NEW YORK (AP) — How badly does Miles Teller want it?
In "Whiplash" (out Friday), he plays an aspiring jazz drummer at a Julliard-like New York music conservatory, playing until his hands bleed to meet the impossible standards of his oppressively perfectionist teacher (J.K. Simmons). The movie, a festival hit since winning a heap of awards at Sundance, rhythmically beats on the theme of ambition and its high sacrifices.
Teller, too, is an up-and-comer, tagged as one of Hollywood's hottest rising stars. He landed his first movie role, 2010's "Rabbit Hole," partly because Nicole Kidman was impressed that he — playing a fragile kid weighed by guilt from a fatal car accident — blushed in the audition.
Like his "Whiplash" character, Andrew, Teller can play the drums, and spent three weeks cramming to learn to play the jazz pieces of the film. The Florida-native was schooled in New York, too, studying acting at New York University's Lee Strasburg Theatre and Film Institute.
Speaking to the candid, jokey Teller, the confident, frat-boy charm he showed in "Project X" and "21 & Over" comes through. But so does the clear-eyed ambition of the sensitive actor of "The Spectacular Now" who will also soon be inducted into the superhero realm, playing Mr. Fantastic in "The Fantastic Four."
But the Oscar-buzzed "Whiplash" sounds Teller's serious aspirations. He'd even like to play Elvis: "We do certain things similarly," he says.
AP: "Whiplash" director Damien Chazelle told me that when he first met you, you were "the polar opposite" of the role, talking about drinking with your friends. But he realized that underneath, you share Andrew's drive.
TELLER: It's a side of me that very few people do see. I guess it comes through in a performance like this. Even when I was filming the movie, the buddies I was living with, when they saw it, were like, "I had no idea you were doing that, you were killing yourself for it." I've always had that balance. I was the guy that in high school, me and my buddies threw the parties. We put a keg in the woods and get people to come. But I was also getting straight As.
AP: You recently caused a little storm when you suggested you did "Divergent" for "business reasons," after which you issued a statement saying you were proud to be a part of the franchise.
TELLER: If people really want to do the research, for "Whiplash" you make $7,000. For "Spectacular Now." You make $7,000. For "Rabbit Hole," you make $4,000. Studios don't make dramas. So if an actor wants to satisfy themselves, they're really not going to make any kind of money most of the time. That's why there's an allure of the studio films because you can drive a car if you do some. But I would never do a movie just for a paycheck. If Shailene was not in the movie, if Kate Winslet was not in that movie, if Neil Burger wasn't directing it, I wouldn't. Because I've been offered a lot of money to be in bad scripts.
AP: You have scars on your face from a bad car crash when you were 20. How did that go over in early auditions?
TELLER: The casting director would tell my agent, "Miles is a really good actor, but it doesn't make sense for his character to have these scars." I kept getting that feedback over and over again. There was a point where I was like, "Is something as superficial as having scars on my face really going to inhibit me from playing these characters"? I thought something I loved so much was not in my control anymore.
AP: You've been on a steady run of constant work in the last year.
TELLER: People tell me I've had a quick ascension into this business. But for me, when I was in college, I was looking at Shia LaBeouf. ... I used to say that I needed to get a "Disturbia" and then I'll be in the biz and I'll kind of be "the other Shia" — the next guy. But I'm glad it went the way it's went. I've been able to work on some studio films and some really good independent films.
AP: Don't you feel like you've broken through?
TELLER: Well, almost. At the end of the day, I just feel like I want to be a step ahead of ... not the critics, the perception. I have a pretty wide taste. I'm doing a musical with Damien, his next film. It's literally a song-and-dance, Gene Kelly kind of thing. And also, I want to shoot somebody. That's the only thing I haven't done, that kind of an action thing. Right off the bat, I'm trying to show I can do all this stuff.
Follow AP Film Writer Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP