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August 18-31
VOL.14 ISSUE. 26
HOME / STORY

Dynamic Duo

Jorge Ignacio Castillo
Published Wednesday November 26, 01:47 am
For a movie as intense as Whiplash, the leads sure are fun

WHIPLASH

Roxy (Opens Friday 5)

One thing you don’t expect about J.K. Simmons in real life is how boisterous he is. Abrasive like J. Jonah Jameson? Possibly. Intimidating like Vern Schillinger from Oz? Maybe. But boisterous? Didn’t see that coming.

That’s not the poster I signed off on,” he says about the Whiplash one-sheet decorating the interview room. “The one I liked had this big, bald head… Was Damien here? That guy is such a bastard,” he adds, referring to the brains behind the film.

It’s all in jest, of course — because director Damien Chazelle has provided Simmons with a golden opportunity to take an Oscar home. As the monstrously manipulative yet utterly compelling music instructor Terence Fletcher in Whiplash, Simmons delivers a performance nothing less than brilliant. Most of the time Fletcher is a monster, but he’s a monster with a purpose — and perhaps the ends justify the means.

I had the chance to talk to Simmons and co-star Miles Teller (who also deserves all kinds of accolades for his portrayal of Fletcher’s beleaguered student Andrew) at the last Toronto International Film Festival.

Were you two kept apart during the shooting?

J.K. SIMMONS: Yeah, it was a contractual thing for me: Miles wasn’t supposed to speak or look at me.

MILES TELLER: The “not looking at you” wasn’t a problem.

JKS: We settled into this rhythm pretty quickly, actually. We behaved like a couple of douches between takes and kept it light. There was enough drama when the cameras were rolling.

What’s the response of musicians been like to the film?

JKS: The most gratifying thing to hear from musicians was, “You guys were bringing it. You knew what you were doing.” A lot of them had a guy like me in their background.

Has anybody said “I’m THAT guy!” to you about Fletcher?

JKS: I haven’t met that one yet. Oddly, I did hear that when I was doing Oz, which was a little off-putting. Guys came to me on the street and said, “Right on, man! I dig what I see.”

Do you have to build up to project that level of authority, or is it something that comes naturally to you?
 

JKS: I guess I’m just a natural bastard. It’s like anything you’re bringing out — laughter, anger, tears — you have to go down and get it. But that’s our job, to have that accessible to ourselves.

MT: I think J.K….

JKS: This is going to be bullshit.

MT: … has great control over his voice, and that’s a very powerful tool. Also the physicality he brings as Fletcher is very precise. Plus, all the wardrobe is J.K.

JKS: Yeah, stuff I had in my closet.

Miles, you’re a drummer. How much did you enjoy showing your skills?

MT: My mom said this will always be her favourite movie because she gets to watch her kid play music. Me and all my siblings knew our way around multiple instruments. I think she always wanted to have her own Partridge family. Personally, to be able to play drums was very gratifying, because nobody ever asks you to play a drum solo — if you’re not good, it’s just noise. It probably won’t happen again.

 

THE PROBLEM WITH “GOOD JOB”

Whiplash started as a short film created to attract investors for the feature version. Simmons has been involved with the project since the beginning, and all it took to make the feature happen was the endorsement of Jason Reitman, with whom Simmons has worked consistently since Thank You for Smoking.

According to Whiplash, achieving artistic greatness and a fulfilling personal life at the same time is mutually exclusive. What do you think?

MT: I honestly believe the most important thing in life is your relationship with people. The last couple of years in which I’ve been working, working, working, it’s become a challenge. But I’m able to notice when I’m falling off-balance, and reach out.

Fletcher states that the two most damaging words in the English language are “good job.” Do you agree?

MT: As a kid, I liked tough coaches and teachers, as long as I felt respect for their point of view and they weren’t barking orders at me. I don’t think I would be anywhere if I only had people telling me every shit thing I did was good.

JKS: I don’t condone everything that Fletcher does, but behind his actions there’s a true passion for the work, the music and the possibility of greatness. There’s a goal. More often than not though, abuse is a reflection of someone’s own insecurities. A lot of times you work with a director who’s always screaming at people, and you don’t even know where this is coming from. They could just be assholes. 

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