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Don Cheadle, 'Iron Man 3' Star: The Iron Man Suit Is 'A Torture Chamber'

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DON CHEADLE IRON MAN 3
Don Cheadle plays Col. James Rhodes (aka Iron Patriot) in the blockbuster "Iron Man 3." | Marvel

Don Cheadle doesn't mince words when it comes to his feelings on wearing the actual Iron Man suit. Or, in his case, the Iron Patriot suit -- a rebranded, star-spangled version of the War Machine suit from "Iron Man 2." At least, I don't think I'm misinterpreting his disdain when he compares it to a device that the infamous Spanish friar Tomás de Torquemada -- known for his proficiency in the art of torture -- might have created.

Regardless of that, Cheadle is once again playing Col. James "Rhodey" Rhodes -- a role that he first played in "Iron Man 2," taking over for Terrence Howard -- in this weekend's instant blockbuster, "Iron Man 3." In this sequel, Cheadle has quite a bit more to do as the U.S. government's version of Iron Man (a.k.a. Iron Patriot) than in the previous film -- and, to Cheadle's pleasure, a lot of that is done without the suit.

Cheadle discusses what new director Shane Black brings to the film, as well as, inevitably, his hatred for that suit. He also discusses the ups and downs of being an actor in Hollywood through the last 25 years and why he is over being asked to pose for a cell phone camera picture.

In "Iron Man 2," you took over the role of James Rhodes from Terrence Howard. In this one, did it feel more like your role? You seemed more comfortable in it, from an outsider's perspective.
I don't know, I mean, you're the audience -- so I guess what you think about it matters more than what I feel about it. I know that I had more to do in this one. So I don't know if that translates into comfort, but I had more to do.

I don't know what the process is for taking over a character from another actor, but it just felt like this is your character now. Does that make sense?
Yeah. I mean, I didn't feel any compunction about doing it the first time. Any questions I had about it were for me and my personal relationship that I have with Terrence. It wasn't about any sort of a performance question in the movie, really.

You mentioned having more to do. There's a pretty long stretch where Rhodey and Tony are without their suits, which, in a movie like this, had to be nice.
Yeah. That was, to me, one of the most fun parts about it. I got to kind of be in the action just as the physical human being [laughs], not CGI. It was doing a lot of wire work and work with the stunt team -- all of that stuff was a lot of fun for me.

Obviously this is a big, summer Marvel movie, but there was something that felt small about this movie at times.
How do you mean? Intimate?

That's a better word.
Yeah, I guess I can see that, sure. I think that when you have Shane Black being the person who is helming it, and Drew Pearce, you have a script with those guys, it's going to be more character driven than the other ones are.

On set, how do you notice the differences that Shane Black brings?
It was more in the designing at the outset with the script than it was anything I felt necessarily during the shooting. A lot of times when we show up to these movies, it's sort of like we're just hanging on for dear life because it's such a big undertaking. And there are so many technical things that have to be achieved, so Shane was smart in -- not leaning on -- but he definitely talked a lot with Jon [Favreau], and Jon kind of gave him a heads-up about where a lot of the bodies were and the things that he needed to be cognitive of. And then we just went about doing what what we always do: trying to figure out the best way to tell the story.

Did you feel less "hanging on for dear life" this time?
No, I think you always feel that. A lot of time we're 300 degrees of green screen and it's super technical. The acting, you have to obviously fulfill that. But you really have to rely on the effects team and people that are not participating at that moment and they're going to do all of their work later. So you don't know where you're at half the time. You really have to rely on other people to let you know that you're in the pocket, so to speak.

Jon Favreau has mentioned that "Iron Man 2" was a challenge, trying to cram all the Avengers storyline in, too. "Iron Man 3" has a lot of characters, but it feels smoother because everyone is related somehow. Is this something that you notice, or does it not work that way when you're actually in the movie?
I have a different focus and a different thing that I'm trying to make sure is happening. But, yeah, I can see where people's experience of this would be that it was -- you know, you used the word "intimate" earlier. I can understand what that is.

You mentioned earlier you had more to do in this movie. About halfway though, Rhodey plays a huge part. I've always loved this character and this was finally the Jim Rhodes I wanted to see in a movie.
Yeah ... me, too.

Do you actually get to wear the suit?
You say it like it's a gift [laughs]. No, I have to wear it. At some point, I have to put that suit on. I mean, a lot of it is motion capture, and there are other ways that they pull it off. But at some point, you have to practically put the suit on and it ain't no lightweight thing.

Is it plastic?
It's very heavy. It's fiberglass, I think that's what it is. But it feels like it's some special alloy that they made in a torture chamber that Torquemada created. I don't know what it is.

I once saw you approached in public and I couldn't help but wonder what movie that person brought up, because you're in so many different things. What do people ask you about?
It depends on the person. Do you know what I mean? A lot of times now, with all of the cell phones, everybody just wants to get a picture of you like it's a [laughs], like they're hunting. They just want to put you in their trophy case sometimes.

How do you handle that situation? The line between being perceived as rude but not wanting to be in a trophy case -- which is rude on their part?
It depends on the situation. If I'm with my family, people want to come up in the middle of a conversation sometimes and I go, "You know, look, I'm talking to somebody. It would be rude of me to do to you." Just because I'm in something that you've seen doesn't mean that that's all good and it's cool behavior. So it depends on how I'm approached. If I'm approached in a way that's respectful and it's something that makes sense, I don't have a problem. But I'm really kind of over the photos thing.

When you first started out, you did a lot of guest roles on television. Is doing a guest spot on a show like "Night Court" a good experience?
That was super early in my career and it's ... I had a job. So I enjoyed it. I'm really thankful for all of those early roles that I got to play and all of those guest spots I got to be on. Shows like "Night Court" and "Hill Street Blues" and "L.A. Law," all of that stuff, it helped me cut my teeth in my career.

Was "Boogie Nights" what you feel put you over the top? In that you noticed a difference in how things were going.
I'll tell you that "over the top" is not a state of being in my mind. Or most actors', I think. I don't know that there's a there there that exists for most actors in their mind. It's always a grind, you know?

Perhaps "Did your phone ring more often?" would have been a better way to word that.
I think it is always that kind of a situation where, you know, the phone rings ... and then it doesn't. And then you hustle and there's a moment of heat and it seems like you got a lot of choices ... and then you don't. It's often feast or famine for us in this business.

Mike Ryan is senior writer for Huffington Post Entertainment. You can contact him directly on Twitter.

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