INTERVIEW: Miles Teller On Whiplash
, June 1st, 2015 14:54
To mark the DVD and Blu-ray release of Whiplash today, Nadia Attia gets an exclusive interview with the film's star, Miles Teller
Miles Teller's breakthrough role in 2014's Whiplash made audiences - and Hollywood casting agents - sit up and take notice. As a quick recap: he played a drum student at an exclusive US music academy, passionate about his art and hungry for recognition - especially from infamous ball-breaking tutor Fletcher (JK Simmons). Both lead actors worked their chops off to carry the simple premise of Damien Chazelle's taut drama. And in an exclusive interview with Miles Teller, the Quietus found out that it took blood, sweat and tears to bring that bravura to the screen.
When you were making Whiplash, did you realise that it was going to be a very special project?
Miles Teller: I did. At this point, I've done a decent amount of films - 13 or 14, whatever it is - and I've realised that you really don't know until you see it. Working with JK was great. I knew he was giving a good performance and it felt good, but I've done scenes that felt good and then when I see them in the movie it doesn't translate. But I knew this script was awesome and we had potential to have a really incredible movie, but I didn't know how good it was until I saw it.
You already knew how to play drums, but did you know much about jazz drumming?
MT: I knew nothing about jazz. I knew from what would play in lounges and bars - elevator music. I go back as far as the Grateful Dead and that's about it! I never studied jazz, though I knew who Buddy Rich and Jo Jones were. I always knew the technical skill needed for jazz music, and I knew it was the highest form of percussion, just from what I had heard, and playing drums myself. The history of it [was fascinating], once you start learning about Buddy Rich, and his tenacity, and what a force he was behind the drum kit and how fucking mean he was! And getting into that world was great.
What is your history with music?
MT: I started out with piano when I was really young, but once my piano teacher started getting tougher and tougher I decided that I was done taking lessons, and that I'd just play Billy Joel or Elton John songs on my own. And then I played saxophone and that was good, and once that got a little too rigid and studious I stopped playing sax and then I picked up guitar and then I picked up drums. So I left the academic side of music and then just went for having fun with my friends.
Working on Whiplash looked like it might not have been much fun, it looked pretty gruelling - was Chazelle a taskmaster like Fletcher?
MT: No! Damien is definitely the nicest director I've ever worked with. He's so complimentary. He loves actors and he does a great job of creating an environment for them, and he doesn't over-handle them. For the first lesson I had, Damien taught me and then I started taking lessons from somebody else. I would meet three, four days a week, for four hours a day, and Damien would come and videotape it. He was very much right there with me when I started learning.
How did you get on with JK Simmons? Was he really slapping you?
MT: We got along real well. He wasn't in character the whole time, and neither was I. And, yeah, he was slapping me. When we tried to fake it, it looked ridiculous. I just played a boxer [in Bleed for This], so it's all relevant.
Were you nervous about taking on a physically demanding role?
MT: I knew there was a lot I'd have to do, and I was - I was a little nervous. I was much more nervous about the boxing movie though. The drumming movie… jazz was scary to me, because I'd never held a stick that way. And I signed on for the movie and I had three-and-a-half weeks until we started. So I knew there was just not much time. When I first started playing it was frustrating because I wasn't getting it and then time starts ticking, and you don't think it's going to happen, and then something clicks and it all comes together - and that's great, because you know how hard you worked for it.
And since Whiplash you're rewarded with superhero and tough-guy roles…
MT: I've always wanted to be able to do it all, and by me being able to buff up physically, that opens up a whole new world to me that wasn't available. I was not on the list for movies where the character was kind of a badass. I'm sure they weren't thinking of me before that. With Whiplash, I play a character that has intensity, drive, ambition and passion; as much in that character as you're going to find in any character. And now when I'm able to represent that or echo that physically, well shit man, now you're talking a whole bunch of stuff. Now you're talking roles that back in the day De Niro would get or Pacino would get or Ryan Gosling [gets now]… I want the meaty stuff; I want the great stuff. When you're the softer, funny guy, you're not going to get that stuff.
Can you compare music to acting, in the sense of striving for perfection?
MT: What's similar - it's not a perfect medium. With actors, there are three performances: there's the one in their head they want to give, there's the one that they actually give, and there's the one they wish they gave. Every movie I finish, once I see it, I say: 'I could've done that.' You try and learn from it, and then with the next movie, you try and come back stronger and have a deeper, richer performance. The thing about acting, you're really just conveying the human condition… so you're always trying to understand yourself more and understand other people more and understand emotions more. It's a never-ending excavation process.
Whiplash is out now on Blu-ray & DVD