In the new movie "Iron Man 2," Don Cheadle plays James (Rhodey) Rhodes, a tough military officer who is one of the superhero's closest confidants and who becomes an armor-clad hero himself known as the War Machine.
In real life, Cheadle is a polite and mild-mannered advocate for preserving the global environment, a role he believes fits perfectly with his ongoing campaign against genocide in Africa.
The 45-year-old, who has played everything from drug-addicted Washington disc jockey Petey Greene to Rat Packer Sammy Davis Jr. was on Capitol Hill last week to lobby for the Global Conservation Act, a bill introduced in March calling for an international strategy to protect natural resources and biodiversity.
Next month, Cheadle will go a step further with the role, taking on the title of United Nations Goodwill Ambassador for the environment. The honor will be bestowed in Rwanda, the African nation that was the setting for the 2005 movie "Hotel Rwanda," in which Cheadle played real-life hotel manager Paul Rusesabagina, who helped thousands of Tutsi refugees struggling to survive the Hutu militia.
"I'm no expert on the environment, but I do believe that it's an issue that is global," Cheadle said last week between meetings and speaking engagements in Washington. "All of these different issues -- a lot of them that I've been dealing with over the years, in Africa, with Darfur, and the Congo, and Uganda -- these conflicts will be exacerbated by the loss of our natural resources."
The conservation bill Cheadle is backing seeks more U.S. leadership in preserving land and water resources, protecting fisheries and wildlife and stopping environmental degradation. It was introduced a week after the divisive healthcare battle by five Democrats and five Republicans who see it as a chance to heal the environment in Congress, too, said Jeff Wise, director of the Alliance for Global Conservation and an executive at Pew Charitable Trusts.
"People are hungry for bipartisanship, and you take an issue like global conservation, it's an opportunity for Democrats and Republicans to be on the same page," Wise said.
Cheadle declined to be pinned down on his political leanings, brushing off a question about the tea party movement. "I've had tea parties," he said. "I've also had coffee parties -- all sorts of beverage parties I've been involved in."
But on the environment, he's dead serious. "I'm hopeful the issue will be addressed because it affects all of us and it's something that requires our swift attention," he said. "This issue is marching toward us."
This article appears in the May 29, 2010, edition of NJ Daily.