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Don Cheadle is now a high profile actor. He’s in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as Rhodey. He’s in acclaimed dramas like Crash and Miles Ahead, which he sometimes produces and directs too. He had a hit show in Showtime’s House of Lies and now he’s back for season two of Showtime’s Black Monday. Back when he appeared in Colors, only his second movie, Cheadle thought he would not live to his third movie.

Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle | Tommaso Boddi/Getty Images

Cheadle stopped by the WTF with Marc Maron podcast to promote Black Monday and talk about his career. He told the story of playing a gang member in the 1988 film Colors. Showbiz Cheat Sheet has censored the profanity. Black Monday returns Sunday, March 15 at 10 p.m. on Showtime.

Sean Penn wasn’t Don Cheadle’s problem on ‘Colors’

After some television roles, Cheadle’s first movie was a part in Moving Violations. Colors was his second. Dennis Hopper directed Colors, starring Sean Penn and Robert Duvall as cops on the gang beat. Penn and Hopper had volatile reputations by 1988, but they weren’t an issue for Cheadle.

Don Cheadle in Black Monday
Don Cheadle in Black Monday | Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME

“There had been some things where Sean had roughed a dude up for real on set in character,” Cheadle said. “He and Robert, there was a scene where my friend, Glenn Plummer played High Top and they get in a fight. Some real sh*t that happened in the fight. We were just waiting for that to happen because we were just going to all jump him if something happened. We were going to be like we’re in character too.

Don Cheadle costarred with real gang members in ‘Colors’

Hopper mixed his actors with authentic gang members. 

“I was working with the gang bangers. I wasn’t worried about the director or the actors. I’m working with for real gang members that would really gang bang on you for real. One of the guys in my gang, his name was J Bone.”

When Cheadle first met J Bone, J Bone tested him.

“The first day, I get in my wardrobe, I’m sitting out on this bench,” Cheadle said. “We’re getting dressed to do this big group scene. I’m sitting by myself trying to be in character. I see this dude cross the parking lot. He looks at me, I look at him, he looks at me like oh, you’re just going to stare at me. He walks across the parking lot staring at me. I’m like oh, this is a real one. I’m supposed to be the head of the gang. I can’t really punk out right now. This is a moment that’s really going to be telling about how this is going to go.”

Regina Hall and Don Cheadle of Black Monday | Amy Sussman/Getty Images

Cheadle held his ground the first time.

“He walks all the way up to me,” Cheadle continued. “He’s like, ‘What’s up, cuz?’ I was like, ‘What’s up?’ He’s like, ‘What set you from?’ I said, ‘Oh, I’m an actor. I’m not a gang banger. I’m an actor.’ He’s like, ‘Oh yeah, all right. I just wanted to see what the f*ck was up.’ He walked away, I was like f*ck, day one.”

The scene that almost made J Bone kill him

Cheadle played gang leader Rocket. J Bone played a member of his gang and J Bone was in a real street gang at the time. 

“Then we have a scene in the van,” Cheadle said. “We do a drive by on this Blood. I’m supposed to tell them to shut the f*ck up. We rehearse and I say, ‘Shut the f*ck up.’ It’s late in the morning. Everybody’s tired. Though we’re using this gang, we’re in another gang’s neighborhood. It’s a whole thing. The locations people had no sensitivity to where we were, crossing lines, none of that.”

Black Monday: Don Cheadle
Don Cheadle in Black Monday | Nicole Wilder/SHOWTIME

That environment, plus the dialogue in the script, let to a confrontation between Cheadle and J Bone. 

“We’re doing this scene and I tell him to sh*t the f*ck up. He starts laughing. ‘Man, you sound soft as f*ck. Shut the f*ck up. You sound like a little b*tch.’ So I was like no, for real J-Bone, shut the f*ck up because we have to do this. He was like, ‘What?’ He’s in the backseat and he leans up in my ear, he’s like ‘I will smoke you in this car right now. Think I give a f*ck about this movie? I’ll kill you right now?’”

J Bone broke character on the set

Cheadle thought J Bone was going to kill him and no one on the movie could protect him. 

“I know he’s good for it,” Cheadle said. “I know he’s not just talking sh*t. He probably would do it. Everybody gets quiet in the car. I’m like, ‘Oh man, J Bone, it’s my line. I’m on a set. I have to say this.’ He’s like, ‘Say it again. See what happens. I dare you.’ It’s like I have to say it. Action, cut, ‘Don, what’s up, you didn’t say the line.’ I’m like, ‘No, it’s okay, go back.’ He’s laughing, ‘Yeah, that’s right. You better not say it.’ So we do it one more time and I kind of get it out. He doesn’t say anything.”

How Don Cheadle survived ‘Colors’

Hopper got the take and the scene is in the movie. Cheadle lived to act another day. 

“He gets out of the car and he’s like, ‘You punk motherf*cker. You better be off the set before I get out of my costume,’” Cheadle said. “I’m like damn, I’m going to get killed on a movie set. Second movie, I’m going to lose my life saying a line that I have to say in the movie.’ So I hustle off the set but after that I think because I said it, he was like, ‘You’re all right, man.’ He just had to sweat me.”

L-R: Dylan McDermott and Don Cheadle in Hamburger Hill, released before Colors | Sunset Boulevard/Getty Images

J Bone still scared Cheadle after that scene though.

“Another day, he takes my call sheet, he starts walking towards this alley,” Cheadle said. “He gestures me, ‘Follow me.’ I’m like oh man, it’s about to go down in the alley. We go in the alley and there’s this older blak lady standing there dressed in church clothes. He’s like, ‘This is my mom. I just wanted you to meet my mom.’ He couldn’t just say, ‘Come meet my mom.’”