EXCLUSIVE At the world premiere of “Miles Ahead,” which closed the New York Film Festival Saturday night, Sony Pictures Classics co-president Tom Bernard told me the film, which stars Don Cheadle, will not have a one-week Oscar qualifying run.
Cheadle also directed, co-wrote (with Steven Baigelman) and produced “Miles Ahead,” which will come out in April 2016. “We’re going for next year,” said Bernard, who already has “Truth,” “Grandma” and “Son of Saul” in this year’s awards race. (Last year Sony Pictures Classics gave “Still Alice” a one-week qualifying run last December and Julianne Moore went on to win the Oscar.)
“Miles Ahead” is a free form, kinetic portrait of Miles Davis – don’t call it a biopic – set during a two-day period in the 80’s when the genius musician took a break from music and indulged in drugs and booze. The film is also sort of a heist caper that involves studio tapes stolen by a slimy record producer, played with mustache twirling menace and panache by Michael Stuhlbarg, who also had a scene-stealing role as Andy Hertzfeld in “in “Steve Jobs,” which was the centerpiece film in the New York Film Festival.
Ewan McGregor, a big movie star who is making his directing debut with “American Pastoral,” in which he also stars and is currently shooting, created a lot of excitement on the red carpet. In “Miles Ahead” he plays a pushy Rolling Stone reporter who ambushes the musician at his home to get a comeback story. McGregor, who wasn’t at that morning’s press conference, spent a generous amount of time talking to every journalist on the red carpet.
He raved about Cheadle, that not only had he “created this from nothing and found the financing and found the cast and directed it and acted it but playing one of the most iconic musicians ever… the pressure that must be on your shoulders. At the same time we had very little time, little money and we did it very quickly and we did it with a great deal of fun.”
There are also lots of punches thrown and McGregor is usually at the receiving end. His character’s first encounter results in Miles punching him out. I noted that he’s been getting up regularly on screen since he made “Transpotting” in 1996. “I’ve always been beaten up in movies,” he laughed. “It’s obviously something I’ve got that side to my character I guess. People like to kick the shit out of me in films.”
As for what he learned about Miles, McGregor said, “Like a lot of people I’m more familiar with Miles’ early music. I did a play in London in 1998 called ‘Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs,’ and our soundtrack was entirely ‘Kind of Blue.”
Also on the red carpet were Miles family members, daughter Cheryl and his nephew Vince Wilburn Jr., who got the movie project rolling when he announced Don Cheadle would play Miles Davis before even met him. “I saw his facial expressions, talked to my cousins and we all said here we are!”
I wondered especially how Miles’ daughter would feel about all the scenes in the film which showcases Miles Davis’s genius but also show him drinking, boozing and beating up his wife Frances, who also attended the premiere.
Frances – who is played in the film by the terrific Emayatzy Corinealdi – is in her 80’s now and is still beautiful. She told me that the film was even made is a miracle. “And I’m still here!” There were so many attempts to make it before that fell apart she said. She’s seen the film but told me she has to see it “again, again and again. It’s very emotional for me,” emphasizing the film’s story was “fictionalized.”
The real story is that she was Miles Davis’s muse. She told me a story how she persuaded Miles Davis to attend a flamenco concert with her. Initially he wasn’t interested. “When we left the theater we went to the Colony record shop and he bought every flamenco album,” she told me inspiring his famous album, “Sketches of Spain.” “I was responsible for that,” she told me. She also worked with Sammy Davis Jr. and Elvis Presley and want back to dancing after she left Davis. A memoir is in the works.
Don Cheadle gamely talked to all the journalists on the red carpet about his passion project even though he had a long day beginning with a morning press conference.
In explaining the unusual structure and energy of the film, he told me on the red carpet he was going for something original and in the spirit of Robert Fosse’s “All That Jazz” and “Lenny.”
“Movies that we felt had a great pacing that moved between now and then, and here and now,” he said. “What mattered to us was that we told the story with forward momentum that was about creativity and that really pushed it at every level and that dictated how we created the piece.”
The editing in the film is seamless; look for it to be recognized awards season, even if that is the year after next.
Cheadle told me, “Having taken eight years to work on it and reducing it from (a budget) of 20 million to 18 million to 15 million to 14 million, I’m trying to continue to find ways to fit into this box. We did a lot of the editing in the script and then we handed it over to John Axelrad after we finished shooting it and he took it all the way home,” he told me. “Our first assembly was an hour and 38 minutes long; the movie is an hour and 40 minutes. We saw the first edit, the first assembly was kind of like, ‘Well, that’s the movie and now we just have to make it.”
I asked Cheadle if he had questions he’d like to ask Miles Davis if he was still alive and they met over drinks?
Cheadle’s answer was perfect since the movie reminds audiences that Davis was scary for most people and anyone who interviewed him was terrified of him and happy to survive the ordeal.
Cheadle laughed, “I don’t think I’d have to ask him anything. He’d tell me.”
The elegant after party was at Tavern on the Green and the music was sensational: a jazz quartet performed and the soundtrack featured, of course, music by Miles Davis, Janis Joplin and Marvin Gaye. Don Cheadle, who posed for endless photographs and chatted with everyone who approached him, stayed at the shindig with his wife until nearly 2 a.m.
Photo c2015 Showbiz411 by Paula Schwartz