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The onscreen passion for drumming that Miles Teller demonstrates in Whiplash is completely authentic, as the actor had a personal fervor for refocusing his own career, following a particularly tangential project: Divergent.
“When I first read Whiplash, I was feeling dead inside,” Teller told W magazine of the film festival favorite, in which he is berated by his art college professor (J.K. Simmons) to become the next great name in jazz.
“I didn’t have an interesting part [in Divergent], and I’d taken the film for business reasons: It was the first movie I’d done that was going to have an international audience. I called my agent and said, ‘This sucks.’ He told me about Whiplash.”
Teller started taking drum lessons immediately — he worked with an instructor three times a week, practiced for four hours a day and watched footage of notable legends like Buddy Rich. The director’s first choice for the role, Dane DeHaan, turned it down.
“I was in good shape from Divergent,” said Teller of his further transformation for the Sony Pictures Classics release. “Damien Chazelle, the director of Whiplash, told me, ‘Stop working out! Don’t go outside!’ He wanted me pale and doughy. This is the first movie where I shut myself off from the world. It was, by far, the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
Shailene Woodley, his co-star in The Spectacular Now and the Divergent franchise, added, “I tried to talk to Miles when he was making Whiplash, and it was difficult even to find him.”
Of their potential future in film, she said, “I would love for us to be a famous screen couple, … like Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio. I want to do a musical with him!” Yet Teller told W that he’s tentatively set to sing opposite Emma Watson. “I think Shai’s going to be upset because I’m planning a musical with another actress,” he said.
Besides Whiplash and a musical, Teller has dreamed of another music-related role: Elvis Presley. “That’s my goal. I think he and I look alike and do a lot of similar things well: sing, dance, and I think he played sports,” he said. “I want to play Young Elvis, … They’ve never gotten that right. It’s easy to do wrecked, bloated, and drug-addicted. I want to play characters who have the fever and win. It’s harder.”
Teller’s rep issued the following response to The Hollywood Reporter regarding the Divergent-related comments in W: “Accustomed to being more involved in the process of filmmaking, Miles regrets those words. He does value his relationship with Lionsgate and his participation in the franchise.”
Whiplash hits theaters Oct. 10.
Sept. 24, 9:20 a.m. Updated with comments from Teller’s rep.
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Portia de Rossi
James Gordon Meek