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First Look: Don Cheadle as Miles Davis in biopic 'Miles Ahead'

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Miles Davis
Actor Don Cheadle’s obsession with Miles Davis began as a child with the jazz trumpeter’s album Porgy and Bess, a beloved staple of his family’s music collection. Now, Cheadle will make his feature film directorial debut with a crowdfunded biopic on Davis that will focus on the musician’s transition into music after a five-year hiatus—otherwise known as his “silent period”—and tumultuous relationship with first wife Frances Taylor Davis.

In an EW exclusive of the actor in character, Cheadle gave fans a first look at his interpretation of the icon during in the period leading up to his 1969 jazz-rock fusion recording In a Silent Way. “It’s surreal,” says the 49-year-old House of Lies actor, who in the photograph totes a trumpet and sports Davis’ trademark jheri-curled mullet.

The biopic—which will co-star Ewan McGregor, Michael Stuhlbarg and Emayatzy Corinealdi—begins shooting this week in Cincinnati after being in development for nearly a decade. Cheadle spoke to EW about the independent film—which he co-wrote—and shared details about how he was approached by the Davis family to profile the prodigious talent, why he turned to jazz heads to crowdsource funding, and explained why he’s set on making a movie that Davis himself “would want to star in.”

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: How does it feel to finally begin production on Miles Ahead—to be in costume and begin this process?

DON CHEADLE: It’s a great shot; it’s kinda cool, huh? I attribute that to my department to more than anything I’m doing: That’s hair, makeup, wardrobe, and props. But it’s cool to be sitting on it and have it all begin. At this point, with everything that’s happening, its real and surreal and hyperreal and every version of it that I can think of.

There’s a sense you’ve been working on this for a while. Tell me about your exposure to Miles Davis—was he someone you were exposed to at a young age?

His music was definitely a part of my life very early on, thanks to my parents. And I was fortunate when I was young to have music teachers in school that also introduced us to jazz in general. I was maybe 10, in fifth grade, when I was fortunate enough to be introduced to the sax at a school which had instruments because we couldn’t afford one. So I started playing sax, and was really a fan of Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderly. And through Cannonball I found Miles.

Do you remember maybe one album around the house or a song that impacted you most as a kid? My dad’s favorite album was Birth of the Cool—that was always playing in our house as I was growing up.

I remember the Porgy and Bess album by Bill Evans and Miles Davis that was in my house. Man, that album cover was so iconic. His picture isn’t on the cover—it’s just a man in a crisp white shirt and a woman next to him, pulling at the trumpet, which is very emblematic of the story we’re telling in a way. Him holding on to the music and and in our story, Francis, the love of his life, that tug between the music and his love, and where they connect and how they move away from each other. That was my introduction.

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