Why Don Cheadle Completely Stayed in Character While Directing Miles Davis Biopic

Miles Ahead Still 2 - H 2015
Brian Douglas/Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

"It was like I was directed a little bit by Miles Davis," said Ewan McGregor of the actor-director's nicotine-scratched rasp between takes of 'Miles Ahead.'

A version of this story first appeared in the Oct. 30 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

When Don Cheadle set out to make Miles Ahead, he knew it wouldn't be a straightforward, chronologically structured biopic, but a spirited, freeform buddy film in which the breakthrough jazz icon would be proud to be portrayed.

"I wanted the storyteller in the movie, being Miles Davis, to say, 'If I'm gonna tell a story, I'm gonna tell a story, and I want it to be creative and interesting and different,'" he told reporters before the world premiere at the New York Film Festival.

To do so, the star of 2004's Hotel Rwanda and Showtime's House of Lies aimed to perfect Davis' perspective on and off the screen, directing actors with the musician's signature nicotine-scratched rasp.

"It was not what he said, but how he said it — as Miles," said Emayatzy Corinealdi, imitating his whisper to The Hollywood Reporter at the premiere, held Oct. 10 at Lincoln Center. Ewan McGregor laughed, "It was like I was directed a little bit by Miles Davis. When people ask me about this movie, I always say, 'I made this film with Miles Davis — no, Don Cheadle!'"

The decision for Cheadle to stay in character between the takes of his directorial debut was made early on with co-writer Steven Baigelman. "It's not something easily turned on and off," he explained. "As the director, you gotta lean into me to hear the direction, you gotta come over here. That was Miles. Miles stayed Miles and people leaned into Miles."

However, he laughed while admitting, "Sometimes, if they were too far, I'd have to raise my voice and Don would have to come out and be like, 'Over here!' Then I'd go back into my [whisper]."

From left: Michael Stuhlbarg, Emayatzy Corinealdi, Don Cheadle, Keith Stanfield and Ewan McGregor