Crash: An Interview with Don Cheadle and Larenz Tate
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By Todd Gilchrist
What was the initial appeal for you two, since there were limitations of budget and certain production challenges that might preclude others' involvement?
Larenz Tate: Was it low budget? I thought it was $50 million.
Don Cheadle: I took $46 of it. The remainder is what we made the movie with.
LT: Now the untold truth. I get it.
DC: I think I can speak for Larenz in saying that when we read this script, we were just knocked out and went, "wow, somebody's really going to make this? I'm with it; if they are really going to make this movie, I'm with it.' And as a producer I came on very early, I met Paul [Haggis] and Bobby [Moresco] very early and they asked me to come aboard and help them sort of, you know, use my relationships that I have in the business with other actors, other studios, although none of them actually ended up stepping up to do movie. We did find a financier, Bob Yari, who I'd worked with on another movie to do the film, but it was a no-brainer. There wasn't any consideration about the fact that there was a small budget, that they didn't necessarily have a home yet. When you read material like this as an actor, you want to be involved in it, and everybody just jumped on. It was tricky scheduling-wise because everybody had other things they were doing, and when you're paying people fifty cents, you can't make so many demands on their time. So that was just real challenging; you know, Chris was on tour at the time, everybody had something going on.
Don, were you shooting Hotel Rwanda concurrently?
DC: No, I hadn't started yet. We did the movie- the Thursday before I was supposed to leave, my co-star Jennifer Esposito, who is my partner in the movie, just got ill, almost fatally ill; she had something that landed her in the hospital, so we couldn't finish that week. I went to do Hotel Rwanda, and the first three weeks that I was doing Hotel Rwanda, Paul had a heart attack, Paul went down, and so the film got put on hiatus until Paul recovered, and by the time I'd finished Hotel Rwanda, Paul was back and everything was back up and running.
Don, should your character feel responsible for his brother?
DC: I think, yeah, I think we should all- I mean, define responsible. I mean, he did not push his brother into doing the things that his brother was doing, but I feel that there's a responsibility that we all share, especially inside a family, that you share with one another.
Should your character bear the burden of "saving' your brother?
DC: I don't know. I mean, that's one of those things that we don't have a God perspective to know that had he been involved what would have happened differently in his life. He may have gone to jail, I don't know, but he may not be dead, and is jail better than dead? I mean, I don't know, but that's a question that you can't answer.
LT: Was Don's character responsible? I kind of agree with Don. To have that God's perspective of what would have happened; you just never know, and I think it's sort of up to the audience to entertain that thought if they actually think that he was responsible and sort of come up with their own idea and make that conclusion.
Larenz, how was it working with Ludacris, and how does he compare with other rappers you've worked with?
LT: I can say this- when we talk about Ludacris, we didn't work with Ludacris as much as we did with Chris Bridges, a guy who really left the whole hip-hop artist stuff back. He wanted to be taken very seriously as an actor who's making that transition and it was a joy to work with someone who was so willing to strip himself of all of the things that we sort of know- all of the preconceived notions that we have about this guy and his artistry, so it was really great to just work with him and to be with somebody who's raw and open-minded and he's not jaded in any kind of way. He's very new to it and very fresh, so he had that willingness to go a hundred miles an hour with us and we had a great time. I mean, again, he was one of those guys who was more or less like, "I'm willing to be guided- I'm like a sponge here, and I'm very appreciative' and yet he had a lot of confidence that he could pull it off. In terms of Andre 3000, I know Andre, but I've never worked with him, but there are a lot of guys who are making that transition, and it's fine for those who can do it. For those artists who really don't have the goods, they need to stick to music. Let the actors act and let them stick with making videos. Those who can really do it like Chris, and he had the right approach.
Did you and Chris have a lot of opportunities to improvise?
LT: Well, you know, we had a lot of improvisations just of the scenes, but the dialogue that you saw was written by Paul Haggis and Bobby Moresco. They did a phenomenal job at writing or capturing who these two young criminal-minded individuals were, and you realize that these guys are very intellectual. They're very smart, they're very sharp people. My character Peter, who has a bit of a conscience about what we do, has morals, has values, and could go a totally different way but he chooses to roll with his partner in crime, Anthony, and they are criminal-minded guys.
DC: He's taking the easy way.
LT: Yeah, they're taking the easy way. If they really put their minds clearly to something else, they could be college graduates and running their own businesses, if you will. They are very smart, educated guys, again, just taking the easy route out.
The film is a sort of "slice of life' look at Los Angeles. What are your impressions of the town?
DC: Neither of us are from here, so it's interesting to have that sort of a- and neither is Paul- to get that sort of an outsider's perspective. I think that LA, the LA in "Crash" anyway- and the LA for a lot of people- can be very lonely and isolated. I mean, the city is so sprawling and it's such a huge metropolis that I know that I have friends who live in the valley and they're like, "hey man, what are you doing today?' [I'm like,] "I don't know.' "Why don't you come up?' and you're like, "come up? I don't know, man.'
LT: I'm that friend (laughs) I live all of the way in the valley.
DC: I live in the Santa Monica Canyon, you know, so to come east of La Cienega I really have to want to see you (laughs). You'll be driving for 45 minutes or an hour, you know, I've got the 405 to deal with, so I think that the city, just the constraints of trying to get around and traverse all of that distance can make people sort of very separated, and it's also a very big car culture, and because you are always kind of in your little glass house, and, it's also very segregated. It's not like New York where you have to really deal and hear when you walk down the street and you hear seven different languages and there are six different kinds of food you can eat and there are four different discussions about global events going on, you can really design your life in LA to just be your own little thing.
LT: A lot of times you find people protecting their privacy all of the time. No one wants come out of their sort of own little place and their own little box and when you got to other towns, it feels like more of a city. It feels like you can talk and rub elbows with people and have conversation and kind of get a sense of who other people are, but here it feels even though we're like a melting pot, we're very close, but we're very different, very distant, and that's quite strange [coming from] Chicago.
Are there good things about Los Angeles?
LT: Of course. There are a lot of great [things] beyond the weather and all of that.
DC: The produce is fantastic (laughs). One thing when you come from Missouri, you don't get oranges like that in Missouri.
LT: There's a lot of good things about Los Angeles. I mean, once you kind of get to know people and have that open relationship and rapport with different kinds of people, you find there's a lot of people who are not from Los Angeles who are here and you get a chance to learn a lot about people, but again, the strange thing about it is we're all here but we don't know it, or we know it but we don't try to engage one another.
DC: You have to work hard, I think, and it takes a lot of work. I mean, I've lived in- Venice is probably the best, the most really melting pot that I lived in, when I lived in Venice. It really is because Venice is Venice and people down there are people and everybody's doors are open; we used to keep all of our doors open, we all had kids and in the summer, everybody would go to everybody's different house and have dinner here or dessert here or drink here. It was just sort of a block, but I have lived in a lot of neighborhoods in Los Angeles- I've lived here for 25 years- and you don't even know your neighbor. You know that whole scene where it's like, "hey, I've got some mail coming. Can I leave it at your house?' It's like, "I don't know that dude; I don't want my mail in his house. I'll get it when I get back.' It feels like it can be very isolating.
How well did you feel like Paul and Bobby captured the rhythms of these different ethnicities portrayed in the film?
DC: Well, to me my character, his race only became an issue in that scene [with William Fichtner], which I thought was very well-written. But I was sort of surprised that- I mean, I don't think Paul, when I read the script, it didn't seem like he was writing for people's voices necessarily in mind more than he was writing for what he wanted them to be saying as far as the content of it rather than sort of the trappings of it, which is in some ways and sometimes refreshing, and his writing is refreshing. Other times, I read it and it's infuriating, you know, when I read scripts that are not written by or with any consolation done for black people, that you go, "why is he putting apostrophes at the end of every line- why is there no "g' on the end of "-ing' words? Seven is not spelled with a "b' in the middle.' Sometimes those kind of things can be frustrating, but Paul's movie was much more I think about the ideas than it was about the trappings of the ideas, and he hired actors who could really just embody it, so it didn't- it's interesting, because it usually does bother me, but this time it got away from it.
Was there anything written that you felt uncomfortable with?
DC: Not with this script. You mean uncomfortable in the movie? No. I mean, when I read the script, I'm kind of nuts, I'm a little subversive too. When I read the script I was laughing through the whole thing. Even in the parts that were really dark and inappropriate, I was laughing because I was just really happy that someone was going to write about these things, in the same way that I laughed at Archie Bunker 30 years ago. That cracked me up, and you could never get that show on the air nowadays, with this whole PC whitewashing of how people really are and think, and all that does is crowd that stuff into a corner, and just wait to burst out. When you shine a light on it and make fun of it and laugh about it, then I think that's how you sort of just settle over that.
LT: For me it felt really good because Paul could have easily written a stereotypical criminal who was black, young, stereotypical individuals, and that's how it's perceived when you first get to know them and are first introduced to them. The okay, here I am reading the script and boom- here's the stereotypical black guy and boom, there's nothing else. If the only thing that we were going to do was just stick somebody up and rob someone and carjack someone, then I would have probably been a little let down and frustrated and disappointed that here is the same kind of role that's written. But when he began to peel the layers back of who these guys are and you begin to discover that they are more than just carjackers, that they are just taking the easy route out, that these guys really have consciences and they have morals and they have something else to talk about other than just this carjacking thing. It felt good because now we're not looking at two stereotypically-written black guys, but there's so much more. You find that these guys are just human, and not only my character and Ludacris's character, but all of the characters. All of the roles really just begin to reveal so much more about them so that you sort of-
DC: You think you know who that person is-
LT: -and there's so much more. That was refreshing, it was liberating, to really push the envelope and even to Don, I was like, "yo, are they really going to let us talk and do this kind of stuff?' He was like, "look, I'm trying to get Paul to push it even further, push it, push it, push it, because we want to blow it completely out so people can really take a look at themselves or see a piece of themselves in this and we as actors can really just kind of let go and not feel controlled or that things are altered, because when you do movies like this or even a role like this in a bigger film that has a studio [behind it], you already know they are going to control something. They are going to water something down, something will be altered, and Don reassured us that this will not be controlled or changed in any kind of way. It will stay true. And as an actor that's what you want to do- you want to stay uninhibited, unapologetic about certain scenes if you're being honest and true about what's on the page.
Were the hockey references your character makes written in the script?
LT: The hockey references? Very much so in the script.
DC: Paul is Canadian.
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