While researching the forthcoming Miles Davis biopic last night I found a short, news item on contactmusic.com from June of last year.
Don Cheadle received no help from Miles Davis’ family while researching his role as the jazz man – because no one had any recollections about the music icon’s secret life.
It’s a year later, and I have no idea what’s going on internally with the project, but I do know that Vince Wilburn Jr., Davis’ nephew and part of Miles Davis Properties, is on board as a producer, so there must be ‘help’ on some level.
It’s an interesting angle when you think about what source material the writers and Cheadle are drawing from in crafting the film. There are numerous biographies and the infamous autobiography, plus countless interviews and features, but I’m sure access to family and friends is essential to the overall goal in piecing together Davis’ life.
The Hotel Rwanda star felt sure recollections from Davis’ family members would help him master the essence of the legend but Cheadle discovered he knew more about his subject than they did. He says, “I asked them about parts of his life and they don’t have any idea. They don’t know what was going on. “Miles Davis lived in a house on the Upper West Side in New York – in this converted church – for five years and they said, `There were days when we’d come to see him and he wouldn’t let us in.’
“I ended up with the soup of the person and who that person was spiritually… What his wife said, what his ex-wife said, what his girlfriend says, the nephew says, the son says, there are all these different perspectives on this one person.”
It’s a difficult road in trying to understand the essence of Miles Davis? That sounds about right…
The report closes with this:
And when Cheadle turned to Davis interviews to help his research he didn’t find a lot of help there either. He adds, “He’d tell a long story and the guy said, `That’s amazing. Did that really happen?’ and he’d say, `I don’t f**kin’ know.'”
There’s no byline attached to the story, and I don’t know the specifics of where Cheadle made these remarks, but it’s interesting nevertheless.
But that was a year ago. Where are we now?
I haven’t seen trouble brewing for the production in the press, so one would believe we’re still full steam ahead. I can only assume Cheadle has spent sunnier days researching Davis.
I would love to know how Cheadle has been/is preparing for the role; I can only imagine reading everything he could find, studying video and working hard to connect with those who knew him best.
Let’s face it: Miles Davis is just the kind of character any actor would kill to dive into; a role filled with conflict and talent, passion and pain, warmth and toughness…. He has it all!
I’m not here to say the ‘role’ of Miles Davis is going to jump up the Great List next to the likes of Hamlet, or any number of Mamet characters, but I believe portraying the iconic jazz trumpeter is an assignment that demands the very best an actor has to give – and in doing so will add a new chapter to the book of classic film performances.
This might work better if we were discussing a Miles Davis play in the works, but the sentiment remains that playing Miles Davis might become one of those performances that not only movie fans and Davis fans rave about, but also one that’s studied in drama classes for years to come.