It’s somewhat universally understood that attaching Don Cheadle‘s name to a project, whether on film or television, greatly increases its market value. But, like many creatives, the Academy Award-nominated actor is equally talented in other arts — in his case music — and Cheadle admits he sometimes wrestles with pursuing his other love full time.
“If I wasn’t acting that’s what I would be doing and I threaten, almost yearly, to quit this and just do that,” Cheadle tells ESSENCE. “There’s just nothing that’s more rewarding than creating music. There’s nothing that feels like that in the creative space.” Speaking to the melodies and compositions that come about when a group of musicians get together in a room, he adds, “It’s kind of a creative soup that happens that doesn’t happen anywhere else and that’s something that I am always desirous of more of.”
Cheadle played saxophone in a jazz band during high school and was active in the theater department, starring in musicals. “I was just as much into music as I was into acting and when I graduated high school I had opportunities to do both,” he explains. “I had scholarship money to either go into vocal jazz and instrumental jazz or pursue acting and I kind of made a weather choice and came to California.”
In 2014, Cheadle was able to marry both loves when he directed, co-wrote, and starred as the lead in the Miles Davis biopic Miles Ahead. He was also a part of the production for the accompanying soundtrack which featured music from Davis, Robert Glasper, and other jazz and funk instrumentalists. “The proudest moment of my career,” Cheadle says, “is winning a Grammy for the music we did for Miles Ahead.”
It’s for that reason Cheadle, who established his first acting credit 37 years ago, says whenever he has downtime between projects he spends it in the studio. As for whether he’d consider releasing an album of his own he shares, “I don’t know about just my music but I have been going back to the studio with Robert Glasper. We’ve talked about remixing that [soundtrack] and doing some different things on that or just doing some new music and playing with that.”
And despite his threats to pursue music full-time, something keeps pulling Cheadle back into the acting space, though he admits he can’t quite put his finger on what that is. “You’re asking questions that I have especially lately been asking myself a lot,” he shares. “I’m fortunate to have done well in this business — thank you mom and dad — I know how to save, I never lived beyond my means. I don’t have to do stuff for the money anymore. I do stuff that I want to do, that’s interesting, that pushes me.”
In addition to starring in Space Jam this year and continuing to reprise his role as War Machine in the Marvel Universe, Cheadle also recently started another production company to create opportunities for other entertainers. “We’re doing a lot of things in that space trying to center some voices that haven’t traditionally been centered and tell some interesting stories in the TV space. I didn’t really start the company to just develop work for me, I want to develop stuff for these other artists and give other people’s voices a platform.”
Check out our full interview with Don Cheadle in the video above.