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Don Cheadle: The Time Is Right for a Miles Davis Biopic

Don Cheadle at the Cité de la Musique
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Don Cheadle at the "We Want Miles" exhibit held at the Cité de la Musique in Paris.

Don Cheadle is hoping Hollywood jumps aboard the Miles Davis train. The Iron Man 2 actor helped shape the screenplay for a Davis biopic in which he would star as the legendary jazz trumpeter and musical innovator. Herbie Hancock has reportedly been tapped to score the film. 

“We just turned in the script and we’re going to find some money to make this thing,” Cheadle told The Hollywood Reporter at a party to celebrate the 40th anniversary of Bitches Brew, Davis’ game-changing improvisational double album. “Now is a good time, 10 years ago would have been a good time, and 10 years from now it will still be a good time to see a dynamic, entertaining movie that’s wall-to-wall Miles Davis where the music will hopefully spark some desire to know more about the man.”    Said screenwriter Steven Baigelman: “There would not be a screenplay without Don Cheadle. We’ve had our nose to the ground doing a lot of researching, talking, walking, watching and listening. … It’s been an enlightening experience, to say the least.”    Being so close to the project posed extra pressure for Cheadle, who’s not just a friend to Davis’ son Erin and the estate, but a diehard fan. “We’re trying to do what Miles Davis would have wanted us to do, which is approach it as artists with his life as the canvas,” he said. “In being successful, some people say he sold out, but it’s the opposite. You can stay in one place forever and try to make the same money from the same core fans, but saying to your audience, ‘I’m going here now, come along or don’t,’ that’s brave, risky and dangerous. That’s what he did, and that’s what we’re trying to honor in this story -- that kind of spirit.” 

"You can stay in one place forever making the same money from the same core fans, but saying to your audience, ‘I’m going here now, come along or don’t,’ that’s brave, risky and dangerous." —Don Cheadle on Miles Davis
“Like Bitches Brew and Miles’ music in general, it’s not about reaching perfection,” added Baigelman. “Miles never wanted that, he was looking for the mistake to allow the person into the process. You want to know everything about Miles Davis? There are books and documentaries; we wanted to create an interesting character for an audience today. Miles was at a juncture in his life where, if he didn’t rediscover the art, he would die, and Don has this point of view about bringing in other hip-hop artists, to play with Miles Davis' music so the idea is for somebody to hear Jay-Z’s version then turn to the original to learn more about Miles Davis.”   That’s a hypothetical Jay-Z, as the rapper has yet to be secured for the project, but Cheadle has plenty of artists in mind to play some sort of role in the biopic. “When Miles left this Earth, he was already working with Prince, Snoop Dogg understands the music. … Miles always wanted to do what was happening now. If you said the word ‘jazz’ to him, he’d give you a smack -- social music, that’s what it’s called.”    Promising a movie that’s “on the edge and feels a little bit dangerous,” the two are hoping studios both major and indie will appreciate the need to recognize the legendary musician with an atypical biopic. “I think audiences are really sophisticated now and can understand that this is the kind of story that flips the biography on its head.”