PARK CITY, Utah (Reuters) - Actor Miles Teller has become the poster boy for the average American teenage male in film, but in a new indie drama, the actor flips into a distinctly unique character - a teen driven to become one of the world’s greatest jazz drummers.
“Whiplash,” which premiered at the Sundance Film Festival last week and will compete in the U.S. drama competition, is an enticing and heart-racing tale of young jazz drummer Andrew in a devoted pursuit of perfection in his craft. Andrew comes under the tutelage of a noted drummer, played by J.K. Simmons, who challenges him to the very limits of his existence.
The film is the first feature from 28-year-old writer-director Damien Chazelle, and is a new direction for rising star Teller, who has gained prominence for raunchy young adult film “21 & Over” and last year’s coming-of-age Sundance hit, “The Spectacular Now”. “Whiplash” has already been snapped up by Sony Pictures Classics for U.S. distribution.
Sitting on a sofa at a lounge in Park City during Sundance, Teller, 26, spoke to Reuters about diving into jazz drumming, being slapped by Simmons and the “gray area” of dating.
Q: “Whiplash” takes you away from the young adult films you’ve become known for. What drew you in?
A: I play the drums so to have a movie about a drummer, I had never read anything like that before. Music is a pretty big passion of mine and I’d love to do a movie where I can play guitar and sing. I play piano and I love musicals, so this script, it was all there on the page, all the twists and turns.
Q: How good were you at the drums before doing the movie, and much preparation did you have to do before filming?
A: I‘m pretty good, I’ve played since I was 15. Out of every instrument that I played, drums was probably the most natural for me, but I had never taken a drum lesson before, so once I started taking lessons, I felt much better than I ever was. I did four-hour lessons, did those a couple of days a week for four weeks.
Q: What did you connect with in your character Andrew and his intense drive for his craft?
A: It was something that I could sync into because all my character cares about is drumming and becoming the greatest drummer. He can’t really care about the relationship with his girlfriend, it’s really just about drumming and (his teacher)J.K. Simmons. I have a lot of drive and ambition myself, I can respect Andrew’s determination.
Q: How was it working with J.K. Simmons, and what was the most challenging scene between you two?
A: J.K. Simmons is one of the best actors around, the guy is phenomenal. I don’t remember specifically, I feel like we just focused on what we were going to do, and then did it. The scene where he was slapping me was pretty funny.
Q: Were those real slaps? Did it sting?
A: (nods) I started laughing at one point, which was weird.
Q: You’re also starring in buddy comedy “That Awkward Moment,” coming out later this month. What did you enjoy exploring in that film?
A: It’s all about dating in your 20s and what that’s like. It’s not like you hold your girlfriend’s hand on the school bus. Just because you go on dates doesn’t mean she’s your girlfriend, there’s this whole gray area. So I think just to explore that with my two buddies, Zac (Efron) and Mike (Michael B. Jordan), it was fun.
Q: You’ve received attention for your recent roles, so what type of films would you like to do in the future?
A: As you get older, as a man, you start getting some juicer roles. I just want to do all the movies that Ryan Gosling can’t do because he’s so busy, I’ll do those.
Q: Is there one dream role?
A: I want to play Elvis. I’d also like to do a baseball movie.
Q: Why Elvis?
A: A lot of people say I look like Elvis, and I love Elvis. I play the guitar and sing, so it seems like a nice match.
Reporting by Piya Sinha-Roy; editing by Patricia Reaney and Rosalind Russell