Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Don Cheadle Plays Character Based on Petey Greene: A Radio Voice For the People

Don Cheadle is Amazing in 'Talk to Me'

by Wilson Morales

It's All Reel

Long before Tom Joyner, Steve Harvey, and other radio personalities, there was Ralph "Petey" Greene. 'Talk to Me' is the powerful real-life story of Ralph Waldo "Petey" Greene (portrayed by Academy Award nominee Don Cheadle), an outspoken ex-con who talked his way into becoming an iconic radio personality in the 1960s in Washington, D.C.

Sparked by both the era's vibrant soul music and exploding social consciousness, Petey openly courted controversy at a white-owned station. Relying on his producer Dewey Hughes (double Golden Globe Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor) to run interference, Petey's unprecedented "tell it like it is" on-air style gave voice and spirit to the black community during and exciting and turbulent period in American history.

Directed by Kasi Lemmons (Eve's Bayou), the cast also includes Taraji P.Henson, Mike Epps, Martin Sheen, and Cedric the Entertainer. "Talk to Me" opened on July 13th, 2007.

In speaking with Director Kasi Lemmons, she gave more insight about the film:

IAR: It's been some time since you directed your last feature, 'The Caveman's Valentine.' What drew you to this particular project?

Kasi Lemmons: Keep in mind that between films, I'm trying to get films made, so I spent a lot of time and energy trying to get a film made and at the last minute, we couldn't put it together. I wrote some scripts and then in that process, I read several drafts of 'Talk to Me.' It kept coming to me, the project. I'm not even sure why. I read a Michael Genet draft. I read a Rick Famuyiwa draft and one day I read it really closely. I read it with my director vision and I started to realize what I would do with it and how I would shape it; what I thought was the essential story was. I started to hear Petey talking to me. He was like, "You need to direct this."

IAR: Did you have a hand in casting? What made Don Cheadle the perfect choice to play Petey Green?

KL: The first thing I had to do was take a meeting. I had to make them realize that I would be the perfect director for this, which is a big step. But one thing that I did when I came into the meeting, I said, "Don Cheadle." I knew that I wanted him to be in the movie. Obviously, it's a good idea. But then we found that Don might be interested in playing Petey. He might sit down and have a conversation. So he and I sat down and we had a long lunch. He's at a time in his career right after 'Hotel Rwanda' just trying to figure out what he wanted to do and was very cautious about what would be his next step. He was very thoughtful. Don's very intellectual and told me he would think about it--and quickly I heard he was in. From the day he was in, he never wavered. That was it. He was going to do the movie. The movie came together, fell apart, then came together again.

IAR: Now the film evolves into two storylines, the story of Petey Greene and also the evolution of Radio One. Was that part of the script?

KL: Right. It was always part of the script because we had looked at many different stories but one was definitely the beginning of Radio One. WOL was the cornerstone for Radio One. What happened was that Dewey Hughes and Cathy Hughes got married. This happens essentially after our movie is over. They quickly realized that they were better friends and co-workers than a married couple. They divorced and stayed best friends. He walked away from the business and Cathy built it into the massive media giant that it is.

IAR: What do you want people to get out of the Petey Greene story of the film itself?

KL: Well, certainly outspokenness. Bravery. It took a lot of courage to speak out. It takes courage to be spontaneous. Petey had courage and not just a grandiose courage like a hero in a tough situation, but also a day-to-day courage. The courage that it takes to say, "I'm sorry" or "I love you." To be yourself is very moving to me. I want people to come out of it with that place in time as if they have lived it for a couple of hours; like they really have been in D.C in that period of time. To bring it home because we forget.

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