EXCLUSIVE: Don Cheadle’s Miles Davis Biopic Not A ‘Cradle-To-Grave Depiction,’ Focusing On That Next

Legendary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was a complex figure. He went through an incredible number of transformations in his life, and he pushed forward the genre of jazz music in almost indescribable ways. Don Cheadle, who next week replaces Terrence Howard as James Rhodes in “Iron Man 2,” has been planning a biopic treatment of the musician’s life for a number of years. MTV’s Josh Horowitz asked the actor for an update at the weekend press junket for the Marvel flick, which hits theaters next Friday.

“The story is really not… a biopic per se,” Cheadle said. “It’s not attempting to be any cradle-to-grave depiction of [Miles’] life. It’s more my take, as an artist, on what his music has meant. With wall-to-wall truth but not really much concerned about facts.”

Cheadle will star in and direct the film, and he’s working with a writer on the script now. He also plays the trumpet, but doesn’t have any intention of trying to fake the master musician’s licks.

“The instrument is a monster,” he said. “We’ve been working with the estate and Columbia… and Sony music [and they’ve] really been good about… giving us rights to the music. I don’t think I want to try to play if I can use Miles’ playing. But for the authenticity of it and for the reality of it and for me understanding the instrument, it’s great that I have that facility.”

Davis is a fascinating subject, and a tough one to capture for film. Just read his autobiography, co-written with Quincy Troupe. From his early beginnings in East St. Louis and formative musical adventures in New York City, through notable collaborations with with Gil Evans, John Coltrane and, eventually, the Herbie Hancock/Wayne Shorter/Ron Carter/Tony Williams “second” quintet, then onwards into his electric period, which essentially introduced jazz-fusion to the world. He was a musician who never looked back, always forward to his next potential evolution, even as his work touched and influenced every great artist of the time.

Frankly, I worry a little bit at Cheadle’s “wall-to-wall truth but not really much concerned with the facts” comment. It’s hard to read that and not be reminded, at least a little, of Kevin Spacey’s noble, failed effort at capturing Bobby Darin’s life on film in “Beyond the Sea.” Both Spacey and Cheadle are incredibly talented; I only hope that the latter’s thoughts for a big-screen treatment of Miles Davis are more well-developed.

Either way, it sounds like we’ll find out sooner than later. Asked what he’ll be doing next, Cheadle replied that he’s going into “the bunker” so he can pour all of his energies into the Miles biopic. Nervousness aside, I can’t wait to see what he comes up with.