Cheadle plays it both ways

Special to The Times

Don CHEADLE has become adept at showing the duality of man. Consider: The same guy who serves as a tenacious political activist to end the civilian slaughters in Darfur can also be seen in Jimmy Kimmel's comic video in which the late-night TV host declares his love for Ben Affleck.

This summer, Cheadle will star in "Traitor," in which he plays former U.S. Special Operations officer Samir Horn, a duplicitous man being investigated by government agents for his possible participation in international conspiracies involving terrorist organizations. His pursuers include an FBI agent (Guy Pearce), a CIA contractor (Jeff Daniels) and an FBI agent (Neal McDonough) who try to link Horn to past attacks.

Shot in Mexico, Washington, D.C., and Morocco, among other locations, the film, which opens Aug. 29, is based on a story concept from comic actor Steve Martin, who also served as an executive producer. Cheadle too acted as one of the film's producers.

"I thought it was an interesting idea -- an American Muslim who finds himself on both sides of this issue of religion," Cheadle says. "Can he still do his duty and service to his country and serve his God? I just liked that conundrum," says the actor, whose agents spotted the project while it was languishing at Disney and pulled it out as something for Cheadle's company, Crescendo Productions, to look into developing. Cheadle was intrigued by the challenge of turning the film's largely political subject matter into popular entertainment.

In researching his character, Cheadle faced an obstacle in locating actual agents who were Muslim, could speak Arabic or had knowledge of the culture -- a tiny community. Government officials, scholars, the Arab League -- and a bit of artistic license -- helped to fill in the gaps. As a producer, Cheadle also helped guide the story, the casting and even edited himself in post-production.

"I'm very critical of myself. I've yet to see a great performance from this kid," Cheadle jokes. "No, it's not comfortable; I hate watching myself. You don't like when you hear your voice on your voicemail; imagine having to see yourself 30 feet wide and 30 feet big."

Though the film is a thriller, Cheadle hopes the plot will propel summer audiences into discussion about U.S. politics and the war on terrorism.

"It's provocative and raises questions about the job of America -- where we find ourselves in this climate and how the rest of the world sees us and how we see them," he says. "I don't think we do know the answer. We know that what we're doing now is not working, I think that's pretty clear."

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