Don Cheadle Says He Was a ‘Nervous Wreck’ Making Miles Davis Biopic
Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Apparently, creating a biopic of a legendary, trumpet whispering jazz musician isn’t easy work. Don’t take our word for it. Ask Don Cheadle. “Making it, I was a nervous neurotic wreck,” the actor tells Page Six. “Such a state that I thought I’ll never get through it. Daily, I was scared. A mess. Thinking I’ll never survive.”

Don Cheadle: Casting A White Actor In New Film Was A ‘Financial Imperative’ 

And he’s not being dramatic given what it took to get this project, Miles Ahead, off the ground.

“It screened last year and took this long to come out. It’s taken even longer to get made. We started 2006. Rebooted in 2008 first with HBO and Picture House. Then the relationship fell apart, writers went away and we lost it,” Cheadle explains.

“Believing it’ll never happen, we went to all sources—a question of cobbling money together. Could we make it for our small budget? Then Ewan McGregor came as co-star. Without an international white name to give us a profile, we hadn’t the element to play it overseas.” The token white guy is apparently très essential for reaching international audiences.

“The idea was mine so I pitched it,” says Cheadle. “Opening my mouth, it then all fell to me. Filming was harrowing. For instance, a tricky boxing scene, Miles in the ring, fight scenes, body doubles, musicians, a car chase. Over two nights, each needing a different look colluded.”

Don Cheadle Stuns as Miles Davis in New ‘Miles Ahead’ Trailer 

It seems Cheadle’s own experiences came in handy and where he was lacking in skill or know-how, he persevered anyway, compensating with the will to learn.

“For 30 years, I’ve watched things on set. Focused. Kept my eyes and ears open. Saw how everything works. What information they didn’t give me, I stole. Learn about the sound mixer. Figure how the director works. Ask questions. I was always curious.”

Cheadle didn’t half-ass anything. He used personal research as part of his creative process. “See, my parents knew Miles. Since I was young I’ve listened to him,” he says. “I never new him personally, but I played sax in school. And when I started this production, his family gave me access to his music, pictures, stories, people he worked with—a treasure trove of material.

“But it was so tough and took so much out of me that my wife said I musn’t do anything like this ever again,” Cheadle says.

Lupita Nyong’o and Don Cheadle Add Their Voices to Oscars Diversity Controversy 

All of his hard work will pay off as Don Cheadle’s Miles Ahead comes out this Friday.

WANT MORE FROM ESSENCE? Subscribe to our daily newsletter for the latest in hair, beauty, style and celebrity news.