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Don Cheadle on Miles Davis, Poker Playing, and the Next Season of House of Lies

In Showtime's House of Lies, Don Cheadle plays Marty Kaan, a slick management consultant who milks millions from big companies fighting to stay in the black. Sex, lies, billable hours—the show, touted by the New York Times as a "scorchingly cynical comedy," is anchored by Cheadle's Golden Globe-nominated performance as a corporate huckster who is more conflicted about being a "back-stabbing professional manipulator" than he puts on.

It's been a busy year for the L.A.-based actor. He recently starred in the critically acclaimed Flight with Denzel Washington and will soon reprise his role as James Rhodes, a.k.a. War Machine, in Iron Man 3. We talked to him about the new season of House of Lies, getting designer clothes for free, and why being an actor can help your poker game.

DETAILS: The second season of House of Lies begins on January 13. What can we expect from Marty Kaan this year?

DON CHEADLE: We get a deeper understanding of who Marty is and what's going on his life. There's a big power shift at the end of last season, so now that the old leadership is gone, we'll get to see how Marty responds to the power vacuum.

DETAILS: How do you prepare for the role of a slick, amoral businessman?

DON CHEADLE: The show came out of a book [House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time] by Martin Kihn, which is where I first looked at how to approach the role. Then you kind of flesh it out the way you would for any kind of role, by researching people and reading the news.

DETAILS: Marty wears a lot of sharp suits on the show. Are you a suit guy, or do you like to dress more casually?

DON CHEADLE: I usually try to dress relaxed and casual, but I'm ready to go out if the need arises. I don't have any specific places I like to go to buy clothes. I often get wardrobe from the movies and shows that I'm working on. They get clothes from designers that might not necessarily work for the part, but they work for me personally. I don't really have a go-to designer.

DETAILS: There's a lot of sex in House of Lies. As an experienced actor, are sex scenes no big deal or are they still kind of awkward?

DON CHEADLE: It's still awkward. It's definitely weird to take your clothes off around strangers. You might be meeting them for the first time that week, and the next thing you know you're in a scene doing something that's really intimate despite the fact that there are 30 or 40 people standing around you.

DETAILS: You're known as a poker expert . . .

DON CHEADLE: [Laughs] Well, I wouldn't use that word.

DETAILS: You beat professional poker player Phil Ivey. Does your acting experience help you when it comes time to bluff?

DON CHEADLE: It depends on the game. Sometimes it works in your favor, sometimes it doesn't. When it does work in my favor, it's often because they're reacting to me. Maybe they've seen me in something, and then they'll give up information just by reacting to me, which has nothing to do with [what's happening at] the poker table.

DETAILS: When you're not playing poker, what do you do? What's an ideal night out in L.A. for you?

DON CHEADLE: I don't really have an ideal night out. I'm pretty boring. I kind of chill in the house. Sometimes I'll go out and have a nice dinner, then go out to listen to some blues, maybe at a place like the Catalina Bar and Grill.

DETAILS: So no more partying?

DON CHEADLE: That was never really my M.O., especially now that I work 14 hours a day. I'm a dad, too. There are only so many hours in a day.

DETAILS: Your Twitter account, @IamDonCheadle, has more than 122,000 followers. You sometimes get political on social media. Do you ever worry about alienating fans?

DON CHEADLE: I'm not worried about alienating people who are going to be angry about my honest opinion about something. If it alienates them, they're probably not really a fan.

DETAILS: What's the deal with this Miles Davis biopic we keep hearing about? First we hear you're acting in it, then you're directing it, then you're not directing it . . .

DON CHEADLE: I was always starring in it. That's one of those things we're still trying to put together. But we're not letting go, we're still pursuing it. I don't really like to talk about these kinds of things until they're actually happening. I'm kind of superstitious.

DETAILS: What drew you to Miles Davis as a subject for a film?

DON CHEADLE: I've been a big fan of his music for my whole life. I think he's an incredible artist, not just as a jazz musician, but as an artist in several different ways. He's just fascinating. I've been a big jazz fan my entire life.

DETAILS: Any favorite albums you want to share with us?

DON CHEADLE: God, there are so many. I don't know where to begin. I'm a big fan of Coltrane's Blue Train and Miles Davis' Kind of Blue. There are 30 different Miles Davis albums that I could pick as my favorite album.

DETAILS: We remember watching you in the nineties on Picket Fences.

DON CHEADLE: Man, a lot of that audience is probably not even alive anymore. That show was on 15 years ago, and I think the median age back then was like 60 years old or something. Acting is something that I'm not quite done with yet, and it's nice that I'm getting younger fans along with the people who have seen things I did 10 or 15 years ago.

—Keith Wagstaff is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn. Follow him @kwagstaff.

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Images: Don Cheadle as Marty Kaan in House of Lies (Season 1, Episode 2). Lead photo main by Richard Cartwright/SHOWTIME, thumb (from Season 2, Episode 1) by Randy Tepper/SHOWTIME
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