Actor Don Cheadle on his musical past, directorial debut with ‘Miles Ahead’

It’s been a long road for actor Don Cheadle to make his directorial debut with “Miles Ahead,” a film about jazz trumpeter Miles Davis, who disappeared from the music scene in the late 1970s only to re-emerge in the ’80s with a new look and sound.

The film, opening in theaters this Friday, fictionalizes a moment during Davis’ “lost years” — wallowing in drug addiction and pining for his ex-wife, Frances (Emayatzy Corinealdi), while being chased (quite literally) by people who want to get their hands on his unreleased master tapes.

After being hand-picked by Davis’ nephew Vince Wilburn Jr. for the title role, Cheadle also ended up cowriting the screenplay and producing the film.

“I wanted to do something that felt to me like what Miles felt like, which was incredibly creative and different [from] anything that you’d seen before and would violate the form, which he did musically all the time,” Cheadle explained to amNewYork about the unconventional direction for the film.

“When it was about who was going to be the person that was tasked to direct it, we all came to it together that it was going to have to be me,” he said. “I hadn’t reached out to do all these jobs, but it just became the only way the movie was going to get made is me wearing all those hats.”

Cheadle even learned how to play the trumpet to bring authenticity to his portrayal of Davis, but the actor already had early proclivities for making music.

“I was on two tracks — both music and theater,” he said. “I was very lucky to have very good teachers in both regards all the way up through high school. I played sax in the jazz band and sang in the jazz choir. When I graduated, I had [several] scholarships — a couple to pursue jazz and a couple others to pursue acting. Because I had been living in Colorado and was really sick of the weather, I moved to L.A. and pursued acting.”

The rest is history, as Cheadle made a name for himself with his Oscar-nominated performance in “Hotel Rwanda” and more recently, on Showtime’s “House of Lies.”

Surprisingly, Cheadle’s attempts to get the money needed to make the movie he wanted to make with “Miles Ahead” only came to fruition with the casting of Ewan McGregor as a fictional Rolling Stone journalist.

“We wanted somebody who has in his DNA that he could be believed as a scummy dude who would do whatever it took to get ahead,” said Cheadle, in reference to McGregor’s role as a heroin-addicted criminal in “Trainspotting.” “Obviously, he’s a very talented actor, so I wanted him to play something close to that Ewan that we knew and play with his own mythology.”