2016: The Year in Charts

‘Divergent’ Star Miles Teller Talks Returning to His First Love -- Music -- in New Movie ‘Whiplash’

Francois G. Durand/WireImage
Miles Teller poses at the 'Whiplash' photocall during the 40th Deauville American Film Festival on September 11, 2014 in Deauville, France.

After dancing, fighting and crying in Footloose, Divergent and The Spectacular Now, respectively, actor Miles Teller is tapping into his high school band roots. The 27-year-old Floridian, who started drumming when he was 15, playing "bad rock'n'roll," puts his skills to the test in Whiplash (Oct. 10), a psychodrama about an obsessive young musician pushed to the limit by a demanding teacher. Teller's first foray into jazz drumming, the gig meant learning challenging music like Duke Ellington's "Caravan" and a grueling practice schedule -- "four hours a day, three days a week."

Your character, Andrew, has one unnerving battle after another with his teacher. Have you had any experiences like that?

I didn't have anyone as intense as that, thank God. For acting, my [college] teachers would critique everyone and strip you down in front of the class. It was tough love.


Teller (right) clashes with his teacher, played by J.K. Simmons, in 'Whiplash.'

Is your approach for a musical role, like in Whiplash or Footloose, different?

Anything that distracts you from the acting is great. If you're playing an instrument, you're focused on the music -- not your face. When I watched Whiplash, I wasn't aware that when Andrew gets behind the drums, he takes on an alter ego. He's a different kid.

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In an upcoming film, Bleed for This, you play a boxer. How do these two roles compare?

The mental abuse Andrew goes through is comparable to the mental warfare you go through as a fighter. But physically, nothing compares to boxing. It's unreal training.

This article originally appeared in the Oct. 4 issue of Billboard.