The Miles Davis biopic, “Miles Ahead,” screened for press this morning and for the public tonight (Oct. 10, 2015) at the 2015 New York Film Festival. Don Cheadle plays Davis, and he also directed and co-wrote the film, which is a very entertaining ride. Cheadle could very well earn himself some Oscar nominations with this one.
Cheadle and costars Emayatzy Corinealdi and Michael Stuhlbarg gathered for a press conference after this morning’s screening. Corinealdi plays Davis’ wife, Francis, in the film. Ewan McGregor was not in attendance. He plays the second largest role in the movie as a fictional Rolling Stone reporter who, according to Cheadle, is a composite of several people.
Below are the highlights of the press conference:
Cheadle on how the movie came about:
This was a long time coming. I had the idea of doing a movie about Miles. It had kind of come into my radar for many, many years. People had talked about it a long time in all different ways. They were trying to put it together and different people that they were trying to put it together with. But I guess it really all came to the fore when Vince Wilbur, Miles’ nephew, announced that I was going to play him. [We hear a “Hi, Don” from the audience.] Oh, there he is right there!
He said that they were going to do a movie about his [Miles’] life and that I was going to play him. It was sort of a pronouncement. Thank you, Vince. That kind of started the ball rolling, so to speak. People were reaching out, and different producers getting in touch with me and trying to figure out a way to do it.
Cheadle on why he decided to create a structure that goes back and forth in time:
I was presented with several takes on it that I thought were kind of standard biopic stories – cradle to grave stories, chronological … and I just wasn’t interested in doing a story in that way with this particular artist, this singular artist who was always about trying to do it differently than it had been done before. For me, I always felt like it was as much a mandate for him that he go forward and reach for something forward, as much as it was to move away from the past. So, I wanted to make a movie that I thought Miles Davis would have wanted to star in. To me, it was always kind of “Don Cheadle is Miles Davis as Miles Davis in ‘Miles Ahead.'”
When I spoke to Vince and I spoke to the family, I said, “I kind of want to make a movie like that. Is that something that you guys would be cool with rather than a standard telling of the story?” They were like, “Yeah, I think he would have preferred to do something that was different and more dynamic than something that a documentary could do a lot better, something that the radio play could do a lot better.”
Cheadle on how he juggled the different roles as writer, director, and lead actor:
Drugs. [Laughter] No, it was daunting. I mean, I was glad that I had a lot of time to do it. And to be honest, I tried to give it away. If it hadn’t come together three years ago and just wasn’t going to be possible and falling apart, I would have been relieved, I think, in a way because it was just so hard. We came close so many times. Budgets started at $20 million at one point and then it came down. Can we make it for $18? Can we make it for $15? $12? $10?
And it just kept to where it finally ended up with this budget, I think, of $8.5 million where we finally settled. We still had to come up with various ways to put the money together including an Indiegogo campaign to get us over the hump and make up the gap. So, every step of it was really difficult, but I’d say in the year before it finally all came together, it started feeling more like a mandate to do it than something that I could get away from.
Corinealdi on what it was like to work on the film:
Well, for me, it was just a dream. It was a dream come true to work with someone like Don where it’s about the artistry. He’s the actor’s actor. It’s not about anything else. So, for me, he’s one of those people that it’s always been, “Oh, I’d love to one day…” So, to have that happen, it was just so special for me. Then, on this kind of project – something that is so close to his heart…
So, those two things coupled together – his artistry and something that’s a passion for him, I couldn’t have asked for anything better. I know it’s going to go well. I know it’s in very capable hands. So, for me to have the opportunity to portray a woman – Miss Francis, as I affectionately call her – who meant so much to Miles, her relationship with Miles meant so much, it was an honor. I looked forward to it every day. It was a real pleasure.
Cheadle on the use of Davis’ music in the film:
That was really for me the main driver of it … I didn’t want to be stuck with one period of his music, and I think had we told it in a way that was chronological, was cradle to grave, was kind of a standard telling, we would have been pigeon-holed into these specific moments that coincided with the music. And they would have all been really given short shrift, I think. I much more wanted to approach the music in the way that I experience his music when I listen to it….
I see stories in my mind when I listen to his music, so I wanted to create a piece that the music could support those stories. So, I didn’t want it to necessarily have to be, “We’re in the 60’s, so now we have to use the music that he did with the Supergroup” or “We’re now coming into the 70’s, so it has to be ‘Bitches Brew.'” Why can’t we use “Bitches Brew” in 1958 if it makes sense? Why can’t we use “Kind of Blue” in 1969 or 1970 if that’s what we feel like the movie wants to be? So, that was another reason I wanted to construct it that way – let the music kind of guide as well….
What we all know in these real stories is that to some degree, they are all historical fiction. Everyone is taking poetic license because clearly you can’t encapsulate a person’s life in 90 minutes, 2 hours.
Cheadle on how he thinks jazz enthusiasts will feel about the film:
Obviously, I don’t know how it will be received. I hope that they come to it with an expansive viewpoint that Miles had…. I know that for many people that I’ve spoken with while we were developing this, certain people left off of Miles when he left acoustic and became electric and started to do things that “purists” felt was a violation of who he had been and what he had done before.
But that was never what Miles said he was. People were trying to lay a sign on him that he’d never put on himself. He was always someone, not unlike Dylan, who went to where their inspiration led them. He was always trying to find the new thing or the next thing, to deal with the sonics of the day….
He’s many, many things. He’s multifaceted, and I think that’s what the movie is trying to represent – a multifaceted artist, not strictly a jazz musician.
Cheadle on Davis’ sense of humor:
I got a lot of stories from Vince, who spent a lot of time with Miles and toured with him. Some of the things he said I couldn’t put in the movie, obviously. There was a set of twins that Miles had known later in his life. I don’t remember exactly where he met them or why they were around at that time. But Vince said he’d [Miles would] call them “same thing….”
It’s not something people talk about a lot – about Miles’ sense of humor. I think a lot of people believe he was just this intimidating, imposing force – someone to be scared of. And obviously, if you listen to his music, if you hear what’s happening, it’s full of whimsy. His music’s full of passion and insight. Lyrically, he’s quoting things that are humorous. So, obviously, the man is not just monolithic. So, I wanted that to be a big part of it, too, and I think it helps carry the story line and keeps it moving as well.
Cheadle on Davis’ visual art, which was used in the final sequence of the film:
We were generously given the use of Miles’ paintings by his family, so the paintings, the images that you see behind the band … are Miles’ paintings, which are incredible. We put them on that board, and they also gave us the permission to manipulate them and make parts of them move and have things come in relief and recede, which is us painting Miles’ paintings, which again, for me, was very important that we continue to create on top of his creations. We were very glad the family gave us permission to do that, again in the spirit of what I believe Miles was always about, which was keep it moving, keep moving forward, keep it going.
There isn’t a trailer for the film yet, but watch for it in your area.