A Brief Performance Analysis: Don Cheadle & Chiwetel Ejiofor in Talk to Me (2007)

Intro: Some of my earliest attempts at furthering my craft and love of writing, acting and film-making took place at the New York Film Academy, NYC. One of the more zombiefying assignments we were given was to break down and analyze performances in acclaimed films. Really dive into what the intention could have been behind each choice the actor made.

Working on pieces like these definitely helped me build up an appreciation for specificity in craft, so I’ve decided to put ’em up online as a way of looking back @ how I used to look at performance — vs how I view them today.

In this piece I’m going to be looking at Don Cheadle (Char. Petey Greene) & Chiwetel Ejiofor (Char. Dewey Hughes) in the film ‘Talk to Me’.

The performances in ‘Talk to Me’ rely heavily on subtleties within the characters’ physicality. Their portray the difference withing the personalities through emphasizing their gesticulation.

Example: Don Cheadle makes the choice to play the character (Petey Greene) very relaxed and loose, he keeps his shoulders slouched back, carrying his body in an almost perpetual state of leaning back — when he walks, their is very little force placed in his step, giving a very light step to the character.

Cheadle also makes the physical choice to move his hands around, in the flow of his speech. This all works together to portray a character who is relaxed or laid-back and very conversational in nature — this adds a very distinct and specific personality trait to the character, adding realism and believability to the performance. This also stays true the story and circumstances already established. (The character being a radio personality.)

In contrast, at the beginning of the film, Chiwetel makes the choice to play his character (Dewey Hughes) very rigid and upright. Shoulders raised in a manner that makes him appear bigger in status. Chiwetel uses little to no physical gesticulation or emphasis in terms of the body or hands but compensates by placing a strong emphasis on eye contact when trying to communicate with other characters — Cheadle made the choice to let Petey’s eyes wander around a bit more.

Chiwetel also steps down slightly harder when he walks, which adds a lot more weight to his strut— This gives the character a sense of control and direction or purpose in his walk/movement. It shows Chiwetel’s character as a more focused, determined and uptight character who is more about the business.

This, much like Cheadle, is effective in giving the character very distinct personality traits. This choice of physicality within the performance also succeeds in building and conveying a believable contrast between the two characters.

The major changes within the performances happen during the middle portion of the film. Petey is becoming successful and well known. Chiwetel begins to adopt aspects of physicality established by Cheadle — in order to show a subtle change or transition of Dewey becoming more like Petey. Chiwetel begins to adopt the learned back shoulders and use of hand gesticulation that Cheadle had brought to the Petey character.

Another major change occurs towards the final few minutes within the second act - where Martin Luther King was announced dead. Cheadle adopts the more rigid, upright physicality that Chiwetel had brought to the Dewey character. Cheadle also makes the choice to drop a large portion of his hand movements.

This adoption of each other’s physicality is a strong performance choice as it displays a strength withing the characters’ friendship as well visualizing the amount time both characters have spent invested into each other.

This is real, honest and believable, also, adding a greater level of authenticity and relatability to the performance.

Chiwetel & Cheadle use subtle physicality to create strong very distinct traits in character and then continue to subtly push and mold physicality to convey transition, growth, change and progression within the characters.

This is also a powerful example of two actors working off each other and helping build on top of what each other created — it is a testament to preparation. Each actor knew that eventually, these two opposites would slowly adopt each other’s physicality into their own, given the development of friendship within the film.