Statement From Don Cheadle on the Casting of Miles Ahead
Editor's note: Following this news story actor Don Cheadle reached out to Mic to respond.
Before my words regarding the "casting imperatives" of Miles Ahead get tossed around like a racial football then spiked in people's collective faces, I would like to offer some context on the history of this project. 10 years ago, along with a couple of writers, we pitched the Miles Davis project around town and found traction at several places, ultimately winding up agreeing to make the film with HBO, given they also had a theatrical wing, giving us the opportunity to release in theatres and then have what we hoped would be a healthy cable presence afterwards. The pitch was Miles in his house during the quiet period, his psyche fragile, keeping his own council but invaded by various "visitors," ghosts from his past. Even though it was a pitch that got us a home, it was a work in progress, always a bit too close to a traditional telling and we were constantly reworking it to get further away from safe and closer to something that felt like Miles. Then in 2008, greedy people broke the world, many mini majors folded up their tents, and HBO dissolved their partnership with Picturehouse. The writers and I went our separate ways and we were back to square one.
Not wanting to stop however, we kept looking for other financing and writers. The estate introduced me to Steven Baigelman and we decided to re-boot the script and attempt to push the story further away from bio-pic and closer to something crazier, wilder, impressionistic, improvisational. Miles. And given the New Normal Hollywood we now found ourselves in, painfully aware of the higher hurdles all independently financed films would face, we began to think of ways to make the film as attractive as possible for venture capitalists, bankers, entertainers, rappers, anybody who might hopefully become an "irrational investor," their business managers all the while sitting beside them shaking their heads and saying, "Jazz? Period? Black? 12 minute songs? And the budget is what?!"
Our collective experiences, examples that we had seen over and over, made it clear to us that we would have to lean into all the various ways to get this "difficult" movie made; deferring salaries, paying in, crowd-funding, finding tax incentives, begging for money from friends, and casting. But we never moved away from or reworked a concept of the movie for the sole purpose of including a white actor and no specific financier ever said to us, "Go get the white guy and we'll make your movie." We arrived at what we felt was ultimately the best iteration of the story we wanted to tell and Ewan Mcgregor fit perfectly. Having a white, disreputable reporter barge into Miles Davis' life to poach his story, especially with Miles Davis' (and this country's, no less) history, provided Miles with the perfect foil and spur, gave us an engine and propelled the story ahead of and out of the standard bag. It was not a compromise. The casting was actually additive, maybe more expansive in a way and as stated, "a component of getting to a certain number..." A component. We dealt with the vicissitudes of the business and made our film.