Miles Teller, J.K. Simmons, and Damien Chazelle Talk ‘Whiplash’

By October 10, 2014
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I was completely blown away by Whiplash, the new film written and directed by Damien Chazelle. Starring Miles Teller as a young jazz drummer and J.K. Simmons as his terrifying conductor, the film is a showcase for two powerhouse performances and an inspirational and stellar depiction of the drive, passion, and energy it takes to achieve greatness. It’s one of my favorite films of the year, and I can’t wait to see it again. Check out Kate’s review from Sundance right here, and put this one on your radar, people – it opens in limited release today but rolls out slowly over the next couple of months across the rest of the country. I want as many people to see this movie as possible. Check out the trailer below:

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to see the movie thanks to Film Independent, a great organization that often hosts screenings at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Chazelle, Teller, Simmons, and co-stars Paul Reiser and Melissa Benoist were in attendance and took the stage for a Q&A with Elvis Mitchell after the film. Here are some highlights from their conversation:

Damien Chazelle, on his inspiration for the script:

This started for me as experiences I had as a drummer with a terrifying conductor…we talk a lot about stage fright and things like that that people occasionally grasp, but the feeling of everyday dread – I remember having rehearsal at 2pm and every day at about 10:30, I could start to feel it in my stomach, and by rehearsal I was sweating bullets, and by the time rehearsal was done, I felt like I had just been to war. And it’s just this weird up and down emotional thing. When I look back ten years out and say, ‘What were you so concerned about? This is not actual life and death stakes.’ That to me is the irony. The fact that something as seemingly frivolous as playing jazz could feel so life or death, that’s the certain thing I wanted to capture.

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J.K. Simmons, on the toughest part of filming:

I just learned the charts. That was the main thing I had to do. Miles and I had the same experience: we read the script and we were like, ‘OK, let’s go. I get it – it’s all there.’ So really the thing to do was to try to catch up enough musically to pull it off. For Miles that was translating his drum experience into a jazz thing and for me it was taking my classical music school experience and looking at charts because some of that is really complex and I don’t want to be up there faking it. I didn’t want to hem Damien in the editing room…almost invariably we were playing live, and sometimes we’d use playback, and sometimes both, but all of those [actors playing musicians in the film] were real players.

Miles Teller, on working with Chazelle:

When JK and I saw the film for the first time, we had no idea that the whole film was shot pretty much in close-up. And I’m not kidding when I say I was not aware of the close-ups, really for the entire shoot, which is…actors in here [know what I’m talking about]: in most pictures, they take 20 minutes to set up, put a light and all that stuff right here, sometimes you won’t even be talking to another actor, it’ll be very close to the lens – whatever it was, Damien just did a really good job of hiding the camera. JK and I were so involved in either him with the conducting or me trying to play the drums and not mess up the beat for these other musicians, you’re so into the music that it allows you to not think about the acting. Acting is hard enough, let alone when you’re thinking about it. The whole thriller aspect of it – the tense moments and the suspense – that was all Damien. Actors don’t act suspense. That’s all this guy. The fact that he shot it in 19 days, edited it in three weeks, and had it in to Sundance within three months is really incredible.

Couldn’t have said it better myself, Mr. Teller. Whiplash is a stunning accomplishment and a hell of a movie, and I can’t wait for you all to see it.

Header image courtesy of Wireimage.

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Ben is a writer living in Los Angeles, California. His work has been featured at ScreenRant.com, FirstShowing.net, MySpace.com, GeekTyrant.com, and many more sites across the web. Some of his favorite movies include The Rocketeer, Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy, Tombstone, Lucky Number Slevin, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Collateral, Double Indemnity, Back to the Future and The Prestige. Follow him on Twitter: @BenPears.