Last summer, I was invited alongside a group of journalists to visit the Atlanta, Georgia set of Avengers: Infinity War. You can read a more in-depth account about my experience on the set here, but suffice it to say that it was indeed epic. The amount of star-power in this movie is mind-boggling, and over the next several weeks I’ll be publishing interviews with the cast and creatives behind it all. They couldn’t reveal much in the way of specifics, of course, but it was really fun to just see their banter and interactions — which is really the crux of what the Avengers movies are all about.
So much has happened in the MCU since we visited Pinewood studios, but so much has also happened off-screen for Don Cheadle’s James Rhodes, a.k.a. Rhodey a.k.a. War Machine, since the events of Captain America: Civil War. At the end of that movie, Rhodey was knocked out of the sky by Vision, and became paralyzed. In images we’ve seen from Infinity War, it looks like Rhodey now has an apparatus he uses to walk, but the road to recovery — both physical and emotional — is going to be a complicated one:
QUESTION: Can you start out by telling us a little bit of what Rhodey’s story has been since Civil War?
CHEADLE: Well clearly there was a pretty significant moment for Rhodey at the end of Civil War, where he was accidentally shot out of the air by Vision … who is now my mortal enemy. No, I think we worked it out over the break. And now he’s coming back to the Avengers, back to his team. A little ambivalent, I think, with a new rig by Tony, which of course he had to put his name on. So Tony. Like I’m gonna not know who made them? And he’s rejoining the team and reintroduced back here in this Wakanda storyline.
Do you think his philosophy has changed at all between where he was in Civil War and now?
CHEADLE: I think there are definitely more questions for Rhodey. I think he was always somewhat straddling with having Tony as a friend and trying to support him and do what he needed, being outside of the lines, but still somehow trying to stay within the chain of command, as the military man that he is. So I think that’s become more fraught, and probably more frayed, as the storylines go forward.
How does Tony feel about him now working with this other team that’s kind of led by a guy who he was just at odds with?
CHEADLE: Well I think at the end of the day that division was not something that was really formed by the characters in the movie. There were outside pressures that created that division. And they ultimately want to be back together. So I think that Tony … I imagine that he’s understanding of it.
Now that you’re back with a rig and you get to move around in Avengers, will we see Rhodey suit up again, War Machine style?
CHEADLE: You might see him suit back up again. Although that’s a bit of a … that’s gonna be a thing for him to put that suit back on. Last time he was in it, it didn’t go so well.
You spoke a little bit about this but, does him getting hurt, and obviously just the way he got hurt, and who might have been the cause and all of that … is that something that really affects his mindset going into this?
CHEADLE: Well I think it’s something that he’s fighting to put behind him. But absolutely, it creeps up. There’s innuendo. There’s shots taken. There’s things said. Don’t want certain people behind me. I’m gonna keep a eye on everybody, I wanna keep that jewel in front of me, not behind me. So yeah, I think he’s, like I said, I think he’s negotiating this reunion and his rejoining this team.
How does Rhodey feel about Thanos, this larger-than-life, all-powerful villain coming for them?
CHEADLE: Well I think, as always, we’ve seen that Rhodey would prefer to deal with real-world things, and that’s kind of what he understands. And when we start leaving the planet and talking about things coming from outer space, he’s like, “Dude, I don’t even know what that … what is that? I know how to fight guys, and in tanks and weapons and that. [This is] something that’s beyond my pay grade.” But he’s been thrown into the deep end, they all are in a way in this one. So everybody’s gonna have to figure it out on their feet.
So it’s kind of like when he saw Vision doing all those crazy things in Age of Ultron, but times ten?
CHEADLE: Yeah. “What? There’s more? There’re more crazy things like you?”
So we’ve heard a little bit about the process for this where you don’t necessarily have a script, but you’re given pages and you have an outline. Is there anything coming up that you’re particularly excited about ,even if you don’t have a script page for it?
CHEADLE: Well in the absence of the script, I just write my own lines. So I just … I’m in the trailer every day, I’m just pumping it out. I just…
Where’s your story credit?
CHEADLE: Yeah, where is my story credit? I think that’s the real story here, where is my story credit? No, it’s very interesting on set obviously when you don’t know the entirety of everything, and things are changing in real time. It keeps you on your toes, that’s for sure. But it’s ultimately exciting and it’s as fun for us sometimes discovering it as it is for the audience. ‘Cause we’re like … oh we had no idea how that was gonna turn, and the story is really intricate and pretty. It’s very different I think from what I’ve seen, what I have read. It has a little bit of a different feel than the last movies have. And there’s a little more gravitas. And it kind of has to be that way. I don’t think you can keep doing the same kind of thing in this franchise over and over. I think you have to try to bring in some more serious elements. And I think Rhodey being injured was a part of it, kind of starting the “oh wait, people can really get hurt.” Things can really go south for these characters.