Miles Ahead: Don Cheadle Feels He Had to Do It

Don Cheadle’s long journey to make Miles Ahead,” his film about the life of Miles Davis, ended with the world premiere screening at the New York Film Fest, October 10.

Its very first audience gave it a warm response, with some viewers cheering enthusiastically.

“That felt a lot better than throwing up on my shoes, which is how I felt earlier tonight,” cracked Cheadle, who co-wrote, directed and stars in the film.

“You really felt the energy,” said Cheadle’s co-star Emayatzy Corinealdi, who plays Frances Davis, Miles’ first wife. “You felt the love.”

Davis’ family also turned out for the film’s premiere, including Frances Davis herself and the musician’s nephew, Vince Wilburn, Jr.

It was Wilburn who started the ball rolling on the project during Miles Davis’ posthumous induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2006. “I got asked, ‘Who do you want to play your uncle?’ and I said ‘Don Cheadle.’ Never met him!”

Cheadle jokes: “I was basically told I was going to do it.” It turned into a passion project — a jazzy, nonlinear tale that eschews the usual check-the-box biopic structure in favor of a more freeform story that matches Davis’s music, with a cast that also includes Ewan McGregor and Michael Stuhlbarg.

“To tell the truth, if this project had gone away years ago, I would have been relieved,” Cheadle admitted. “It was just so daunting. But then something shifted. It started to feel like a mandate. I had to make this film.”

And the response from that first audience made it all worth it. “It was what we were hoping for,” said Tom Bernard of Sony Pictures Classics, which Bernard said will release the film in the spring. “And its spot in the New York Film Festival puts it at a level of awareness that you couldn’t buy.  And, and just a note, which I think is wonderful, Toronto Festival turned it down!”