Don Cheadle Headlines a Superb Cast in Wall Street Comedy ‘Black Monday’

Erin Simkin/SHOWTIME

Although Showtime’s wild new series Black Monday (Sundays at 10pm ET/PT beginning Jan. 20) deals with a devastating economic event — it opens on the titular Oct. 19, 1987, the date of the biggest Wall Street crash in history — the series draws uproarious and outrageous comedy from the crash as viewers are treated to a fictionalized accounting of how a group of outsiders eventually caused that crash.

The manic ’80s energy of Black Monday not only perfectly fits its setting and time period, but also may come from the fact that its producing partners Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who also co-direct the pilot episode) appear to have been inspired in both content and style to emulate some of the great ’80s film comedies with the “underdog outsiders versus powerful upper-crust snobs” theme. Along with that, the show uses a nothing-off-limits approach to its comedy that allows Black Monday to not shy away from finding humor in the raunchy sex-and-drug habits of many of its protagonists.

But the energy of the series also mirrors the intense, often coke-inspired bravado of its main character himself — Don Cheadle’s Maurice Monroe. Cheadle enthusiastically inhabits Maurice, who refers to himself as “black Moses” and promises to “put the ‘brother’ in ‘Lehman Brothers’” as he ceaselessly works to crash the old boys club of Wall Street alongside the other outsiders of his small trading house (Cheadle is surrounded, and matched in his energy, by an equally game and outstanding cast including Andrew Rannells and Regina Hall).

In the real world, Cheadle, too, was working tirelessly on completing the series — often filming 14-hour days — when we caught up with him to talk about Black Monday.

Are Maurice and the other characters in Black Monday based on real people, or are they satiric constructs put together from Wall Street archetypes?
Don Cheadle: The latter. It would be nearly impossible to find this particular makeup of people in one house. There’s a line in the series where Maurice talks about how they’re the ones nobody ever wanted. At that time, in that environment — hell, even now — a black man at the head of a trading house with a black woman as his right hand is pretty unheard of. But it affords the opportunity to play with and talk about all that stuff in the context of the show, so it’s cool. But mostly, we’re hoping people laugh. It’s a comedy, after all.

Although Black Monday deals with a specific historical crash and has fun satirizing the excess of the 1980s, do you think it also has lessons even for today?
As James B. Stewart talks about in his book Den of Thieves, which focuses on Wall Street in the ’80s, the one thing that cannot be eliminated from the way the market works is the inherent greed of people in general and their inability to refrain from letting it run amok. Even today, many prognosticators think we might be headed for another crash given that the “loopholes” that allowed 2007 to happen haven’t all exactly been closed.
Will our show serve as a cautionary tale? I doubt it. And it’s not really the point. I think our job is to hopefully provide some comic relief as people try not to slide down razor blade mountain. If they take away something substantive, that’s cool, too.

This isn’t the first time you’ve starred in a Showtime series that has scathingly satirized an industry or profession that some people may not look too kindly on — this time it’s finance, in House of Lies it was management consulting. Do you see any similarities between these two series, and any similarities or differences between Maurice Monroe and your Emmy-nominated House of Lies role as Marty Kaan?
The biggest difference for me is that Maurice isn’t a world-beater. No matter what Marty faced, I think the prevailing thinking was that he was always as smart, if not smarter, than everybody in the room, and that given any crack, he could exploit it and land on his feet. Maurice more lives on his cunning and insane gambles. He’s not a thoughtful plotter as much as a dude who’s gotten lucky so far and would rather push his chips in the middle on a hope to get a winning hand rather than be a lock going in. It can’t last.

You were just a few years starting into your acting career on Oct. 19, 1987. Do you recall reading/hearing about the events of Black Monday?
I had just moved to L.A. and started trying to make it in the business. That hustle was all-consuming. Although the economy everywhere was affected, my brown-rice-and-broccoli diet didn’t really take a discernible hit, and finding work didn’t get appreciably harder. It was kind of a blip for me. 2007 definitely caught my attention, though, and not unlike everywhere, our business definitely changed for the tougher.

Erin Simkin/SHOWTIME