Q&A With Don Cheadle

Medically Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on March 15, 2013

In Iron Man 3, you reprise your role as War Machine. How is portraying a superhero different from other roles you have played?

The big difference is that I didn't have to get in a metal suit for my other roles. My character fits into established Iron Man lore, and Marvel takes care of that, but I tried to flesh it out.

Are there times in real life when you wish you had War Machine’s powers?

When I was in the suit, I felt like a turtle on its back. As for War Machine's powers, I sometimes wish I could fly. That's a childhood fantasy, but it's something adults would want as well.

If you could choose your own superpower, what would it be and what would you use it for?

I don't know. To be able to see into the future? If I could do that, I'd like to say that I'd use it for good, but honestly I probably wouldn't always.

Who are your heroes? Who do you look to for inspiration?

In my career, I've seen a lot of people who are doing it in a way that makes sense, that works. I'm thinking of Denzel Washington in Devil in a Blue Dress, of director Paul Thomas Anderson, and of George Clooney. But I wouldn't trade my career with any of them. I focus on achieving longevity by being diverse and doing good work.

How did you prepare for your role as War Machine? Did you undergo an intense workout routine to become a superhero?

You do have to get in shape for superhero movies, but I was lucky. I've had a lot of roles that I had to hit the gym for, so I already knew my way around the weights.

What do you do to stay fit on a day-to-day basis? Do you have a regular workout that you stick to?

I have no groundbreaking moves that I do. I bike, I use free weights, I do Pilates, and I use a reformer [exercise equipment].

Do you have a health philosophy?

Vanity helps, especially if I have to be naked on set. But I'm not sure that that's the best prescription [laughs]. To live a healthy life takes discipline. It's a matter of how you eat, of how you rest.

What’s your best health habit?

I don't drink soda. I stay away from that.

What's your worst health habit?

The worst thing I do is work 14-hour days and then not get enough rest afterward. That's the most insidious thing. It tears you down. You get sick and you can't get better. That's a bad habit – not getting enough rest – so I try to be really mindful of that.

Do you make a point to eat healthy meals?

I stay away from grazing the food on set, and I stay cognizant of what I eat.

What is one of your guilty pleasure foods?

Bacon definitely falls into that category.

What’s one thing that you know about health now that you wished you knew 20 years ago?

For three summers after college, I'd play basketball for 6 hours a day. I wish I had known that playing basketball every day would wear my knees out. My health has always been a priority, but I definitely appreciate it more now. I'm much more mindful of it now.

Where did you go on your last vacation?

New Zealand.

You and your partner, actor Bridgid Coulter, have been together for over 20 years now, and you have two teenage daughters. Has juggling family life with the demands of being a movie star been difficult?

It's a very challenging thing to manage. With actors, family life is often feast or famine. I'll be 3 months on set for a movie and never see anyone, and then I have 3 months off.

You’ve been acting for 3 decades and you’ve won awards throughout your career. How do you measure your success, personally and professionally?

Money. And gold watches [laughs]. Seriously, longevity will dictate to me how successful I have been. If I can keep acting, keep going with this, and in 20 or 30 years I can look back and say, 'Wow, people are still checking for me,' then I made it."

What’s one lesson that every aspiring actor needs to learn?

Don't quit.

You’re a cofounder of Not On Our Watch and committed to efforts to end mass atrocities globally. Why is this cause so important to you? How can our readers get involved?

We [Cheadle, Clooney, Matt Damon, Brad Pitt, David Pressman, Jerry Weintraub] started it around the issue of Darfur, Sudan. The 2003 genocide going on there was running out of control when we founded Not On Our Watch. We wanted to try to do something about that. If you want to get involved, the best thing to do is go to our web site.

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