Miles Teller on Whiplash and Famous Fans

The star of drummer drama Whiplash just might become one of our generation’s acting greats. Entertainment editor Briony Smith sat down with Miles Teller to talk about drumming, his breakout performance and new fans (including Mark Ruffalo)

Miles Teller

Photo: Sebastian Kim/Management + Artists

Miles Teller and I lean against the walls of the InterContinental hallway. It’s Toronto International Film Festival time, and we’re waiting for a TV crew to clear out of the suite where our interview will take place. The door opens and a scruffy, dreamy dude emerges. He sees Teller, does a double-take. “Hi,” he says, and sticks out his hand. “I’m Mark.”

As in Ruffalo. “Just wanted to tell you I think you’re great and loved your movie, man.” Mark Ruffalo: just another member of the growing Miles Teller fan contingent, which also includes several FLARE editors who go heart-eyed emoji over the 27-year-old, and the many TIFF-goers who decreed his film Whiplash (in theatres Oct. 24) one of the best of the festival—and its young star an Academy Award contender.

The Pennsylvania-born actor broke out last year with his Sundance Special Jury Prize–winning performance as charismatic roustabout Sutter Keely in The Spectacular Now. With his scratchy voice, a certain roughness and that knowing cock of the head, Teller’s performance entered the coming-of-age canon as a worthy successor to John Cusack’s Lloyd Dobler in Say Anything …. There’s always something going on behind his eyes, bro swagger notwithstanding.

Miles Teller Whiplash

Miles Teller as driven drumming student Andrew in Whiplash
Photo: Daniel McFadden/Sony Pictures Classics (Whiplash)

Teller found Damien Chazelle’s script for Whiplash irresistible. The two-hander follows drummer Andrew (Teller) as he struggles under the tutelage of a tyrant teacher (J.K. Simmons) at an elite music academy. In preparation, Teller, who has been drumming since his teens, took jazz-drumming lessons, putting in four hours a day for three weeks straight.

The movie itself was shot in just 19 days. “I think the schedule played into that world—this character is so driven,” Teller says. “We were filming 17-hour days and nobody was really sleeping. It was the first time I did a movie when I didn’t enjoy my social life on the weekend.” Shrinking into Andrew was a challenge: “I’m pretty comfortable in my skin. I have a certain confidence in who I am, and I know what I’m about.” Teller developed a slouch for his character, and stopped working out and eating right. At the same time, he had to expend insane energy at the drum kit: an entire day was spent filming a gruelling practice montage, sweat flying and blood from his worked- raw fingers dripping down the drumsticks. There’s Oscar cacophony, sure, but how does he know he’s made it? Whiplash already took the Grand Jury Prize and Audience Award at Sundance. His sharp romantic comedy Two Night Stand is in theatres now; he’s at work on the Divergent sequel, Insurgent (bowing next spring); and he recently wrapped another huge franchise project, the Fantastic Four reboot (due next summer). “When Ruffalo said he saw my film, right there, that’s cool. I want to be able to walk into a room with actors I respect and not feel out of place.” I ask Teller if there’s anyone in his life who spurs him on the way J.K. Simmons does in the movie. “With me,” he says, “I push myself the most.”