Washington was a perfect match for Easy Rawlins: charming, intelligent, someone audiences can trust to guide them through what is often a dark and violent film. But to play Easy’s trigger-happy childhood friend, Raymond “Mouse” Alexander, Franklin turned to a lesser-known actor: his “punk” star Don Cheadle.
Cheadle had been touring Hollywood for nearly a decade at this point, and would perhaps be best known (if at all) for the short-lived Golden Girls spin-off, The Golden Palace. Mouse is a joker, well dressed with a bowler hat cocked to one side and carrying at least two pistols at all times. Cheadle and Mouse enter the film in a flash about halfway through, bringing a living energy and smiling menace to every scene. For his efforts, Cheadle was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award and won the Los Angeles Film Critics Association award for Best Supporting Actor.
Amazingly, Mouse was almost completely absent from the film. While “Devil” was in development at Universal, Mosley had written a draft of the script himself, combining Easy’s and Mouse’s characters to make Easy a more active protagonist. After Sony took over the project, Franklin was allowed to adapt the film himself, discarding Mosley’s draft and the changes he had made. Restoring Mouse to the narration not only gave Cheadle the prominent role of his career, but also arguably the best line in the film, as Mouse justifies his killing of Easy’s treacherous friend Joppy (the late Mel Winkler): “Easy, if you ain’ I don’t want him killed, why did you leave him with me?