From Brian Todd
WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Paul Rusesabagina, a non descript, middle-aged grandfather, may not look like a hero. But go back 10 years as his country descended into madness, and you may see something different.
In April 1994, two presidents were assassinated, a peace accord collapsed and Rwanda crumbled with it.
Smoldering resentment between ethnic Hutus and their rival Tutsis exploded into a surreal, murderous rampage.
Hutu extremists begin butchering Tutsis and moderate Hutus. In three months, more than 800,000 people were slaughtered.
Rusesabagina was in the middle of it. The moderate manager of the four-star Hotel Mille Collines in the capital, Kigali, was a Hutu. His wife, a Tutsi. He began the enormous task of protecting her, and taking in others at the same time.
"I thought I was doing my right job, my day-to-day life, a manager's life. A manager's job," Rusesabagina says.
The new film "Hotel Rwanda" chronicles the genocide in Rusesabagina's footsteps.
Played by Don Cheadle, this unassuming, somewhat naive businessman is at first bewildered by the chaos outside his hotel's gates -- then he watches his friends turn into killers.
As the corpses pile up, and the Westerners get out, Rusesabagina starts taking in people desperate for any shelter.
With little protection and dwindling supplies, he houses more than 1,200 people, and wards off their attackers.
Rusesabagina says he often used some pretty basic psychology to save lives. If you want to control someone, he says, keep him close to you. To keep militiamen at bay, he often spoke directly to them as they came to his hotel. He charmed them into being distracted and moving on.
Sometimes, it meant serving them drinks and food. Other times, it called for a frantic bribe, including an offering of 100,000 francs.
"Just from him doing the things that he knew how to do, moment to moment -- it's not some mythic figure. It's just a common, everyday man. And I think that's what people are connecting to," says Cheadle, who portrays Rusesabagina.
Consciously avoiding scenes of graphic violence, the filmmakers weave a personal thriller with a central character who overcomes his own doubts and mistakes and the betrayal of friends and nations.
Today, Paul Rusesabagina seems almost unfathomably cheerful and normal -- living in Belgium with his family, running a trucking company in Zambia, receiving honors and ovations and staying on-message:
"What people say should be put in facts, not only in words. If it is 'never again', they have to make it never again."