Cheadle was born on Nov. 29, 1964 in Kansas City, MO, but was raised in Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO. His father, Donald, was a child psychologist and his mother, Betty, was a bank manager, providing the Cheadle brood with a comfortable upbringing. Catching the acting bug at 10 years old, the fledgling actor took drama classes at East High School in Denver, before further developing his craft at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, CA. While he was earning his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Theater, Cheadle began a recurring role on the hit show "Fame" (NBC, 1982-87). Following his graduation, he made his feature film debut in a bit part in the urban comedy, Moving Violations (1985). After a turn as an Army private in John Irvin's grim anti-war drama Hamburger Hill (1987), a true story about the bloody Vietnam battle for Hill 937 that resulted in a hollow American victory, he landed a pivotal turn as a volatile gang leader in the inner city drama Colors (1988).
After small roles in Roadside Prophets (1992) and The Meteor Man (1993), Cheadle was tapped by Carl Franklin for a star-making turn in the director's deft neo-noir Devil in A Blue Dress (1995). As Mouse, a trigger-happy old acquaintance of detective Easy Rawlings (Denzel Washington), Cheadle stole every scene, winning awards from critics' groups - though an expected Oscar nod failed to materialize. Cheadle went on to deliver strong performances in several higher-profile features, playing a Harlem basketball star who career is sidelined by drugs in "Rebound: The Legend of Earl 'The Goat' Manigault" (HBO, 1996); the town resident willing to stand his ground against racists in the underrated Rosewood (1997); and a porn star with dreams of owning a stereo equipment store in Paul Thomas Anderson's excellent "Boogie Nights." He ripped the acting rug out from under his co-star and director, Warren Beatty, in Bulworth (1998), playing a Rolaids-popping entrepreneurial gang leader out to get a delirious senator (Betty) trying to win reelection while suffering a nervous breakdown. Cheadle was both deftly comic and chillingly ruthless opposite George Clooney and Jennifer Lopez as cunning ex-con Maurice 'Snoopy' Miller in director Steven Soderbergh's stylish and sexy crime caper, "Out of Sight," widely considered to be the first successful adaptation of an Elmore Leonard novel.
On a role, Cheadle next earned an Emmy nod for his depiction of Sammy Davis, Jr. in the 1998 HBO biopic, "The Rat Pack" and for playing a teacher attempting to reach a death row prisoner in the beautifully realized "A Lesson Before Dying" (HBO, 1999). In 2000, after supporting roles in "Mission to Mars" and "The Family Man," Cheadle reunited with Soderbergh to play vice cop Montel Gordon in the multi-plot, Academy Award-winning drug opus, "Traffic," a stunning film that told three parallel stories depicting various aspects of America's failed war on drugs.
After being cast by Clooney for the live broadcast of "Fail Safe," Cheadle appeared in the all-star ensemble of Soderbergh's blockbuster remake Ocean's Eleven (2001), playing the over-the-top, Cockney thief Basher Tarr. He made thankless supporting stints in "Swordfish" and "Rush Hour 2" in 2001, before appearing the following year in a four-episode guest shot on the hit NBC medical drama "ER" (NBC, 2004-09), starring as Paul Nathan, an idealistic medical student who insists on completing a surgical internship even though he suffers from occasionally debilitating Parkinson's disease. In the indie film The United States of Leland (2004), Cheadle portrayed aspiring writer and prison teacher Pearl Madison, enthralled by the murderous history of a soft-spoken young man. In the diverting caper, After the Sunset (2004), he was an American expatriate turned Caribbean vice king trying to employ retired thief Pierce Brosnan to help bring vice to the underprivileged masses.
After a second, disappointing go-round with Clooney and company in Ocean's Twelve (2004), Cheadle moved center stage and received the best reviews of his career when he starred in Hotel Rwanda (2004) as real-life hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, a man who saved the lives of 1,200 Rwandans during a tribal massacre in 1994. The actor created a character that was noble, resourceful and crafty, yet he balanced his performance with the right amount of fear and concern. His powerful turn stood on the top of what most critics listed as one of the best performances of 2004. Driving home that point, Cheadle earned Golden Globe and Oscar nominations for Best Actor. On the heels of that triumph, he also delivered a well-etched supporting performance as the hardworking but struggling mechanic Bonny, one of Sean Penn's few remaining friends, in the alienation drama The Assassination of Richard Nixon (2004).
In yet another Oscar-worthy performance, he was at the center of the top-flight acting ensemble of the thought-provoking, multi-plot drama Crash (2005), starring as a Los Angeles police detective contending with various issues of racial prejudice. Cheadle also served as a producer on the film and recruited many members of the cast, all of which helped lead the film to win the Best Motion Picture Oscar that year. At the same time the film was cleaning up at awards shows, Cheadle was locked in to serve as a co-executive producer of a television version of "Crash," also written and directed by the film's director, Paul Haggis. Prior to filming the pilot, Cheadle was considering joining the cast and directing a few episodes.
Turning instead to his activist side, Cheadle narrated the documentary "King Leopold's Ghost" (2006), a look at the exploitation of the Congo by Belgium's King Leopold II from 1885-1908. As the sole owner of the corporate Congo Free State, Leopold enslaved millions of Africans and perpetrated a genocide that claimed upwards of 10 million people in his extraction of rubber and ivory. Cheadle then costarred opposite Adam Sandler in Reign Over Me (2007), playing Alan, a successful dentist - complete with a beautiful wife (Jada Pinkett-Smith) and children - who runs into his former college roommate, Charlie (Sandler), and is shocked to see his once-gregarious friend depressed. He learns that Charlie lost his family on 9/11 and hasn't been the same since, while Alan has been overwhelmed by his life's responsibilities. Meanwhile, Cheadle reprised Basher Tarr for Ocean's 13 (2007), a vast improvement over the first sequel that depicted the happy-go-lucky thieves looking for revenge against a ruthless Las Vegas casino owner (Al Pacino).
Also in 2007, Cheadle earned critical adulation, as well as an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Actor, for his portrayal of real life ex-con-turned-radio and television host, Ralph "Petey" Greene, in the dramedy "Talk to Me." He next starred in the conspiracy thriller Traitor (2008), playing a shadowy former government agent who becomes the target for a dogged FBI agent (Guy Pearce) investigating several major international crimes, including a prison break and terrorist bombing. After a supporting role as a sympathetic social worker in the family-friendly Hotel for Dogs (2009), Cheadle joined Richard Gere, Ethan Hawke and Wesley Snipes for Antoine Fuqua's crime drama, Brooklyn's Finest (2010), playing an undercover narcotics agent looking to get out of the job. Meanwhile, he took over the role of Colonel James Rhodes from a disgruntled Terrence Howard on the mega-successful sequel Iron Man 2 (2010), which told the continuing adventure of billionaire weapons inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), who battles arch-nemesis, Whiplash (Mickey Rourke), and rival manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell).
Although far more modestly budgeted than "Iron Man 2," Cheadle's next film, the U.K.-produced crime comedy The Guard (2011), allowed the actor sink his teeth into a more nuanced role as an uptight FBI agent investigating a drug ring alongside Brendon Gleeson as a highly-combustible Irish policeman. The following year, Cheadle took on a starring role on the comedy series "House of Lie$" (Showtime, 2012- ), a biting satire focusing on a high-powered Los Angeles-based management consultancy firm. Cheadle immediately garnered rave reviews for his intensely charismatic portrayal of Marty Kaan, the firm's cutthroat junior partner, willing to go to any extreme to secure whatever inside information his clients require. The role earned Cheadle much-deserved award recognition, including a Golden Globe Award for Best Actor in a Comedy series.
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