LOS ANGELES—Following his critically acclaimed performance in the post-Sept. 11 drama Reign Over Me, a "spellbinding" interview on The Colbert Report, and a graceful supporting role in a recent "Make Your Own Super Bowl Commercial" ad campaign, actor's actor and voice of his generation Don Cheadle captivated patrons of Ollie's Coffee Shop in downtown L.A. Monday with his order of a grande half-caff Americano and banana- walnut muffin.
"In a word? Breathtaking," said student Jonathan Stern, who has called the three-and-a-half-minute transaction "the Million Dollar Baby" of coffee shop purchases. "Cheadle managed to deliver the kind of raw, seething emotion necessary to capture the urgency of his craving for caffeine."
"I felt like I was there, experiencing it right alongside him, instead of sitting several feet away near the window," Stern added.
Cheadle, best known for his work in Hotel Rwanda, has received endless praise and even an Oscar nomination for his ability to deliver deeply resonant performances in dramatic films about African genocides and strained race relations, as well as in offbeat comedies and A-list heist films.
"God, I keep thinking about the way he paused to check the specials board," said regular Ollie's customer and cosmetologist Joyce Ruiz. "Everything was in that pause. A lesser actor could easily have oversold the desire for a cranberry bran muffin, but Cheadle remained deliberate and restrained."
"I can't imagine even Terrence Howard or Philip Seymour Hoffman pulling that off with such aplomb," Ruiz continued.
Living up to his reputation as a "dogged perfectionist," Cheadle was spotted researching the highly anticipated purchase at several different Los Angeles–area coffee shops in recent months. Though the actor spent years testing various wardrobe options and beverage choices, the 10-odd customers who were lucky enough to witness the final product agreed that his hard work paid off.
"What I saw today was gold-standard Cheadle," said general contractor Dave Hoyt, who was in line during the actor's purchase. "I'd venture to say it was the most amazing performance I've seen from him since I drove past a bus that had his Gap ad on the side. I sobbed in my car for a long time that day, thinking about art's capacity to transcend human tragedy."
Customers also heaped praise on the unorthodox, and at times surprising, decisions that separated Cheadle's purchase from so many others.
"He made some gutsy choices that would have fallen flat in less talented hands," said real estate agent Beverly Kinney of a controversial moment during the transaction when Cheadle dropped some of his change onto the floor after paying. "But under Cheadle's command, they served to seamlessly create a convincing dimension of vulnerability and humanity."
Employees at the coffee shop noted that barista Monica Naylor turned in her career-best performance during the transaction, reinforcing Cheadle's reputation as a customer who pushes those he purchases things from to the zenith of their abilities.
"Cheadle put Monica at ease," coworker Kyle Brent said. "He never overshadowed or downplayed the importance of her part in the purchase, and she definitely benefited from his experience as a customer. He's just one of those people who makes everyone around him better."
Ollie's patron Sarah Shoemaker, 27, added that the transaction was "the most powerful exchange of goods and services of the year."
Cheadle's performance, however, was not without its critics.
"This is the second time in as many days that he's been to this café," Shoemaker said. "He should mix it up a bit. A bail bonds office? An ice-cream shop? An ATM? He's such a phenomenal talent that it'd be a shame to see him get into a rut and fall short of his potential."