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Miles Teller on his Breakout ‘Whiplash’ Role and Blushing for Nicole Kidman

'Whiplash' star talks about the project and why he initially turned it down

Miles Teller wowed Sundance audiences with his performance as a virtuoso drummer in the opening night selection “Whiplash,” directed by Damien Chazelle. Teller, 26, is no stranger to the fest. Last year, he starred in “The Spectacular Now,” which debuted at the festival, and he can be seen in the upcoming comedy “That Awkward Moment,” starring Zac Efron.

Ramin Setoodeh: How many times have you been to Sundance?
MILES TELLER: This is my second year. My favorite part of this business is film festivals. Films like this that are shot in 19 days. They need to bring people to Sundance in order to get a viewing.

RS: You almost turned down “Whiplash.”
MT: I had just done “Divergent.” I had been on it for four months. The year before, I’d done four films, so I’d worked a lot, and I just wanted to hang out. Then the script came in and I read it, and I was like, “That’s awesome. I don’t know if I’m going to do it.” My agent said, “You have to do this film, it’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read.”

RS: Did you have to take drum lessons?
MT: I prepped for three weeks of lessons. I started playing drums when I was 15. I’d asked for drumsticks for Christmas. I just drummed off feel.

RS: It’s a very physical role. Are you really sweating?
MT: A lot of it was real. My character was exhausted, so I exhausted myself. It was blood, sweat and tears every day. My character is either bleeding or crying or sweating.

RS: Do you prefer to make indie films or studio films?
MT: I think you have to have both. For me, I’m lucky to be in a place where I can pick a project. I like the big studio films; it’s always good for your work to be seen.

RS: Did you always want to act?
MT: No, I wanted to be a sportscaster. I thought I was going to do a Bob Costas. I did my first play at the end of my sophomore year in high school, and I was pretty hooked. It was “Footloose.” I played Willard, the same character I play in the movie.

RS: Are people starting to recognize you?
MT: A lot of young girls like “Footloose.” Guys like “21 & Over” and “Project X.” And people still come up to me and say I love you in “Rabbit Hole.” That film is really special to me. It was my first one.

RS: How did you convince John Cameron Mitchell to give you the part?
MT: He convinced himself. I had no film credits. Nicole Kidman will tell you she saw me blush, and she really liked that. When I auditioned, my character blushed. She thought it was so honest and real.

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