Don Cheadle (‘Black Monday’) on ‘pushing the boundaries’ every week as Mo [Complete Interview Transcript]

Don Cheadle earned his second consecutive Emmy nomination this year for playing Maurice “Mo” Monroe on the Showtime comedy series “Black Monday.” He has now amassed 10 Emmy nominations in total, including four for another Showtime series, “House of Lies.”

Cheadle spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Matt Noble before the nominations announcement about the balancing comedy and drama on “Black Monday,” working with the ensemble cast and the importance of the show’s production crew. Watch the exclusive interview above and read the complete transcript below.

Gold Derby: Don, what is the wildest thing that they’ve gotten you to do on the show? 

Don Cheadle: I think it’s easier to talk about what haven’t I done that’s wild on the show. Yeah, Mo is a livewire, and that’s what’s actually great is that every week on the show, they push the boundaries and we have an opportunity to do something that is crazier than the week before. I think that really is the attempt to keep pushing the boundaries as far as we can go and see what we can get away with, with these characters, with this show, with this time period, taking advantage of all of that. It’s just a lot of fun. 

GD: Very much so. There are so many different tones that the show juggles from drama to mystery to comedy. Which do you find the most challenging to try to balance? 

DC: Well, I think that’s the word, is finding the balance between all of those different genres. I think it would be a lot trickier if we didn’t have the cast that we have and the writers that we have and the producers that we have and really the sort of sensibility that the show takes on. I don’t have any problem moving between all those different things and I think the show is very facile at pulling off all of those different facets of these storylines. But again, I think it’s attributable to the cast and the writing. I’ve never minded going back and forth between those kinds of things in any sort of a show, TV, movies, a play. If you believe the characters, if you’re with the people that you’re watching, they can take you everywhere. When I watch the show, it doesn’t throw me off if we’re in a very down moment in and then it’s immediately undercut with something ludicrous because we think about our lives a lot of times and that’s what’s happening. We’re in these moments and something bananas will happen and you’re like, “Is this real?” But it’s really what happens. So I think that the trickiest thing, though, to pull off is the sort of whodunit in the mystery that we try to arc over the course of each season of these longer storylines, especially in Season 1 with who is it that’s falling out of the window with the Rolex on? 

GD: What’s your favorite moment from the series? 

DC: Oh, man. I just have so many. It’s really hard to pick one. This season has been a lot of fun because we’ve had a lot of great guest cast come in. Dulé Hill and I get to have a dance-off to “My Prerogative.” That was kind of fun. Absolutely fun. The Halloween party episode is crazy, Paul Scheer running around in a big plant prosthetic. So there’s just been a ton of things. We’re very ambitious in what we’re attempting to pull off in five days, which is an insane schedule with a budget that for this show isn’t that high. So we really push it to the limit and we’re very fortunate to have partners with Showtime and Sony to help us realize these big, ambitious things that we’re trying to do. 

GD: Yeah. What do you love about this cast? Can you think of a particular scene where there was just magic where you were playing with this cast? 

DC: Well, any time all of us are together and we’re just bouncing off of each other, that’s the most fun. And like I said, this Halloween episode that we do this year where everybody is in costume and it’s real sliding doors, everybody’s flying in and out, it feels in a lot of ways like a play, especially doing those that are contained in one big set, those container shows and we’re just bopping in and out. That’s a lot of fun. The boardroom that we had earlier when Mo returns with Ken Marino and Paul and Regina [Hall] and Andrew [Rannells], everybody had a lot to do, and [Yassir] Lester and Horatio [Sanz]. Everybody was in that. Everybody had a lot to do. And that’s when it’s really chugging, I think, is when we all get to sort of bounce off of each other and it feels very kinetic and very alive. Also, the episode that we’ll see where Mo is scheming on how to get them all back together, the finale that’s coming up, was also a really satisfying episode. 

GD: I think it’s so fun when we see everyone together in Season 2. It set everyone apart for at least the beginning, a lot of the characters were split up and now everyone’s coming back together with different motives that I think it’s an interesting thing of the show, the hand you’re showing and the hand you’re holding. What’s been your favorite sort of secret of Mo’s to be hiding? 

DC: Can you tell his secret now? Can Don tell Mo’s secret? I don’t know. The fact that Mo is a bit of a Don Draper in ways. Is he Mo? Is he Roland? He’s got this past. I think that’s the best part or the most fun part this year is that we’ve been able to bring that back and have that backstory impact this story with Xosia [Roquemore] coming back as the FBI agent, we’ve been able to really bring all of these things back in play again, which is a lot of fun to not only have these characters back but to have these storylines back and have them impact it going forward. Things that we didn’t know and I think things that the writers didn’t know, they always attempt to, at the end of the season, just throw all the puzzle pieces up in the air and then come back the next year and go, “Okay. Now what can we do? Can we put this thing back together?” And I think that makes it feel like a highwire act. And I think it gives the show a lot of its energy. 

GD: Speaking about that energy and definitely one of the great things about “Black Monday” is it’s ashamedly a comedy and it’s such a funny show at times. What scene filming did you find the hardest not to break in or that you thought was the funniest scene you’ve done? 

DC: Well, I mean, the bank episode was tipping our hat to Michael Mann and the whole “Miami Vice” aspect. It was fun to take that milieu and treat it completely ridiculously, two guys on rollerblades behind us that are the henchmen. It was just a ridiculous scene. But again, a very, very difficult sequence to pull off. Hats off to Iain [B. MacDonald], who shot that, fellow countryman of yours. He did an amazing job. A lot of times we talk about to see how far we haven’t come and I think when you look at what’s going on in the news today, tragically, there’s a lot of that there. When we talk about looting, this show is all about looting. These guys are white-collar looters and being able to do that in a comedic way so that you can smuggle in that messaging I think is one of the gifts of doing a crazy comedy like this is that you turn off the set and then you can think, like, “Wait a minute, was that funny? Should we be laughing about that?” That’s what we always are trying to find. The tightrope is always trying to find ways to, again, smuggle those things in, but still do it under the protection of this farcical comedy. 

GD: Yeah, and I think being set in the ’80s affords you guys the opportunity to have a sort of comedic look back at what’s changed and maybe what hasn’t changed in that time and the lessons that have and haven’t been learnt over the past… I was gonna say 20 years but it’s like 40 years or something like that.

DC: Is it 40 or is it 400? It’s, unfortunately, a very cyclical process that we see and these systematic and institutionalized events that just change their face, but at the bottom, they’re always about the same things, inequality, about justice and the haves and have-nots. We try to shine a ridiculous light on it and come from a place that’s comedic but we’re dipping our toe into all of these issues with sexual identity and race and feminism and, obviously, power dynamics where we’re talking about the classist systems that we’re dealing with. So we really deep our toe into all of that and use it as fodder. But yes, having that perspective of 40 years or 30 years is the thing that helps us to shine a light on how far we haven’t come sometimes. 

GD: I was gonna ask you, Don, acting is a lot about listening and learning. What’s something you’ve learned from playing Mo? 

DC: What not to do (laughs). I mean, it’s great. I don’t think any of these characters are like any of the people that I know. Everybody that I work with on the show, all of these cast of characters, all of these actors that are playing these guys are great people. And I’m not saying that hyperbolically. We connect off-camera. These are a group of people that are my friends now, not just my workmates. All very empathetic people and are tied in and plugged into what’s going on in the world and are advocates for change and all of us have causes that we join with each other to help move forward. So sometimes the best things that you can learn from the character that you are vicariously living these crazy things through is the cautionary tale of where not to go, what not to do, how to be a better human. And of course, it’s a comedy. So we’re laughing at these guys and we’re always trying to punch up and not punch down. But that’s really what these characters teach us is what to stay away from. 

GD: We’re an awards website here at Gold Derby and we love talking about our awards and in 1999, you won your first Globe for “The Rat Pack,” which you tied with Gregory Peck, which must’ve been such a surreal thing. 

DC: Yeah, it was crazy. My mom was so excited. She was like, “Do you know what a big deal this is?” “Mom, I’m halving an award. I don’t know how big of a deal it is.” It was great. It was great. I was very delighted to share the stage with him and share that honor with him, for sure. 

GD: And in your acceptance speech, you really paid tribute to those on the front and the back of the call sheet and those people behind the scenes. I’m assuming that’s something you still really appreciate. Do you want to say just something on that in relation to the people on the back and the front of the call sheet on “Black Monday”? 

DC: Well, absolutely. As I said earlier, we do this show on a five-day schedule, which is Herculean and really, really not possible to do without the crew that we have, putting in the kinds of hours that they do. They’re there before we get there and they’re there after the actors leave, putting the show together and giving it the look that it has and not just the crew that’s on the set during the time, but also our post-production people are very gifted. We have a lot of effects that we do on the show. The music is a big part of the show. The editing clearly, obviously, is a big part of the show. These are all things that happen once the actors get to take their makeup off and go home. So we would not have what we have without their support and without their creativity. It’s a set which is very open to that. We desire people to bring themselves to it. They’re not just supposed to show up and be meat robots. We want people to be a part of the process, and they get to be. They’ve saved us many times, too many to count, where we’ve been in corners going, “How are we going to achieve this?” And the set dec will say, “Why don’t we do this?” Or the camera operator will go, “If you just move it over here, we can shoot that there.” And we’re like, “Thank you because we were stymied.” So it’s always them. Whenever we get any sort of accolades, to not turn around and thank them, we’d be incredibly remiss. 

More News from GoldDerby