Don Cheadle walks into the skylight Diner on 34th Street in New York City. He’s wearing a black dress shirt, faded blue jeans and white Adidas shell-toes with red stripes. Each earlobe holds a square cut diamond stud. His black sunglasses hang from the back of his shirt collar, as though they’re providing another set of eyes looking backward. Cheadle’s the sort who knows where he’s going but is mindful of what’s behind him.
The actor and activist appears younger than his 43 years. He’s not taller or shorter than you might think. Even in person he has that everyman quality an innate grace that translates so wonderfully on the big screen.
He slides into a seat at a scheduled table in the back of the restaurant. We exchange pleasantries as he places sunglasses on the table and begins flipping through the diner’s menu. Cheadle’s is revered for his performance choices, but for the moment, he has only one to make.
“Can I get that cheese omelet?” he asks simply. “Can I have that with just egg whites? Is that possible?” The middle-aged Russian assures him it is. She looks at Cheadle quizzically not quite sure who he is but certain it will come to her. It’s on the tip of her tongue. She can taste it. “No American Cheese,” Cheadle continues. “But whatever else is in there. Swiss. Mozzarella. Muenster. And egg whites. And some turkey bacon on the side, please” Potatoes and toast? “No toast. Potatoes are cool.” Decision made.
“The only real choice you have as an actor is to say no,” Cheadle says, a sense of certainly filling his words. His voice is intimate and engaging, and his dark brown eyes remain squarely focused, making it impossible for him to loose your attention. “You can also say yes. But it has to say yes to you, too,” he explains. “I didn’t do things that didn’t interest me. It’s [about] choice. It’s the confluence of events. It’s kismet.”