Known for his critically acclaimed role in Hotel Rwanda, Don Cheadle is ready to bring the television career he left in the early 2000's back to life. Starring alongside television veterans Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars), Ben Schwartz (Parks & Recreation), and Australian actor Josh Lawson (The Librarians), the dark comedy House of Lies aims to give viewers an amusing look into the high stakes world of management consulting. Packed with raunchy sex scenes, a star studded guest line up and no shortage of witty banter, House of Lies will no doubt be one of the biggest television hits of 2012.
We had the chance to sit down with Don to discuss his role as the lewd and crude Marty Kaan, an upper class business man who struggles to keep control of his family, sex life and coworkers while securing the latest business ventures his team has taken on.
Playboy.com: Tell us a bit about your character, Marty Kaan. From what we’ve seen this guy has an insanely persuasive way with words be it in the bedroom, a strip club or solidifying a business deal.
Cheadle: He’s a bit of a mess, but it's the kind of mess that is fun to watch week in and week out to see what kind of things he gets into. He's in this business because he's good at it and has the gift of gab. Basically a lot of these guys who are in this kind of business are a kind of con artist; they are really good at figuring out ways to manipulate situations and Marty is well suited for that.
Playboy.com: The characters were written in a way that skew typical gender roles and the parts they play in relationships one would typically see on television. For example, your character Marty is more understanding with his sons’ life choices, Kristen Bell’s character Jeannie is a business woman with a silver tongue who is not above playing dirty with the boys and your ex-wife and mother to your son is sort of an untrustworthy wild card.
Cheadle: Showtime and the writers have made the script very eclectic. House of Lies has a real kind of grown up sensibility to it. We all wanted to push boundaries with this character as opposed to keeping Marty generic. Fortunately Matthew Carnahan, the one who created the show, was down for that so it's been a lot of fun and we’ve developed a very fresh approach to a world [management consulting] that we don't really know that much about.
Playboy.com: The opening scene, where we find your character naked and face deep in a woman’s buttocks, must have been quite the surprise for you to read on the first page of the script. It’s quite the risqué idea to usher in a television show.
Cheadle: I just read it on a page and thought, "Oh man, okay." When I put the script down I started to think about how I would have to hit the gym a lot more. When we were on set, I just had to act like I’m not me and take my clothes off. I just said to myself, “Let’s do this!” It’s still uncomfortable, but you know… [Laughs]
Playboy.com: Marty’s life is obviously pretty hectic but he also encompasses some of the Playboy lifestyle; hard worker, at the top, good with charming the ladies, not afraid to be open about his forward thinking. Was there anyone you drew inspiration from while developing this character's attitude and mannerisms?
Cheadle: The show is based off of a book written by Martin Kihn called House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time. While we were filming, Martin Kihn would come in to give us a lot of input on how these guys work and the lonely place they find themselves because of their nomadic jobs. They're on the road all of the time and have all of these fractious relationships outside of the work place, the only place that they know what they're doing. So he (Martin Kihn) wasn't really a role model but that book really gave a lot of insight to the way these guys operate.
Playboy.com: It’s a good thing that the script was picked up by Showtime since the episodes are heavily littered with sex, drugs and alcohol.
Cheadle: While it has all of that stuff that we all have fun watching, I hope viewers watch because it's an area of the world that we've never seen before. I didn't know anything about these guys before this show and how they operate. It’s been a lot of fun learning about all of this stuff that has been going on in our world that the general public didn’t really know about.
Playboy.com: The first episode seems to be so topically fitting with what is going on in America today regarding the big banks and our spiraling economy. By the end of the first episode I was cheering for you guys because your quick and creative thinking landed you the deal, but then I had this pang of realization that your management consulting team are in on what’s collapsing our economy too.
Cheadle: Yeah, the characters are sort of drafting off these guys that are doing all of this stuff that is pure corporate mal-treason. But I think it's very Greek the way that it comes back to bite them you know? Everybody ends up suffering by the end result and, like in a Greek way, it's not direct but someone always ends up paying the price for something.
Playboy.com: The characters in the first few episodes also treat procuring sex from people the same as they deal with management consulting.
Cheadle: It’s basism [sic] right? It's a way of not having to deal with yourself and to get involved with something that is tactual. Sex is a thing that you think you can understand...that usually ends up kind of going a little awkward which the characters keep getting mixed up in. The business they work in is a way to manipulate and control people’s judgments and it's kind of hard to turn that off sometime when you’re trying to be a normal everyday person.
Playboy.com: Like the relationship between Marty and his ex-wife…
Cheadle: Exactly! [Laughs] And who knows where that is going to go. They just need to give it up but the both of them are just so controlling and they also have their kid together so I guess she isn't going anywhere soon.
Playboy.com: Do you want to touch on the character of your son Roscoe? His flamboyant nature seems like quite the feat for Marty to deal with.
Cheadle: Roscoe is basically teaching Marty that he can’t control anything; he has to figure out on his own how to deal with this kid without the tricks he uses at work. He doesn’t know if Roscoe doing these things to get a rise out of him, to get him to pay more attention to him or if it’s real and from the heart. Marty doesn’t know at this point and kids go through stuff like this and you know it’s hard for someone like Marty to handle it without having full control over the situation.
Playboy.com: What is it like working with Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz and Josh Lawson? It's definitely an eclectic cast.
Cheadle: Great actors all of them, we have a lot of fun on this show. We improv a lot and tons of that stuff finds its way into the film cut which is great because whenever you're in a situation like this, and you have a lot of people that can play off the work the writers are doing, it's a real nice to have a fluent back and forth. We’re lucky to have a nice, cool, creative team. We also have a lot of guests that are coming on like Griffin Dunne, Gregg Germann and Richard Schiff. I'm happy they were able to put a lot of interesting people on the show. And the actor Josh Lawson is actually huge in Australia; he's a newcomer here but a lot of people know him back in his hometown.
Playboy.com: What is it like working with Glynn Turman? He is quite the legend!
Cheadle: Glynn is a prince. He's been doing this forever you know, he played the original role of Travis Younger in Raisin in the Sun on Broadway like...wow. Just to have him there on set really enriched everything. His leadership as someone who has been working professionally for this long is amazing.
Playboy.com: When we saw his name on the list of actors appearing on House of Lies, we were quite intrigued.
Cheadle: He has a lot of fun on the show. He's another one that glad to be here working on such a great project. Glynn is so happy about what kind of work we're able to do with this show. We’re lucky that everybody shows up with this and it's great that everyone is all so committed to this show we're lucky because that doesn't always happen.
To read more about House of Lies go to Sho.com and be sure to tune in for the series premiere Sunday at 10 PM ET/PT on Showtime.