Whiplash: Teller, Mike–How to Impress Oscar Voters with Authenticity

Authenticity–or the effort to be authentic–is the rule of the game for rendering a compelling performance of an artist on screen.

While Timothy Spall spent an extraordinary amount of time absorbing the details of his subject, the British painter J.M.W. Turner.  Spall is one of many who find that the best way to portray a character convincingly is through meticulous research and lengthy, thorough training.

Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz also learned to paint for “Big Eyes”;

Channing Tatum learned to wrestle for “Foxcatcher”;

Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway interviewed NASA astronauts for “Interstellar”;

Eddie Redmayne used months of research to transform himself physically into Stephen Hawking for “The Theory of Everything.”

Miles Teller, the gifted lead actor of “Whiplash,” wanted to look and sound technically correct as a jazz drummer–particularly because he had to play all the songs in the film.

Though Teller had been in bands since high school — something director Damien Chazelle didn’t know when he cast the actor — he quickly realized that knowing how to play in a rock band just didn’t cut it in the jazz world.

“It’s all completely different, even the time signatures that jazz plays in,” says Teller, who trained with co-star Nate Lang for about three weeks before shooting. “The way (jazz drummers) sit — it’s a bit of a hunch. It seems like they’re sitting right over the snare drum, so that was different for me. The way that you hold the stick affects the way that you hit the drum. They call it painting the snare drum because it’s more of a flick of the wrist than it is a hitting motion.”

Teller was able to transform a skill he already had for “Whiplash,” but the “Into the Woods” star Emily Blunt says she had not had any formal vocal training before taking on the role of the Baker’s Wife in Stephen Sondheim’s musical. However, rather than looking for perfection, she was more concerned with conveying the meaning and feelings of the lyrics.

“I went into pretty ardent vocal training with Eric Vetro, who really raised my confidence,” she says. “It was exciting working with Sondheim’s music, which is so emotionally complex that you don’t have to make it sound pretty and glorious. You have to make sense of what he’s trying to say with his songs and all the nuances. In a way, that’s a relief because then I’m doing something that I know more about.”