In Miles Ahead, star/director/writer Don Cheadle’s heavily stylized movie about the life of jazz legend Miles Davis, Ewan McGregor plays Dave Braden, a Rolling Stone journalist who shows up to interview the reclusive Davis and ends up being his accomplice in a mad chase to retrieve the tape of a secret recording session that Miles did, which has been stolen by an unscrupulous record company executive (Michael Stuhlbarg) who wants to release new Miles music.
Except none of that happened. Not only was Braden not from Rolling Stone, but he didn’t even exist, nor did the secret tapes or the mission to retrieve them. It’s one of the quirkier aspects of Miles Ahead, which Cheadle has structured more like one of Davis’ freeform jazz compositions than a standard “he was born, he did this and that, he died” biopic. Screen Rant spoke with McGregor about that approach, his own knowledge of Davis’ music and whether he’d be up to grow the beard again and return as Obi-Wan Kenobi if a Star Wars spinoff film about “old Ben” ever became a reality.
Was your character based on anyone in real life, or a composite of people. How did that work?
Ewan McGregor: No, he was entirely invented, I think. I mean, I’m sure Don must have had maybe some people in mind when he was writing, I don’t know. We sort of invented him, I guess. It wasn’t based, as far as I know, on anyone in particular. He’s not really a Rolling Stone journalist as he claims to be, so I don’t think he’s based – as far as I know – on anyone.
Is it kind of nice that even though you’re in a film based on real figures, you are liberated from that and don’t have the shadow of the real person hanging over you?
Well, not really. I mean, it’s sort of usually like that, I guess. A lot of the time you’re playing characters that aren’t real people or haven’t existed. Occasionally I’ve played people who have actually been around and whose interviews you could watch or whatever. And then you’re trying to nail them, what they feel like and look like – as Don was trying to do, I guess, with Miles. But in this case, I was just trying to play the guy on the page really.
What was your knowledge of Miles Davis and this whole era of music coming into this?
Well, I didn’t know a great deal about him. I was very familiar with some of the sort of iconic photographs that had been taken of him, and knew very well some of his music. His last two albums, for some reason – which must have come out in the mid-‘80s or the late ‘80s – I know very well. I don’t know why. And then some of his earlier stuff – Kind of Blue was the soundtrack to a play I was in, in London a long time ago, and we only used Kind of Blue as the soundtrack for the play, and so I was really familiar with that piece of music. And Sketches in Spain is another one I know very well. But a lot of his stuff – Bitches Brew and a lot of his more experimental, avant-garde stuff – I just didn’t know at all.
I knew he used to play with his back to the audience – that’s one of the sort of facts I had in my head about him, but really very little else, other than I felt like he was very cool and probably quite difficult.
Do you think that the jazz era and the glam rock scene that you helped portray in Velvet Goldmine were events that we may not see again in the modern era, just because of the way people listen to music and because there aren’t the communities that form around musicians?
I don’t know. I would hope not. I’m sure there will be new things. I don’t think the two are really comparable in that jazz has never stopped. The glam rock era was very short-lived, although amazing, quick and done. Whereas jazz has never stopped and always seems to be evolving, as Miles Davis always carried on and never seemed content to settle into a style but always tried to find a new sound and a new way of playing. I feel like jazz is always rolling forward. There must be new things coming out, you know. In my lifetime I suppose it was raves and acid house music and then the electronic kind of scene. There’s always been something coming out.
If they wanted to do a Star Wars spinoff featuring Obi-Wan would you be interested in getting back into the character?
Yeah! Sure. I think it would be fun. I always thought there would be a good movie to make between Episodes III and IV – we could call it 3 ½.
Miles Ahead is now playing in theaters.