Miles Davis may be remembered as one of the most influential jazz musicians of all time, but in Miles Ahead, the new biopic out today, a more layered, controversial version of the trumpeter is revealed. Written and directed by Don Cheadle, who also stars as Davis, the film is inspired by true events and looks at the complexities of Davis’s life during the 1970s, when he virtually disappeared from the public eye. Davis’s drug addiction, abuse, infidelity, and haunting fixation with ex-wife Frances Taylor (played by Emayatzy Corinealdi) come into view through the lens of fictional reporter Dave Braden (Ewan McGregor), whose character was crafted to help tell Davis’s story.
We sat down with the stunningly beautiful Corinealdi—who also stars in the forthcoming Roots miniseries remake, and Amazon’s Hand of God—during the Sundance Film Festival, and she let us in on what it was like working with Cheadle, playing a real-life character, and being Miles Davis’s muse.
“(Frances Taylor) was Miles’s first wife, first love in that sense, you know, she really was his muse. They had this interesting dynamic in their relationship,” Corinealdi said. “The thing that I was attracted to about her was her courage. The strength and the courage that she had to love him so deeply, to give up everything... And still, years later, she sees things are going in a direction she does not expect and had that courage to say, 'You know what? I can’t do this.'”
Taylor, who was a dancer when she met Davis, gave Corinealdi free reign when it came to portraying her on screen. “A lot of my research came from her sharing a lot of those stories with me about her and Miles and the one question that I had when I first sat down with her, with everything they had gone through in their lives, I said, ‘What made you stay with him for so long?’ And she just looked at me and she said, ‘You know, because I loved him.’”
The difficulties of Taylor and Davis’s relationship are captured on film by Cheadle, who is already receiving acclaim for his directorial debut.
“My favorite thing about the film is the way that Don has imagined it. It’s almost a day in the life of Miles Davis. Being in his mind, how he operates, his fears, his hang-ups,” Corinealdi said. “I was like, oh wow, you really captured the erratic nature of this man and how that erratic nature fueled the music, but then it also fueled the violence that he had towards Frances and fueled the love and the circle of it all.”
So what was it like working with Cheadle as both a leading man and a director? For Corinealdi, it was a dream. “The way that he is as an actor and the way he is as a director is very free. He has his ideas of the way he wants shots and scenes to go, but at the same time, nothing is really set so rigidly, and that’s fun. That’s what I like in a director, you know, where you can just have your ideas. I know where we ultimately land, but let’s just find out how we get there. And that’s what he did and that’s exciting.”
Miles Ahead opens today, April 1, in theaters nationwide.