The Miles Davis Movie: Will It Launch Don Cheadle To Superstardom?

cheadle-new Some people are meant to be stars. Tom Cruise? The guy was seemingly born famous. Julia Roberts? Ditto. But there are also really talented folks who deserve to be stars but just can’t quite make the leap.

And so begins the lighthearted Almost famous: 10 who should be big stars, an easy-reading pictorial from Bill Goodykoontz (Arizona Republic). I’d get into what constitutes ‘big’ in the pantheon of movie/TV stardom, but that’s another post.

It’s subjective and the list is mostly predictable. But right there in the lead is our guy, Don Cheadle, star and director of the Miles Davis biopic.

We could spend lots of time discussing the disparity between ‘famous’ and ‘talented.’ Plenty of folks are famous w/ zero talent, so there’s a fine line. Some harness both, but many are famous for all the wrong reasons. According to Goodykoontz, Cheadle fits the bill as “…a great actor, but he’s not exactly a household name.” This isn’t The Economist so Goodykoontz doesn’t get too involved in explaining why Cheadle (and the others) should be big stars, but nevertheless I agree with his opinion that Cheadle should be a household name – if he’s not already.

Cheadle is presently among the best actors in Hollywood. He’s had top billing in a critically praised film like “Hotel Rwanda” and played the ensemble card nicely in the “Oceans 11” trilogy. But even with the hyped, co-star billing in the forthcoming “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers,” Cheadle hasn’t appeared in a ‘big’ movie as the star – yet.

Does the portrayal of Miles Davis put Cheadle in rarefied air, ala’ Jamie Foxx, a prime example of a talented actor who never appeared in anything remotely notable until “Ray?” That movie put him on the A-list (whether he stays is another story), but his run-up to “Ray” is nowhere near Cheadle’s filmography thus far. But “Ray” brought the awards, box office and, I assume, the A-list for Foxx. Cheadle has oodles of acclaim, but no breakthrough as a leading man yet. Doesn’t mean he can’t carry a picture, but “Traitor,” “Talk To Me” and “Reign Over Me” – though entertaining – are not going to put Cheadle over the top.

Does the Miles Davis biopic do for Cheadle what “Ray” did for Jamie Foxx? If the movie were designed as a showy, Hollywood production I’d say yes, even though jazz music doesn’t connect as easily as Ray Charles’ soul/R&B in regards to ‘general’ popularity and consumer awareness. But Miles Davis is a towering figure, regardless if you love, hate or are indifferent to jazz. And perhaps that is the great equalizer for the film to achieve box-office traction.

Seeing as the biopic is likely to be a non-traditional production, the performance can still be legendary, even if the film doesn’t slay the box office. But it’s hard to predict this early. Plenty of ‘smaller’ films (“Little Miss Sunshine” and “Slumdog Millionaire” spring to mind) hit the pop culture lotto to find broad popularity at the box-office and with critics.


Even if the biopic doesn’t come out of the Hollywood factory it can succeed with a clever marketing plan, early buzz and critical support, which could equal the hot triumvirate of awards, box office and pushing Cheadle to the next level. Again, that ‘level’ is indistinct, but clearly, for better or worse, I can see where someone can argue he’s not at Tom Cruise/Will Smith level – even though that has no bearing whatsoever on talent.

I think Cheadle will collect many accolades and awards nominations, just as I think there will be an influx of media exposure about Miles Davis – lots of appreciation essays and the like, plus renewed interest in the music.

When I first heard about the biopic (w/ Cheadle attached) and began chronicling the movie on the Blog, I always envisioned a “Ray” – like production. But I’m OK with the non-traditional style, even though my preference is more conventional. I am not saying one would be better than the other, but we’ll see.

As for Cheadle on the ‘almost famous’ list, the biopic definitely sets the stage to jump into the spotlight; this movie is a tour-de-force waiting to happen, a project geared for one person to truly shine in what has to be a challenging role to play and tale to tell.

Let me add that Cheadle’s four-episode guest role on “ER” in 2002 constitutes some of the finest, most affecting work I’ve seen on either TV or film, in my opinion.

Don Cheadle is a leading man and a top-shelf ensemble player. He has the charisma and talent that defines what any fan of TV and film wants from their actor. Is he a Hollywood star? Of course he is. Is he a Hollywood superstar? Not sure. It’s all quite indistinct in my opinion, but he is one of the finest actors working today.

You can argue that by starring in “Iron Man 2” and “The Avengers” Cheadle will have already reached A-list success based on those films mainstream pedigree and corresponding media overload. Fair enough. That is a huge step for Cheadle into the Hollywood blockbuster territory.


Portraying Miles Davis should be the class of movie role that sets the stage for a career-defining performance. Jamie Foxx could star in ten movies based on Marvel Comics characters, but it’s his work in “Ray” that most will point to when it’s retrospective time.

Perhaps I’m overselling the significance of a biopic about Miles Davis. Or maybe it’s the role I’m burdening with far too much gravitas. Personally, I think the movie should be treated like “Lawrence of Arabia,” but that’s just me!

Ultimately, how the biopic affects Cheadle’s movie career, as a counterbalance to “Iron Man 2,” will be one of the many sub-plots to watch as the biopic draws closer and eventually opens.

I’ve been happy with Cheadle playing Miles Davis from day one, because I believe he’s the right actor for the job. And while I think the Miles Davis biopic will rocket Cheadle to the next… level, I’m now beginning to think that he’s already on a level most can only hope to achieve.


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