J.K. Simmons finds charm in being despicable for 'Whiplash'

Mon Jan 12, 2015 9:36am EST
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By Piya Sinha-Roy

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Mastering the art of jazz drumming wasn't the only objective on actor J.K. Simmons' mind when he signed on to play an abusive music teacher in the independent film "Whiplash." He also focused on co-star Miles Teller's face.

"I mostly just wanted to do the best possible job of reddening Miles' cheeks while slapping him," the actor quipped in a recent interview.

Among his many roles, Simmons, 60, has previously played a neo-Nazi in HBO's prison drama "Oz," a psychiatrist in police procedural "Law & Order," a newspaper editor in the "Spider-Man" film franchise and a blind lawyer in "Growing Up Fisher."

But it's a manipulative, abusive, but also at times charming, jazz teacher that may be his shot at an Oscar.

"Whiplash," the feature-length directorial debut from Damien Chazelle, pits young jazz drummer Andrew (Teller) striving to be the best in his craft against Simmons' Fletcher, an acerbic, calculating, foul-mouthed instructor.

Simmons is up for a best supporting actor Golden Globe on Sunday and a frontrunner for next week's Oscar nominations.

As Andrew is pushed to his very limits of existence by Fletcher, the film explores both the physical and mental anguish of the pursuit of perfection - from Andrew practicing until his fingers are dripping with blood to Fletcher continuously slapping him as he mocks his skills.

"I wanted to portray a character who is single-minded in his objective and his focus, and is unconcerned with what the collateral damage might be," Simmons said.   Continued...

"Whiplash" cast member J.K. Simmons poses for a portrait in Los Angeles, California November 14, 2014. MREUTERS/Jonathan Alcorn