”

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