Once in awhile, a breakthrough performance stops you in your tracks. This year, that performance was by Miles Teller, 27, in the tense psychological thriller Whiplash.
It’s not the first time we’ve seen Teller. He’s been around for a few years now and has impressed in some way or another in all of his roles. But nothing compares to his thrilling work as Andrew Neiman, a gifted NYC drumming student. Neiman studies under a sadistic music teacher, played by J.K. Simmons (Growing Up Fisher, Juno), who is incredible in the movie. But the heart and soul of the film is Teller. The audience travels with him through emotional and physical turmoil thanks to his stunning portrayal of Andrew, a student driven to the brink of sanity from exhaustion, hard-work, and abuse of all kinds.
The movie is amazing. Just watch the trailer; it alone leaves your short of breath.
So how did this stellar young actor convincingly portray a drummer who sweats and bleeds to become “one of the greats?” Compared with other instruments, it’s much more difficult to fake playing the drums. With a piano, an actor’s hands can be hidden from the camera, but drumming can’t be faked. And it feels like 90% of Whiplash is watching Neiman working himself to exhaustion from behind a drum kit. If an actor playing the drums on film is out of time, the audience will know.
Teller taught himself to play drums when he was 15, but favored rock ’n’ roll. So when it came to prepping for the role, Teller had a lot of work to do. For starters, jazz drummers hold their sticks differently (a bit sideways, almost like a chopstick). To pull of a believable performance, the actor had months of practice ahead of him. The results and real-life bloody blisters paid off (the pain-riddled hands seen in the movie are the actor’s real ones), and the result is nothing short of a tour de force. The actor has truly arrived thanks to the caliber of his work in Whiplash.
But we’ve seen Teller before and although prior performances were not Academy-attention-grabbers, they were all strong and established the actor as a major new face on the scene. Acting alongside Shailene Woodley in The Spectacular Now, Teller’s “winning, seemingly effortless performance” is credited for achieving the movie’s success (The New York Times).
I didn’t see that film, but I’ve been impressed with numerous other roles he’s had.
In Divergent, Teller had a smaller but interesting role as Peter, an arrogant, cannot-tell-a-lie villain who taunts and threatens Woodley’s protagonist. Teller’s charm, charisma, and confidence shine through while playing this haughty jerk. In the Zac Efron buddy comedy That Awkward Moment, Teller plays one of three best friends living and dating in NYC. That same cocksure, sarcastic swagger characterizes his character Daniel. Although Teller might not have “pretty boy,” “movie star” good looks, his keen wit and self-assured air make him very appealing and pretty damn sexy.
Teller will be back as Peter in Insurgent, the second movie/book in the Divergent trilogy, out in 2015. He will also star as Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic in the upcoming 2017 Fantastic Four reboot (the role played by Forever‘s Ioan Gruffudd in the 2005 and 2007 films).
Whatever other roles Teller takes in the future, it’s safe to presume that he will deliver magnetic, well-crafted performances. I know I am not alone in my excitement to follow this impressive and captivating actor’s career.