DATE January 21, 2005 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Don Cheadle talks about his acting career
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies, senior writer for the Philadelphia Daily
News, filling in for Terry Gross.
Our guest, actor, Don Cheadle, is currently starring in the film, "Hotel
Rwanda," which tells the true story of Paul Rusesabagina, a hotel manager who
housed over a thousand Tutsi refugees during the 1994 Rwandan genocide.
Potential investors in the film wanted a bigger box-office star like Wesley
Snipes or Denzel Washington for the role, but Cheadle's performance has been
widely praised. Stephen Holden of The New York Times calls it `a magnificent,
understated portrayal of a watchful man who understands the workings of
power.' Let's listen to a clip from the film. In this scene, he's speaking to
other Rwandans at the hotel after learning the UN peacekeeping troops will not
intervene to save them.
(Soundbite of "Hotel Rwanda")
Mr. DON CHEADLE: (As Paul Rusesabagina) There will be no rescue, no
intervention force. We can only save ourselves. Many of you know influential
people abroad. You must call these people. You must tell them what will
happen to us, say goodbye. But when you say goodbye, say it as though you are
reaching through the phone and holding their hand. Let them know that if they
let go of that hand, you will die. We must shame them into sending help.
Most importantly, this cannot be a refugee camp. The Interahamwe believe that
the Milles Collines is a four-star Sabina hotel. That is the only thing that
is keeping us alive.
DAVIES: Cheadle has had interesting roles in a series of hit movies. In the
film "Traffic," he played an agent of the Drug Enforcement Administration. In
Boogie Nights," he played a porn actor who loved country music and called
himself `Buck.' In "Ocean's Eleven," he was a pipe-bomb specialist. In the
HBO movie "The Rat Pack," he played Sammy Davis Jr. And in "Devil in a Blue
Dress," he played Mouse, and ex-con on a short fuse.
Terry Gross spoke to Don Cheadle last spring. He was starring the movie, "The
United States of Leland" as a teacher in a juvenile hall.
TERRY GROSS, host:
Now your father worked as a psychologist with children and teen-agers. Were
you able to draw on his experiences at all?
Mr. CHEADLE: Not really, because he wouldn't talk about them. I mean, only
in a very vague, general sense did he ever talk about his clients or his--you
know, his work. He was very sort of devout about the whole client, you know,
doctor privilege, and he never revealed anything that he specifically spoke
with about any of his clients. It's more a manner that he has and more just a
general way that he discussed problems and tries to get to the root of things
that I think, you know, rubs off on me.
GROSS: You went to the California Institute of the Arts. Now, you know, it
sounds like you had a great drama teacher in high school. Early in your
career, you were--you had a regular part on the television series "Fame,"
based on the movie "Fame." How did, you know, high school for the performing
arts in a TV series compare to the drama class life that you were used to in
Mr. CHEADLE: Well, I had--I wasn't a regular on that show. I did two--I did
a two-part--you know, one early in the year and one much later in that same
season. But the reason I even got attached to "Fame" was one of my college
suite-mates, Jesse Borrego, who played Jesse on the show and still one of my
great friends today, went to--we all went to this open call where they, you
know--they're looking--out of 3,000 people, they cast two people and it was
Jesse Borrego and Nia Peeples. And Jesse was--in his inimitable way, didn't
leave any contact information. All he had was a snapshot. So they were
literally putting his picture on the news, saying, `Have you seen this person?
If you have seen this person, please tell him to call in because, you know, he
has a job.' So people were coming up to us at school going, `I just saw your
picture on the news.' And we're like, yeah, right. You know, he didn't
believe it. And then finally, they tracked him down and took him down there.
So that's kind of how I got involved with that, just from, you know, going to
the set with him and hanging around and meeting the people that were on the
GROSS: The role that really got you a lot of attention early in your career
and won you an award from the Los Angeles film critics is your role in "Devil
in a Blue Dress," which is a film adaptation of a Walter Mosley private eye
novel, you know, with the main character Easy Rawlins, who in the movie was
played by Denzel Washington. And you played Easy's old friend Mouse, who's an
ex-con and is quite crazy and really kind of gets off on violence. In fact,
let me play a scene from that movie. In this scene, Easy is being--Easy is on
the floor with a guy holding a knife to his throat, and the guy's already
started cutting. He's already bleeding. And then you walk in. This is a
surprise. You walk in, as Mouse, and you pull out a gun. The guy drops his
knife and then Easy wants to kind of question him and get to the bottom of the
story, but, no, you shoot him and he runs away. So let's hear that scene.
(Soundbite from "Devil in a Blue Dress")
Mr. DENZEL WASHINGTON (Actor): (As Easy Rawlins) Where's Daphne Monet,
Frank? All right, look, all right, maybe you don't know where she is, but
hey, we can help each other find her, man.
(Soundbite of gun being cocked)
Mr. CHEADLE: (As Mouse) You heard him.
Mr. WASHINGTON: Mouse, no!
(Soundbite of phone ringing; footsteps; phone being picked up)
Mr. CHEADLE: Rawlins residence.
Mr. WASHINGTON: Sit down.
Mr. CHEADLE: No, he's busy right now. You're gonna have to call back.
(Soundbite of phone being hung up)
Mr. WASHINGTON: Look, a rich man is willing to pay $1,000 just to talk to
this girl. A thousand dollars! That's a hell of a lot of money, man! Frank.
Mr. CHEADLE: Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait. Let me try.
(Soundbite of gun)
Mr. CHEADLE: Now look here, Frank. It's Frank, right?
Unidentified Man #1: Yeah.
Mr. CHEADLE: Frank...
(Soundbite of gun being cocked and fired)
Mr. WASHINGTON: What the hell are you--oh my God!
Unidentified Man #1: Let go of me!
Mr. WASHINGTON: Frank! Damn it!
Mr. CHEADLE: What the hell is wrong with you, man? Don't you ever grab me
when I got a gun in my hand.
GROSS: That's Denzel Washington and my guest, Don Cheadle, in a scene from
"Devil in a Blue Dress."
How did you feel about taking this role, given of how skeptical you were of
all the kind of crime roles that were available to you at that time? Did this
one seem qualitatively different?
Mr. CHEADLE: Well, it was. I mean, it was a great writing piece and a great
director, Carl Franklin, and Denzel, a great actor to work with. It was a
no-brainer. And he was such--he wasn't just a pat sort of cookie-cutter
character. That's the other thing about Mouse is he wasn't these bad
television, you know, portrayals of gangster X. He was sort of a complex and
interesting person to me, you know, which is always fun to play. And I don't
mind playing a character like that as long as they have shades, you know. So
often, these roles that I was talking about that we were offered earlier,
there was no--they were just the guy that was there to hold the gun and, you
know, `In this scene, scare this white woman,' you know, or, `In this scene,
you're being chased by the'--that was--you were more a function than you were
a character, and Mouse was very much a character.
GROSS: How did your portrayal of Mouse change your career and the kind of
roles that you were offered?
Mr. CHEADLE: There were some people who wanted me to come, you know,
kill--be a psychopath in their movie, and I kind of just rejected those roles
because a lot of them were, again, underdeveloped and not as well-realized.
In the hands of people who aren't as talented as Carl, I just thought this is
not going to be anywhere near the same sort of--we're not going to get
anywhere near the same sort of product. And I don't need to start going down
that road, you know, getting typecast as that. So I strayed away from that.
Like right after "Devil," I think I did "Boogie Nights" and I did "Volcano"
and I did "Rosewood" and--I remember I did five movies that next year, and
they were all very different roles and they were all very different
characters, which is really exciting, you know, to me. But I think it did
sort of put my name out there in a way that hadn't happened before.
GROSS: "Boogie Nights" is such a great film. This is Paul Thomas Anderson's
film that's set in the pornography trade in--it's the '80s, isn't it? The
'70s or the '80s? I can't remember.
Mr. CHEADLE: Seventies, '80s; it spans both.
GROSS: Yeah, yeah, yeah. And you play this character named Buck--Buck
because you love country music--and sometimes kind of dress in country kind of
clothes. And you're one of the porn actors, but you also sell audio
equipment. And I'm going to play a scene where you're selling audio. You're
in the store selling audio to a customer. Here you are.
(Soundbite from "Boogie Nights")
Mr. CHEADLE: (As Buck) This is hi-fi, OK? High fidelity. Do you know what
that means? That means this is the highest quality fidelity, hi-fi. Those
are two very important things to have in a stereo system.
Unidentified Man #2: What's the price for the 420...
Mr. CHEADLE: I have this very unit in my home.
Unidentified Man #2: Really?
Mr. CHEADLE: Yes, I do. But, of course, I got it modified with a TK421,
which ticks it up another, I don't know, maybe three or four quads per
channel, you know, but that's really--that's technical talk. That doesn't
really concern you. Still a little uncertain, aren't you?
Unidentified Man #2: Yeah.
Mr. CHEADLE: Yeah. You know what you need? You need a test drive. That's
what you need. You need a test drive. I mean, it's one thing to hear it from
Buck's mouth. It's another thing to hear it from the TK421. So let me just
pop in this eight-track, and you just give a listen and tell me what you
(Soundbite of music)
Mr. CHEADLE: Whoo! You hear that? You hear the bass, right? Hear it? It
kicks. It turns. It curls up your belly, makes you freaky deaky, right? You
GROSS: That's my guest, Don Cheadle, in a scene from "Boogie Nights."
That is such a great scene. I love your--the three of four quads per channel.
Mr. CHEADLE: Yeah, yeah.
GROSS: What the heck are quads per channel?
Mr. CHEADLE: That was the most fun, sitting on the set with Paul and going,
`Now what is the exact wrong--what's the most perfect incorrect thing for you
to say?'--and trying to come up with, `Should it be, you know, quads per--What
is it?--channels?' So when we lit up on quads per channel, it was like, `Yeah.
Go do that. Go say that.'
GROSS: There's a great scene toward the end of "Boogie Nights" in which
you're buying doughnuts and, you know, you're choosing two of the chocolates
and two of the old-fashioneds. And suddenly this guy walks in with a big gun
and it's an armed robbery and another guy shoots him and everybody's dead
except for you. There's--their blood is all over your clothes. But, you
know, watching your face in that scene is really interesting because you're
just like, `Oh, boy, the chocolate doughnuts.' And then you're watching in
shock and fear as all this stuff happens around you, and you're trying to kind
of make yourself invisible, which you can't really do. Can you talk a little
bit about shooting that scene?
Mr. CHEADLE: That was a doughnut shop, I believe, on Magnolia Boulevard or
one of the big, you know, Valley streets, east-west streets. And it was--it
was just a Paul--another one of these Paul's visions where he just, `How can
we put this guy in a situation where he can come up but he had nothing to do
with it? He's the hapless victim of something.' But then, you know, because
at the end of that scene, obviously, he gets that money that this guy was
trying to rob, and he takes it. And it was that whole moral question of,
should he take the money, should he not? And he does that real long push in
to Buck as he's standing there thinking about what to do, you know, and he's
in this sort of moral dilemma about is this right or wrong and kind of forgets
that he's got bodies all around him, blood all over him and goes, `Hey, I can
get my store.' And I just think it's great because it's really convoluted and
very jangly. Things don't make sense, and--but it makes perfect sense, which
is the--kind of what Paul does the best, you know.
DAVIES: Don Cheadle speaking with Terry Gross. He stars in the new film,
"Hotel Rwanda." We'll hear more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
DAVIES: Let's get back to Terry's interview with actor Don Cheadle. His
films include "Traffic," "Ocean's Eleven," "The Rat Pack," "Boogie Nights" and
"Devil in a Blue Dress." He stars in the new film, "Hotel Rwanda."
GROSS: You're, I think, about 5'7". Do I have that right?
Mr. CHEADLE: Five-eight.
GROSS: Five-eight and...
Mr. CHEADLE: And a half, thank you very much.
GROSS: OK. Excuse me. I think you can use your size to different effects.
I mean, you're very muscular. And in some roles, like in "Boogie Nights," you
could have a kind of physically vulnerable look. And then in roles like
"Traffic" or "Out of Sight," you can look really strong and able to use that
strength. Can you talk about making your body work in both directions?
Mr. CHEADLE: I think it's something that happens inside, too, that just kind
of permeates. I think strong people--when you see someone and you go, `That
person's strong,' some--very often it doesn't have anything to do with their
physicality, you know. It has to do with something that's behind their eyes
or something that's inside them that emanates or some way that they move
through a room or move through people. You just go, `That guy is not to be
messed with,' or `That guy is very forthright, you know, in his direction.'
There's just something that's very grounded about people like that.
And for Buck, I really didn't think about doing anything physically for him.
I just really sort of tried to feel kind of wrecked inside, you know, kind of
like a house of cards inside that's very--can be toppled, you know, real
easily and always trying to find--he's trying to always find the--you know,
because he was a cowboy, then he had sort of his Earth, Wind & Fire look, and,
you know, and then he trotted out the whole Curtis Mayfield thing, the Sly
I mean, he didn't know what--he had no idea what he wanted or who he was. The
only thing he did know is that he wanted to have Buck's Super Stereo World,
you know, that that was very important to him and that he was an actor. You
know, he was a legitimate person. And that kind of thing--I don't know how
that comes off physically, but that's what I was trying to work with him on
the inside. And, you know, something like--a part like "Out of Sight" or a
part like, you know, "Traffic," you go, `Oh, I'm going to be in the short
T-shirt and these guys probably do exercise, so I better,' you know? It's
just--that's just the basic--just go work out.
GROSS: Don Cheadle is my guest.
A few years ago you were in the HBO "Rat Pack" movie playing the role of Sammy
Davis Jr. Joe Mantegna was Dean Martin. Ray Liotta was Frank Sinatra. What
did you think of Sammy Davis when you were young? Was he on your map at all?
Mr. CHEADLE: He wasn't. He wasn't really on my map. The only--the only
time that he was on my map is when I would hear my parents and family talking
about him in not necessarily the most glowing of terms about what he
represented at that time. You know, what was right around the time when I was
growing up that he was--that, you know, with Nixon and, you know, there was
that whole thing about him hugging Nixon and that was a big flap, you know, in
the community. And I just never really felt--from even seeing his
performances, I thought, `This dude is incredible. This dude us an
unbelievable performer.' But as a person, he always seemed kind of slippery to
me, you know. That's how I would always think of him, as this guy who's just
too slick for school, but undoubtedly incredibly, incredibly talented.
GROSS: Did your opinion of him change when you played him?
Mr. CHEADLE: I wouldn't say that my opinion of him changed, because it was
never really that strongly formed, but I did learn more about him, what made
him tick, from his own words, from his own viewpoint, which is also very
interesting, you know, to see what he wrote about himself in his two books,
you know, "Yes, I Can" and--I forget the name of his other book.
But anyway, both of those books were very interesting, inasmuch as what he
left out, you know, as what he put in, because there were some moments that I
thought would have given rise to a lot of discussion about, you know, moments
that he had with the Panthers and things that went down with he and Frank,
things that you thought, `Well, obviously, you're going to talk about your
anger at this situation or how you'--like when you spoke about his anger to
Frank, it never had anything to do with any sort of racial anything. It was
about Frank's sort of pejorative viewpoint of his lifestyle which, you know,
he'd completely turned around. They didn't talk for many years, and then the
wives got them together and they sort of patched it up.
But he never spoke about things that I thought he has to have some sort of
feeling about, you know, what went down with those guys and the sort of, you
know, the situation of them being able to perform in places that you couldn't
get in and your family had to come in the back door. And I mean, all of those
things, I thought, that those have to show up someplace emotionally in his
book, and he never really dealt with them.
GROSS: Did you do your own singing for the part?
Mr. CHEADLE: In a couple of songs, yeah.
GROSS: And did you try to get his voice?
Mr. CHEADLE: Yeah, as close as I could, yeah. On the live--the stage, when
we were singing the "Hey, There," that we were doing live, that was live.
GROSS: Well, why don't we hear that song, as performed in "The Rat Pack"
movie? And this is Don Cheadle in the role of Sammy Davis.
(Soundbite from "The Rat Pack")
Mr. CHEADLE: (As Sammy Davis Jr., singing) Hey there.
Group of Singers: (In unison) Hey!
Unidentified Man #3: Hey, you want to laugh, go sit out in the audience. Got
a show to do here.
Mr. CHEADLE: (Singing) You used to be too wise. Hey, there.
Unidentified Man #4: What the hell is it, Sam?
Unidentified Man #5: Sing us another tune, Sammy.
Mr. CHEADLE: (Singing) You think someday she'll run to you.
Group of Singers: (Singing) Better forget her.
GROSS: Don Cheadle in "Rat Pack," with Cheadle as Sammy Davis and Joe
Mantegna as Dean Martin, Ray Liotta as Frank Sinatra.
Was it fun to be part of "The Rat Pack," if only in the movies?
Mr. CHEADLE: Oh, yeah. It was a lot of fun, I mean, whenever you have a
fraternity like that, and everybody in the movie was cool to work with, you
know. And in the movie, you know, Sammy twirls guns and obviously he has to
tap dance and sing and plays the drums and, you know, plays the trumpet. It
was like, `Jesus, I've got to, like, get all of this stuff down to a
reasonable facsimile of believability.' So every day it was--actually, it was
great because every day it was like I was back in school, because I had, you
know, a drum tutorial at 11 and I had a trumpet, you know, session at 1, and
then from 3 to 6 I was working with Savion Glover to get the tap dancing
numbers down, and the next day I would had to do the gun twirling and
then--you know. So every day it was sort of this intensive Sammy Davis Jr.
school. That's when it's really fun being an actor, because you get to sort
of touch on all these different aspects of yourself and of other people that
you normally wouldn't, you know.
DAVIES: Don Cheadle is starring in the new film, "Hotel Rwanda."
I'm Dave Davies and this is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Interview: Romeo Dallaire discusses his book "Shake Hands with
the Devil" about the Rwandan genocide
DAVE DAVIES, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Dave Davies filling in for Terry Gross.
The film "Hotel Rwanda" and debate about ethnic massacres in the Darfur region
of Sudan have stirred bitter memories of the world's failure to stop the
Rwandan genocide in 1994. With that in mind, today we return to Terry's
interview with Canadian General Romeo Dallaire, who took over the command of
the UN observer mission in Uganda and Rwanda a few months before the violence
began. When Dallaire arrived, Rwanda was negotiating a peace agreement to end
its civil war. But in April of 1994, the plane carrying the Hutu president of
Rwanda was shot down. Hutu extremists accused ethnic Tutsis of the
assassination and began a massacre that turned into a genocide. An estimated
800,000 Rwandan men, women and children were murdered in a hundred days.
Unable to stop the slaughter, General Dallaire remained in Rwanda and tried to
protect as many people as he could. In September, he returned home.
Four years later he testified at the International Criminal Tribunal for
Rwanda. After that, he said his mind and body decided to give up. Suffering
from post-traumatic stress disorder, he was given a medical discharge from the
army in 2000. He's now special adviser to the Canadian government on
war-affected children. He describes his recent memoir, "Shake Hands with the
Devil," as a story of betrayal, failure, naivete, indifference, inhumanity and
evil. His book is now out in paperback. Terry spoke with General Dallaire
(Soundbite of 2004 interview)
TERRY GROSS, host:
Now the genocide started after the president of Rwanda was shot down in his
plane on April 6th of 1994. At what point did you realize that the world in
Rwanda was about to change?
General ROMEO DALLAIRE (Author, "Shake Hands with the Devil"): Well, the
work-ups to the actual event had made the scenario very, very complex and very
tense. So we were already in an atmosphere of either a resolution or a
blowout, and we were sort of sitting, monitoring both sides and anticipating,
hopefully, a positive one but very much aware that a negative solution might
be coming, and that is a humanitarian catastrophe, as we had been informed.
And so when the president's plane went down, my first reaction was that the
whole mission, the whole scenario's at risk. But it took till the next
afternoon, within about 24 hours, when the rebel forces decided to start
fighting, that the full realization that the mission formally was now ended
and that we were in the middle of a civil war and what looked like something
moving away from ethnic cleansing very much towards a genocide.
GROSS: Do you remember hearing the broadcasts on the radio that urged Hutus
to start killing Tutsis?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, those broadcasts were given in Kinyarwanda, so they
rarely spoke in French or in English, which I speak, and so they were
always--when we were able to get the people finally translated for us. And,
yes, I still have transcripts of those very explicit instructions given by
that extremist radio to people to--where to go kill the Tutsis, how to kill
them, making sure that they killed the children because the rebels that are
attacking now are the children of those that they had killed in the '50s but
had ...(unintelligible) to kill those children.
GROSS: At what point did you realize that what was happening in Rwanda went
beyond civil war, that it was actually turning into genocide?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, by the fourth day, in that ballpark, we had seen that
the political decapitation had ebbed. And, in fact, literally, all moderates,
Tutsi or Hutu, leaders of any sort were targeted. And they had been on a
list, and the extremists, who knew exactly where they lived, had targeted them
and went in and killed the bulk of them with their families, with some of them
escaping. Some of them we were able to get out. And then the killings
continued, and by then the term `ethnic cleansing' was very much in use. I
had already sent for my previous command troops to Yugoslavia and so on, so
that was what we thought was evolving.
And it took, in fact, right up to around the 26th that I finally agreed with
the ICRC, the International Red Cross, representative, as we discussed this
absolutely catastrophic continuum of slaughter, that we were in the middle of
a genocide. And it took that long because, to me, genocide was equivalent to
a holocaust. That's all we had been educated. And so I just couldn't imagine
a holocaust. And so it took time to finally grasp the fact that this was a
genocide, and we had to influence the international community accordingly.
GROSS: Much of the genocide in Rwanda was carried out with machetes. How did
the fact that that's the way so many of the murders were being
accomplished--how did that affect your mission in terms of what you needed to
do to protect people, in terms of what the medical needs of the people around
you were like and...
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, it's one of the most horrific ways of killing people. I
mean, in regards to young children, it's very effective because their heads
come off rapidly, or they can cut them in two. But with adults, you've got to
hack and slash a couple times. And these extremists, the militias and so on,
at times were drugged up or boozed up and had been killing all day, so it's
very fatiguing. And so what they resorted to is instead of ensuring the
people were dead--is that they injured them enough that they were immobile and
that they would bleed to death.
And so, ultimately, what happened is that you had people literally dying over
days in the heat or in the--thrown still alive but suffering in latrines and
situations like that or thrown into the water injured and still alive, not
able to save themselves. And those scenarios created incredible moral
dilemmas in as much as there was in large parts of Rwanda up to 30 percent of
HIV/AIDS before the war started. And soldiers don't run around with rubber
gloves, and so the blood was all over the place. And to what extent those
soldiers exposed themselves in helping people to contracting HIV/AIDS? And it
was interesting that the bulk of the forces that I had responded that they
would not put the lives of the soldiers at risk in trying to save these people
in any way, shape or form because of HIV/AIDS. But a few countries said that,
`AIDS or no AIDS, people are suffering.' Their guys would go in.
GROSS: Could you have gotten a shipment of rubber gloves from the UN?
Gen. DALLAIRE: I couldn't even get ammunition.
GROSS: You couldn't get food. What am I thinking? Yeah.
Gen. DALLAIRE: There was nothing coming in. We had been totally and
GROSS: Early in the genocide there was a radio station that was exhorting its
listeners to kill Tutsis. A little later into the genocide one of the people
on the radio, I believe, was exhorting its listeners to kill you. And I think
they were identifying you as `the white man with the mustache.'
Gen. DALLAIRE: Yes.
GROSS: What can you tell us about what was actually said in the broadcast?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, the broadcast indicated that I, through my work, was
sympathetic to the rebels and that, in fact, wherever I went, the rebels would
be following within a week or two. And the reason that they used that is the
fact that whenever I met with the extremist leaders, they were so terrible in
defending their positions in the civil war part of it--is that they would
often be overrun by the RPF. And so the radio simply made it clear that
people, if they saw me, should kill me because I was essentially working for
the other side. And so when that came out, I had still some white officers,
and some of them had mustaches--Europeans. And they all started to become
targets, and people had to fight off mobs and the like. So I had to order
their evacuation just for their own safety.
GROSS: Because they were white and had mustaches.
Gen. DALLAIRE: Yes, and they looked a bit like me, and it was close enough
for the mob.
GROSS: Did you shave?
Gen. DALLAIRE: No. No.
GROSS: Really? Why not? If they're looking for a mustache, why not take it
Gen. DALLAIRE: No, there was no way that I was going to camouflage myself.
In fact, I never even changed uniform to be in combat uniform. I remained in
my dress that I always had even before the war. I wore a flak jacket. And
then because of the threat, I was ordered to carry a pistol. And I would not
always go in my 4X4. I would at times, depending on where I was going, use an
GROSS: I'm sorry, what's an APC?
Gen. DALLAIRE: An armored personnel carrier.
GROSS: Oh, I see. OK. Did anyone come close to fulfilling the command to
Gen. DALLAIRE: Yes.
GROSS: What happened?
Gen. DALLAIRE: I'm not going to talk about it.
DAVIES: Canadian General Romeo Dallaire speaking with Terry Gross. Dallaire
commanded the UN peacekeeping forces in Rwanda. His memoir, "Shake Hands with
the Devil," is now out in paper. We'll hear more after a break. This is
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: Let's return to Terry's interview with Romeo Dallaire, the Canadian
general who led the UN peacekeeping mission in Rwanda just before and during
the 1994 genocide. His memoir, "Shake Hands with the Devil," describes his
predicament during the massacres commanding a few hundred soldiers, who were
allowed to use their weapons only in self-defense. They were surrounded by
murdering mobs, cut off from the rest of the world.
GROSS: What do you think the rest of the world could have done? You said the
world abandoned you; you had no connection at all with the outside world.
What do you think could have been done to help the troops and to help the
people who were being massacred?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, before the actual war, for about three months, the world
or the bodies of decision knew the incredibly high risks of this peacekeeping
mission failing and that we would be faced with a catastrophic failure because
we had had an informant that described exactly ultimately what happened. But
there was absolutely no will in anybody to either send us troops nor to change
the mandate to permit me to curtail the actions of the extremists in their
training, distribution of arms and the like. And so for those three months no
one was interested in giving me more capability to prevent the genocidal civil
war to be launched.
Once it was launched, then nations that have the capability of deploying
troops rapidly to destroy rate--at the essence the destructive forces, the
militias, so that they wouldn't propagate throughout the country and, in fact,
we would stop the killing very rapidly--those countries that deliberately took
decisions not to intervene--I mean, the Americans on the morning on the 7th of
April--we were barely 12 hours into this situation--in the Security Council,
in the working room, told everybody that not only were they not going to
intervene, but they were going to help nobody who wanted to. And when I had
up to four Franco-African countries all ready to send me troops, but they
couldn't get there because there was no strategic lift--and once on the
ground, they had no equipment--it was deliberate actions that Rwanda and
Rwandans simply don't count because as that's going on, we're pouring tens of
thousands of troops and billions of dollars into ex-Yugoslavia. And the
question is: How come one gang gets all that support, and the other gang gets
And what we saw, in the lack of depth of the media--they came in to take the
pictures of the gore but absolutely had no depth into why this was happening
and why it was significant, in as much as they turned it into banal tribalism.
And it was not tribalism. It was people, extremists, who didn't want to give
up power, didn't want to share power and aligned themselves in a way that they
were going to eliminate the potential enemy, which happened to be in one
particular tribal group. So as we banalize Rwanda--it's of no strategic value
of geography, no strategic value resources, it's only got tainted coffee--and
as one officer told me--you know, he said, `The only thing in Rwanda are
humans, and there's already too many of them. It's overpopulated.'
And so as we banalize that and don't want to get involved in a very messy
situation in Rwanda with blacks in Africa killing each other,
Yugoslavia--that's different. This is more sophisticated. You know, these
are great religions who have been in friction for so long, and their
ethnicities have evolved. People have studied it. You've got the Ottoman
Empire impact. Oh, yes, and they were allies in the Second War II, and we
know some of them, and so they're very important. And the fact that they were
in Europe makes them only more important, and, ultimately, probably because
they were white made them that important. And that's why Yugoslavia got
GROSS: Even though the former Yugoslavia got much more in the way of military
support and other support from Western countries, the role of UN peacekeepers
there has been questioned by many people. I'm wondering, like, just from your
experience in Rwanda, what do you think we need to be rethinking about the
role of peacekeepers and the resources that we give them?
Gen. DALLAIRE: What these peacekeepers today require is a whole set of new
skills based on far more an intellectual basis than the pure warrior ethic
that is trying to be watered down. And so what we're looking for today is, in
fact, people who can be warriors but also have the intellectual depth to be
able to be conflict resolvers and so be value added and be in the alleyways
and talking with the people and helping them resolve the problems. And so
that's why we want the officers particularly in middle powers to have skills
and knowledge particularly in anthropology and sociology and philosophy, so
they can grasp the complexities of this era because this era is not like
before. The post-Cold War era of conflict is exceptionally complex. It is
incredibly ambiguous. And generals who run around the countryside saying that
they shouldn't go in unless they have clear mandates and exit strategies and
they're fearful of mission creep are people who are living in the wrong era.
GROSS: General Dallaire, your book, "Shake Hands with the Devil," is about
your experiences leading the UN peacekeeping troops in Rwanda just before and
during the genocide. The title again is "Shake Hands with the Devil." In
your book, you write, `In Rwanda, I shook hands with the devil, so I know
there is a god. I know the devil exists, and therefore I know there is a
god.' Who was the devil? Do you think of the devil that you shook hands with
as being one person or more of a group phenomenon?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, there was one person in particular, and, in fact, there
were his sort of sidekicks in the militia leaders. I had to negotiate with
these guys, although I had an option also of shooting them between the eyes.
But I'm not sure that would have provided anything for their structures were
so strong that they would have replaced them, and then the whole force would
have been, again, vulnerable. But what I saw in those people, in their eyes,
was not the eyes of human beings. It was the eyes of evil. And I call it the
devil because then my religion sort of qualifies it as that. And they were
the devil; they were the evil. They had blood on their shirts. I mean, they
could negotiate with me with no passion whatsoever, simply saying, `Yeah, OK,
we'll stop massacring here, so that you can move, you know, people between the
lines for about two hours, and then we'll start up again.'
And so human beings don't talk of that nature. It is another entity. Even
their hands were cold, but it was like a death cold. Death cold is not a
temperature. It's a state. And so I was absolutely talking, negotiating and
touching what I would qualify as the most evil, and it is the devil.
GROSS: When you were meeting with the men who you came to think of as the
Gen. DALLAIRE: Yes.
GROSS: ...you said you could have shot them between the eyes, but it probably
wouldn't have done any good. Was there ever a moment where you thought,
`Maybe I should shoot them between the eyes'? And was there a moment when you
thought maybe they'd shoot you between the eyes 'cause, certainly, you were
their enemy? So...
Gen. DALLAIRE: In fact, it's interesting that, on one occasion, I actually
took all the bullets out of my pistol and made sure I didn't have them
available in one of my meetings with them because of some of the sights I'd
been seeing that day and the night before. Them shooting me--on the contrary,
the fact that I was meeting with them to negotiate the transfer of people
between the lines gave them a great sense of importance. They were actually
meeting the general of the UN. I mean, `He wants to see us, militia leaders,
and not just the extremist generals.' To them, it was a high point.
GROSS: You emptied out your gun because you were afraid you would shoot them
if you didn't do that?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, certainly, the emotional position was that strong.
GROSS: You went back to Rwanda for the 10th anniversary of the genocide.
Gen. DALLAIRE: Right.
GROSS: How did the country look to you? And was it helpful to you personally
to go back there and see how the country had changed?
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, I'm not sure if it was helpful in the full sense because
it seemed to be I was a bit zombie-esque. But the country is in much better
shape. The beauty of it is still there. The warmth of many of the Rwandans
is there, but very few friends have survived. And so it was a bit lonely on
that side. And whenever I was looking at these sites all rebuilt, what was
coming like a TelePrompTer in front of my eyes were the scenes in fast forward
of what they looked like during the genocide. So it was good to touch base,
but I don't think the shoe has dropped yet on its full impact on me.
GROSS: General Dallaire, thank you very much for talking with us. I really
appreciate your reflecting with us on your experiences. Thank you. And I
wish you all the best.
Gen. DALLAIRE: Well, you're very kind, and your questions were excellent.
DAVIES: Canadian General Romeo Dallaire speaking last year with Terry Gross.
Dallaire is now special adviser to the Canadian government on war-affected
children. His memoir, "Shake Hands with the Devil," is out in paperback. A
documentary about Dallaire, also called "Shake Hands with the Devil," will be
shown at the Sundance Film Festival, which begins today in Salt Lake City.
Coming up, "Mikey and Nicky," a 1976 thriller starring Peter Falk and John
Cassavetes, which has just come out on DVD. This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: Elaine May's movie "Mikey and Nicky" now on DVD
DAVE DAVIES, host:
Elaine May's "Mikey and Nicky" came out in 1976 and starred John Cassavetes
and Peter Falk as small-time gangsters. It's now out on DVD, and our critic
John Powers says it's time for this overlooked film to get the audience it
JOHN POWERS reporting:
When someone says the name Elaine May, most of us instantly think of comedy:
her famous sketch work with Mike Nichols; her directorial efforts, like "The
Heartbreak Kid"; and her legendary script-doctoring on pictures like
"Tootsie" and "The Birdcage." Yet the greatest thing she ever did was also
the unlikeliest, "Mikey and Nicky," a rich, gritty, deadly, serious story
about two small-time hoods. Reckoned a disaster when it came out in 1976,
this tale of friendship and betrayal has been nearly impossible to see ever
since. But now it's available on DVD, and you can discover what few people
realized at the time. "Mikey and Nicky" is one of the best American movies of
the last 40 years.
The action takes place over one long night on the streets of Philadelphia.
John Cassavetes plays the mercurial Nicky, a vain, violent, charming thug, who
knows a contract has been put out on him. Afraid of dying, he calls for help
from his childhood friend and fellow gangster Mikey--that's Peter Falk--a
family man who's as careful as Nicky is impetuous. There's only one problem.
While Mikey is helping to calm his friend down, he's also selling him out.
The two travel around the darkened city drinking at bars, breaking into a
cemetery to see the grave of Nicky's mom and dropping in on Nicky's mistress.
Along the way these overgrown boys--just look at their names--jokes, argue,
reminisce, brawl and, though they aren't self-conscious men, tough on life's
Here in the cemetery, Nicky brings up the ultimate issue of mortality.
(Soundbite of "Mikey and Nicky")
Mr. JOHN CASSAVETES: (As Nicky) You don't believe there's anything after you
Mr. PETER FALK: (As Mikey) Oh, me personally? No, I believe you die, and
Mr. CASSAVETES: (As Nicky) That doesn't scare you to think that one day
you'll die, it'll be over? Won't be anything. You won't know anything. Be
Mr. FALK: (As Mikey) Look, Nick, you want to visit your mother? Let's visit
your mother because the conversation is stupid.
Mr. CASSAVETES: (As Nicky) It isn't stupid. It's interesting if you're going
Mr. FALK: (As Mikey) Well, I'm not going to die, so I think it's stupid.
Mr. CASSAVETES: (As Nicky) Yeah? Well, you are someday.
Mr. FALK: (As Mikey) Look, Nick...
Mr. CASSAVETES: (As Nicky) You're going to die someday.
Mr. FALK: (As Mikey) I'm not going to stand here at 1:00 in the morning and
discuss what's going to happen to me when I die. I mean, that meshuggeh I
leave to the Catholics.
POWERS: It's impossible to talk about "Mikey and Nicky" without mentioning
its loony production history, neatly outlined in the DVD's extras. Elaine May
shot over a million feet of film, more than any previous movie, more than
"Ben-Bur," "Lawrence of Arabia" or "The Godfather," and this for a 105-minute
picture whose typical scene features two guys alone talking. Evidently
clueless about film mechanics, May often told the cameraman to keep shooting
minutes after the film had run out. Yet, miraculously enough, her bizarre
efforts paid off. She managed to bring something new to that most popular of
movie forms, the gangster picture.
Ever since the Roaring '20s gangsters have exercised a special hold over our
national imagination. Early movie mobsters, like Scarface and Little Caesar,
were metaphors for the immigrant encounter with American success. Their
meteoric rise led to an equally precipitous fall. Over the years such ideas
grew deeper and more complicated, with "The Godfather" painting a baleful
portrait of corrupted Nixon-era America; "GoodFellas" offering a roach's-eye
view of the dowdy wise-guy subculture and "The Sopranos" presenting a
post-modern mob, whose members have partly learned how to behave by watching
those other movies.
What does Elaine May add to this tradition? She makes the gangster movie
intimate. Although propelled by impending murder, "Mikey and Nicky" is a
brilliant character study of two wildly different friends, neither especially
likeable, who just happen to be gangsters. And we come to grasp their whole
lives in a single night. Nicky is a bungle of electrified nerve endings,
whose operatic charisma has won him countless friends and women, all of whom,
it's worth pointing out, he treats like a pig. Although it's Nicky's manic
energy that keeps things going, the movie's actually about the betrayer,
Mikey, who, in Falk's astonishing performance, is buffeted by childhood
memories, personal resentments and, of course, financial calculation. A more
apparently civilized man than Nicky, Mikey knows that, given the choice
between his mobster boss and his crazy, unreliable friend, the smart man will
always choose the boss.
The late critic Robert Warshaw wrote that, `Gangsters are America's version
of the tragic hero.' "Little Caesar's" Rico is taken down by his violent, vain
glory. Michael Corleone winds up killing his family in order to save it. And
Mikey--well, he's tragic, too, but in a quintessentially modern way. He's not
larger than life, like Scarface or the godfather. He's a small fry. But it's
May's great triumph that Mikey's decision to sell out Nicky finally takes on
its own horrible grandeur. It feels as inexorable as Oedipus discovering the
truth of his past or Lear winding up on the heath.
DAVIES: John Powers is film critic for Vogue and writes a column on the media
for LA Weekly. He reviewed the DVD release of "Mikey and Nicky."
DAVIES: For Terry Gross, I'm Dave Davies.
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