In a new interview with Pitchfork, Don Cheadle opened up about his starring role in Kendrick’s latest music video. He admitted he wasn’t aware the rapper’s Kung Fu Kenny alter ego was modeled after his Rush Hour 2 character of the same name.
“I didn’t know that until the next day. He got that from my character in Rush Hour 2,” the actor explained. “He was like, ‘Duh!’ He texted me like, ‘Dude are you serious? You didn’t know that?’ […] I did not put it together. Then I went to Coachella and saw him perform, and I saw the video before the thing and still didn’t figure it out. And then I went on Twitter and someone had randomly tweeted, ‘Don Cheadle is the original Kung Fu Kenny.’ I went, ‘Wait a minute, I did play a character named Kenny who did kung fu and spoke Chinese.’”
Cheadle also revealed he didn’t have much time to prepare for the project, as he was contacted by Kendrick only a couple of days before filming began. He told Pitchfork the Compton rapper hit him up out of the blue and asked if he wanted to be involved in the music video. Cheadle said he agreed before knowing he would play a cop who rapped a big portion of the song.
“I was like, ‘Uh OK, you know you’re like the best rapper in the world, so what are you talking about.’ He sent me the lyrics and was like, ‘You just have to get this much of it down,”’which was like half of it [laughs]. I was like, ‘Are you gonna have a teleprompter?’ And he said, ‘No, it’s gonna be fine.’”
The pressure was on. Though Cheadle is no stranger to memorizing lines, he said delivering the “DNA” rap was much more difficult than memorizing a script. He said the tricky part was figuring out how each thought segued into the next.
“It takes a deep dive to kind of figure out why one verse creates the other verse and what it comes out of and all of that,” he said. “So it’s tricky to memorize because it’s so specific to the way he thinks. But then when we got in there, we really just started playing. We just started improvising, really.”
As you can see in the final result, Cheadle pulled it off perfectly.