Don Cheadle Talks Starring In Kendrick Lamar’s Video & Being The Original Kung Fu Kenny
Yesterday, Kendrick Lamar continued the momentum he’s built over the last few weeks, with the release of a new video for his song “DNA.” Since mid-March, Lamar has had the Hip-Hop world on lock, with an onslaught of new songs, the release of his album DAMN., a headlining performance at Coachella, a theme song for the NBA playoffs, in “HUMBLE.,” and more. One of the highlights of yesterday’s video, however, came from a literal breakout performance from Don Cheadle. Cheadle takes on the role of a hard-nosed police officer who conducts an aggressive interrogation of a handcuffed Lamar. During the course of their exchange, Kendrick transfers his DNA to Cheadle and Cheadle transforms into a mirror of the Compton MC, reciting his raps and embodying his gestures. In an interview with Pitchfork, Cheadle spoke about how the video came about, his prep time, his 2-year friendship with Lamar, being the inspiration behind Kendrick’s new “Kung Fu Kenny” persona and more.
In the discussion, Cheadle reveals that he literally only had 2 days, both to memorize Kendrick’s lyrics. “I had two days to get ready for the video. Kendrick just hit me out of the blue and just said, ‘Hey man, I’m going to do this video, do you wanna be in it?” And I said, “Yeah, sure.” And then he said, “Do you want to know what the part is?’ He was like, ‘Yeah, you’re gonna come in and play a cop, and you’re interrogating me, and then you’re just gonna spit my rap.’ I was like, ‘Uh OK, you know you’re like the best rapper in the world, so what are you talking about.’”
Beyond the lyrics, Cheadle also had to study Kendrick’s mannerisms, as part of the video literally calls for him to act as if he’s been possessed by Lamar’s DNA. Cheadle discussed how he was able to channel Kendrick on such short notice, saying “And they sent me a couple of video clips of him literally just sitting in a trailer, just kind of moving. They said, ‘We want you to get his movements, ’cause you’re kind of going to be mirroring him at some point.’” Cheadle’s impersonation of Kendrick is stunningly accurate, and a real testament to his critically-acclaimed acting chops.
Elsewhere in the interview, Cheadle discusses his unawareness that he was the inspiration for Kendrick’s new nickname. Back in 2001, the actor played the role of “Kenny” in the film Rush Hour 2. Not only was Kenny hilarious, he also was a Kung Fu master. Apparently, he left quite the impression on a young Kendrick Lamar, because Kendrick adopted the nickname “Kung Fu Kenny” on DAMN., as memorialized by a number of memorable drops by veteran DJ Kid Capri.
Not only did Kendrick take on the name, the costume he wore for the “DNA.” video was a direct tribute to the garb worn by Cheadle’s character in the movie. Sadly, the inside joke was lost on Cheadle. “When he hit me, before the video, he said, ‘The video, it’s gonna be here, and I’ve got a little surprise for you.’ I was like, ‘Cool.’ So I showed up, I did the thing, then I left, and I did not put it together.” Cheadle goes on to say that he didn’t finally get the reference until someone clued him in on Twitter.
Cheadle recounts Kendrick’s response when he finally connected the dots, discusses the evolution of their friendship and more in the Pitchfork interview, which can be read in its entirety here.