Miles Davis Biopic Will Not Be ‘A History Lesson’ Says Don Cheadle

cheadle_miles_getty_260 In an interview with Ed Potton in the Times of London, Don Cheadle not only mentions his plans to direct and star in the Miles Davis Biopic, but he also reinforces his decision to produce a film that does not follow the ‘Hollywood’ blueprint for biopics.

His pet project is a biopic of his childhood hero Miles Davis (see lists), which he plans to both direct and star in.“I didn’t want to do anything that resembled the biopics I’d seen. I want it to be relevant today, not a history lesson.”

I was unaware that Miles Davis was a childhood hero of Cheadle’s, or really just how much he cared about the jazz legend.

Asked about some of his favorite musicians, Cheadle had this to say about Davis:

I’ve loved him since fifth grade, when I started playing saxophone and my parents had his Porgy & Bess album. Very young I was just taken with the music. I was a student of it very early, and that’s just sort of never waned. A lot of people think they know a lot about Miles but they only know the name and the image, the iconography. You say: “Miles Davis” to most people and they go: “Yeah, jazz! He played sax or he played something, right?”

They don’t really know, and that’s fine. I wanted to make a movie for the people who didn’t know about Miles Davis, so they could just enjoy the movie and the music.

A movie for people who don’t know about Miles Davis. I can appreciate that. But do those people want experimental cinema, or do they want “Ray,” but instead of Ray Charles it’s the story of Miles Davis?

His comment brings up an interesting point about how best to show the life and times of Miles Davis in a feature film. To just ‘enjoy the movie and the music’ sounds to me like a recipe for traditional storytelling, yet we have heard the term deconstructed biopic associated with this project so it remains fuzzy which way Cheadle will take the narrative.

He could very well break the story into chapters, which weave in and out of Davis’ life. But without the proper context I’m not sure how someone who knows little or nothing about Davis can appreciate the scope of his life and music with this style of movie-making.

Although a script has been written – and rewritten – there isn’t any hard proof of where Cheadle is steering this project other than the comments he’s made this past year; mostly just reiterating his desire for something different than a traditional, cradle-to-grave storyline.

I’m on record as being fine either way, but I do think a traditional narrative might equal greater success with an audience not that familiar with Miles Davis. So much is still unknown about the scope of this biopic that all we really have is conjecture; whether or not the Miles Movie is a big studio deal, or an indie offering will go a long way in determining just how the story gets told.

I’m just glad he mentioned the movie. With all the Cheadle news these days centering on Iron Man 2 and his poker exploits, it’s mighty nice to see the Miles Davis Biopic get some pub. It remains a project in no hurry to get in front of cameras, but at least Cheadle is thinking about it, mulling over which way to take this very special movie project.

So even a brief goes a long way here and at Miles Davis Online. For now all we can do is speculate and continue asking the big questions – like who is going to play John Coltrane?

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8 thoughts on “Miles Davis Biopic Will Not Be ‘A History Lesson’ Says Don Cheadle”

  1. I had the pleasure of sitting a booth next to Don Cheadle at a Joshua Redman gig in Los Angeles. (We bumped elbows a couple of times.) There is no question that he gets deep into the music and, at times, even spoke out loud to the musicians as they worked through a particular riff. Cheadle fully emersed himself in the rhythms and sensuality of the music. While a couple of folks shot looks his way, we were struck by his obvious connection to the performance. This guy gets Jazz. I think Miles will be well served with Cheadle leading this project.

    1. i agree jonathan. i am supremely confident cheadle will mine the depths of ‘miles davis’ and deliver a grand performance. i am still on the fence about how they plan to present the story of the jazz legend, but i guess that’s part of the fun.

      the redman show must have been great.

  2. Thanks for all of the updates on this movie. I love Miles and I’m sure Don Cheadle will do a fine job with this movie. I admit, I am wondering who will play Coltrane too; perhaps his son will have the honor.

    1. I wouldn’t count on Ravi turning to film (even for a brief moment) to play the role of his father, John. The Ravi I know, has been beyond careful (particularly early on in his career) to downplay and distance himself from his bloodline, so he could be viewed and listened to, completely on his own merits. Perhaps, over the years, this personal stance he has taken, has been tempered by his very own critical acclaims and is alot less sensitive about the inevitable immediate “Oh, your’e Trane’s son !, but I still don’t think he would go for the film role, yet.

  3. Who should play John Coltrane? Well I think you know who should play Juliette Greco. I was at the New Haven Jazz festival, and I swear to god they had a teenage drummer there in the youth orchestra that looked like 1961ish Tony Williams. Actors go through boot camp. Well these ‘Miles Davis’ actors need to go through music boot camp. This movie is going to be about music making and it can’t look fake. Then again Don probably knows that.

    Well let me go back to reading my autobiography of Miles. 🙂 Thanks Jeff!

    1. so true. so true. i think whoever is cast in the secondary roles (and let’s be honest – all parts besides Miles are supporting) should have to immerse themselves completely.

      i mean if there are scenes with the 1st great quintet ‘we’ want those moments to be as legit as possible.

      it can work. but the casting is going to be key.

  4. Never in my life, have I been so anxious or nervous about the making of a film, as I am with the Miles pic. To know that Don Cheadle is taking the lead in getting this hugely important bio-pic made, gives some comfort, but not totally. And this is hardly a knock on Cheadle, because I love his work in films and consider him one of the better actors in American cinema today. It is much more a matter of Miles, and the translation of him or parts of him to the screen. Just in music alone, Miles was a pioneer-a visionary-and damn near a genius. But there are so many parts to the whole of him, that any filmaking attempt to capture the essence of the man, is an incredibly formidable task. And as an aside to the critical aesthetic, there is always the “Hollywood” business model of how to get maximum box office milaeage, while maintaining….(what Stephen Colbert calls) a “truthiness”, a devotion to the pure and honest artistry of a subject.
    Best of luck, with this project, Mr. Cheadle. I offer thoughts and prayers to get the job done earnestly and properly, staying far-far-away from anything remotely resembling “hokey”, light-weight, superficial and/or contrived. The Miles Davis “story” deserves only the bset portrayals, in acting, in music, in screenplay and production. And if you somehow manage, in the filmaking process, to capture just one glimpse of Miles and his ensemble du jour, head lowered toward his chest, back to the audience, a technicolor conductor sans baton, with a wild flowing brightly colored scarf wrapped around his neck, the mute of his trumpet speckled with his perspiration from the heat of both the stage lights and the energy of the band…then you will be on your way. The key will be to string together an assortment of these “Bright Moments” for a full length feature film. And even if you do this….there is so much more to meditate on, to muse about, to speak about, to listen to…..all of the cacaphony of In a Silent Way.
    All good wishes on this project.

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