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Whiplash - Miles Teller interview

Whiplash

Interview by Rob Carnevale

MILES Teller talks about some of his preparation for playing a drum student in Whiplash any why he had to take more lessons despite having played the drums since the age of 15.

He also talks about working with writer-director Damien Chazelle, what he thought when he saw the finished film for the firs time and his own mentors in life. He was speaking at a press conference held during the 2014 London Film Festival.

Q. You played drums at the age of 15 but I gather you had to learn a whole other different thing?
Miles Teller: Yeah, I’ve played drums since I was 15. My family… my sisters and I all played instruments. I kind of started with piano and then I actually played saxophone with a jazz band in middle school. So, any knowledge I had of jazz music was from playing alto-sax back then. But I only played that until sophomore year and then I started playing baseball and stuff. But the drumming… I drummed in some rock bands. I asked for a drum kit when I was 15 and my parents were kind enough to buy me one and I just started playing with my buddies who played guitar, kind of. We’d cover Green Day and stuff like that.

But I’ve always taken my drum kit with me but I’d never taken any lessons for it. So, it was a whole… what as great about it was that when I first started taking these lessons, I’d be like: “Oh yeah, that’s so much easier to do it that way!” I’d been doing it this other way. So, I started taking jazz lessons for four hours a day, three days a week, with Damien at first and then the kid who plays Carl in the film. He’s a very good drummer anyway, so he was kind of my teacher. He taught me the traditional jazz playing… how to hold this stick. It was very basic at first, such as: “This is how you hold the stick. And this is how you hit the snare drum.” But even something like that… Damien had me practising for hours!

Q. Have you had a mentor that’s meant as much to you as these characters do to each other?
Miles Teller: I had a piano teacher when I was young who was pretty tough on me. But I didn’t have the passion for piano so I just quit taking lessons from her. The closest thing I had to Fletcher was a driver’s ed teacher. He was so out of leftfield… the guy used to get so pissed off that I could not parallel park [laughs]. He’d slam stuff and really strike fear in his students. It was a bizarre displacement. But I’ve never got it with acting.

Q. Were boxing films also an inspiration for you at any point during your preparation?
Miles Teller: Well, Damien actually gave me a copy of Raging Bull to watch as my preparation for this.

Q. Can you tell us a little bit about the logistics of doing the final scene? How long did it take?
Miles Teller: It’s all kind of blurry because we did film it in 19 days. But I think we did spend two days on that last performance. On one day, we had something like 140 set-ups. But Damien would pretty much tell me to play a 10-minute drum solo and I also had the music for the drum solo before we started. It was already something I was listening to. But there were parts of it, as there were with Whiplash, that I tried to know by heart. Damien liked certain things I did, so we’d do that kind of back and forth thing. But a lot of the time I was playing this 10-minute drum solo and people had to listen to it [laughs].

Q. Was it real blood?
Miles Teller: Not mine [laughs].

Q. You were speaking earlier about being taught the drums. In the previous films that you’ve made, what other skills have you picked up?
Miles Teller: I guess other skills I’ve shown include not getting into shape. I’ve done a pretty good job of avoiding the six-pack. But I start a boxing movie in three weeks and that’s kind of something I’ve been able to get to the gym for. It’s great anytime you can parallel a skill that your character has. I just think it makes it even more rewarding.

Q. What inspires you as an actor?
Miles Teller: I don’t know when it clicked in for me other than getting on-stage in high school and making people laugh and the entertainment aspect of it. That was exciting for me. But going to study in New York… you walk in and see black and white photos of Pacino at the same school and Brando and Hoffman and all these guys that inspired me. I just love the history of acting. It’s such a beautiful craft and you absolutely get out of it what you put into it. So, for me I guess that’s what I’m inspired by – trying to be a part of something that I have such a great respect for and to not disrespect it.

Q. What did you think when you first saw the finished version of Whiplash?
Miles Teller: It exceeded my expectations. Very rarely, at least from my experience, is the movie better than the script. Usually, the script is so good and you hope to make a version of it that kind of gives you that feeling that you get when you first read it. Absolutely, when I saw this film for the first time I was blown away by what Damien had done with it because, as an actor, for the final product you have little to do with it. At the end of the day, you film it for a couple of weeks and then people mess around with it for a year or more. In Damien’s case, it was two months. But they put it together and your opinion means nothing; they are choosing what takes to use and picking the angles. But just the way that Damien shot it, the tension and the suspense.., as an actor you can’t act suspense; that’s all done in the edit. So, I was truly blown away by Damien’s talent and that’s why I’m doing his next film.

Q. Damien has said that your real personality is much closer to your character than a lot of people might think. Would you agree?
Miles Teller: Yeah, I think that it’s probably a side of me that my buddies have never seen. My girlfriend has started seeing it over this past year and a half because she’s seen how much I’ve wanted this and wanted to work on these films. So, she’s seen that passion. But most people have never seen that kind of side to me. But this is an opportunity to wear my heart on my sleeve.

Read our review of Whiplash

Read our interview with JK Simmons

Read our interview with writer-director Damien Chazelle