In Whiplash, J.K. Simmons plays a music teacher/band leader at one of the most prestigious schools in the country. Miles Teller is a drummer who is driven to become one of the best in the world. Together, they will explosively create some fireworks and even saying that doesn’t even do this astounding story justice.
We caught up with the two and if you watch the Whiplash trailer, you can see that there’s a reverence there from Teller to Simmons. But over the course of the movie, it becomes pretty clear that Simmons’ Fletcher believes that the way to inspire students to greatness is by beating them figuratively over the head with insults until they get it right. Well, actually sometimes he even takes a hand to them physically.
Simmons does not share Fletcher’s ideas on that subject. "God, I hope not,” he told Movie Fanatic about whether being harsh and real inspires artists. “I mean, masochists do! I completely agree with feeling the need or the benefits of being pushed and of being directed on a project and collaborating. The kind of manipulation and abuse, I think, has no place in life.”
Teller hopes that Whiplash is a lesson for all aspiring artists out there that the greatness comes from within and that even further on that point, artistic awesomeness comes from working together.
“For me, the greatest success that I’ve had on a particular project or in exploring a role does come through collaboration. I wouldn’t want to do a movie where everything I do the director just says, ‘Good job,’ and then I am under-directed. At the same time, I’ve done movies where I felt like I was over-handled and over-directed and I didn’t feel like I was able to do some stuff that I wanted to. So I think it’s a fine line,” Teller said.
The film's director, Damien Chazelle, had reported that he had even worse teachers than the one played by Simmons. That does not sit well with the actor!
“That kind of pisses me off actually. Especially after I met Miles, I wanted to go farther,” Simmons said and he and Teller laughed.
“I love that this movie is inspiring that debate: How far is too far? How much is too much? Is it worth it? I’ve made the comparison before, this kind of relentless abuse might be necessary and appropriate if you’re training Navy SEALs; I don’t know if it’s appropriate in music school. But it’s there! And it can be productive. There’s no denying that.”
One of the things that truly blows us away from Whiplash is that Teller took a “basic” drum skill set that he already had and practiced and practiced to the point where he could be believable as one of the world’s (potentially) greatest.
“I started getting blisters,” Teller admitted. It’s interesting because in the film, there are times he’s practicing and playing in rehearsal so hard that his hands bleed all over the drum set. Teller saw blood on the drum set before one of those takes and told writer-director Chazelle that he thought that was going too far.
“When I read the script there’s all this talk of, ‘And the blood splatters on the cymbals.’ I would come onto set sometimes and I would look at the drum kit and there’s all this blood there. And I literally to Damien would be like, ‘That’s too much. No way. Let’s get that off. It’s too much blood.’ And he goes, ‘No, man. When I was playing, all my drumsticks were covered in blood. This is real. This is truthful,’” Teller recalled.
“So yeah, I started getting some bloody blisters and I was bandaging them up and stuff. Just the nature of filming a movie like this in 19 days with very intense drumming sequences, a lot of that sweat is real and that’s great because you don’t have to act when you’re actually kind of playing to exhaustion. “
For Simmons, having this role come along at this point of his career is beyond a blessing. The journeyman actor is getting serious Oscar buzz for his supporting role in Whiplash, and we -- honestly -- think he is a lock to win.
“I've been so blessed to have the opportunities that I've had, and if somebody asked me to play a Terence Fletcher-esque character next week, I would be reticent to do so. Part of the joy of doing what we all are fortunate enough to do here is you get to do something different every time out. I learned that at the very beginning,” Simmons said.
“I'd been doing theater for twenty years, but when I first started doing camera-acting... really OZ was sort of my first big thing that a lot of people saw, and I knew going into that that it was a potential trap, because I could be playing the Nazi of the week on TV for the rest of my life. From nowhere, all of a sudden Law and Order called and said, 'Hey, would you like to play this shrink on Law and Order?' And it was this perfect yin yang thing that I had at the very beginning. I was perceived as the guy who could do a variety of things. I mean, that's what we all want to do.”
For Teller, who is just getting started after powerhouse turns in films -- such as the one you can see when you watch Divergent online -- Whiplash is exactly the type of film he dreamed of doing when he decided to become an actor.
“When I was in college this would have been a movie that I said, I hope to do. It’s a movie with integrity. It’s a movie that’s unapologetic. It’s a movie that is kind of pushing the boundaries,” Teller said.
“And it’s a movie that should leave you really talking about it and creating a discourse and having people excited to explore some of the themes in it. So yeah, this is everything that I could have asked for in a project at this point in my career.”