Don Cheadle had never met any member of Miles Davis’ family when they approached him to make a film about the groundbreaking artist’s life. That’s where I started when I spoke with Cheadle by phone about MILES AHEAD on March 31, 2016. It was one of those kismet stories, that provided a jumping off point for our conversation that covered strategic casting, and how Davis’ process of playing the notes that >weren’t< there influenced Cheadle’s approach to making his film.
The story takes place during the five-year period when Davis was suffering from a creative block, which prompted me to ask Cheadle if the idea of such a block was something that worried him in his own creative spirit. I was also curious about if immersing himself so fully in Davis’ life had changed the way he listened to his music.
Cheadle was gracious when I once again read too much into a film, in this case commenting on the odd resemblance between co-star Ewan McGregor and the character Patrick Fugit played in Cameron Crowe’s ALMOST FAMOUS. And he was both thoughtful and pragmatic when I asked him about the necessity of casting a white actor in a lead role in order to get his film funded.
We finished up with Cheadle describing how the experience of making 2004’s HOTEL RWANDA, about the Rwandan genocide, changed his life, and his ongoing efforts to bring attention to the plight of Sudan.
MILES AHEAD is a film about what may or may not have happened during that five-year break that Miles Davis, played by Cheadle, took from the public eye. It was a time when he didn’t record, or even compose as far as anyone knew. During this time of personal and professional crisis for Davis, as the film imagines, arrived a reporter from Rolling Stone, played by Ewan McGregor, who becomes Davis’ sidekick in a series of suitably larger-than-life adventures. As the two attempt to score drugs confront record producers, and both protect and then recover a tape Davis has been withholding from his record company, violence, tragedy, comedy, introspection, and absurdity collide in a kinetic collage that mirrors both Davis’ restless energy and his preternatural ability to be several people, doing several things, all at once. The film co-stars Emayatzy Corinealdi, Michael Stuhlbarg, Keith Stanfield, and Herbie Hancock as himself. Cheadle directed from a script he wrote with Steven Baigelman, and this is his feature film directorial debut.