Oscars 2015: ‘Whiplash’s’ Damien Chazelle reflects on ‘surreal’ night

Director Damien Chazelle earlier this month near his house in Venice.
Director Damien Chazelle earlier this month near his house in Venice.
(Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

After the seemingly endless drumroll of awards season, writer-director Damien Chazelle’s “Whiplash” -- the story of a young jazz drumming student (Miles Teller) under the tutelage of a sadistic teacher (J.K. Simmons) -- made a surprisingly strong showing at the 87th Academy Awards. Nominated for five Oscars, including best picture and adapted screenplay, the film picked up three -- supporting actor for Simmons, editing and sound mixing -- just one shy of the haul of “Birdman” and “The Grand Budapest Hotel.” Not bad for Chazelle’s first full-fledged feature.

We caught up Monday with the 30-year-old Oscars newbie, who was running short on sleep after a long night of partying but still clearly jazzed about the experience.

FULL COVERAGE: Oscars 2015

What time did you get home?

About 7 a.m. I slept for a little bit and then I had a 10:30 a.m. meeting. But it’s OK -- I actually feel less tired than I’ve felt on nights when I got a lot more sleep. It’s all good.


As a self-described Oscars junkie going to the show for the first time, how did the experience compare with your expectations?

I expected it to be surreal and it was surreal, so I guess in that sense it kind of lived up to expectations. There were definitely some awards that I had that kind of crazy hope, that kind of sneaking feeling, that we were going to win. But it still felt like a big shock.

You got one under your belt early in the night with J.K.'s supporting actor win.

Yeah, it was nice to begin with that and get that out of the way, because that was the one award I was nervous about.

Really? That was the one everyone figured was a lock.

Right, which is why I was nervous about it. [Laughs] No one is going to go give you condolences if you don’t win an award no one thought you were going to win, but I knew if we didn’t win that one, the whole theme of the night was going to be “Oh, I’m so sorry, bummer,” blah, blah, blah. We had to win that one, and then the rest was just gravy.

What does it feel like when they’re reading the names and the camera is inches away from you for the reaction shot?

It’s really weird. I guess my first time with any experience like that was a couple of weeks ago at the [British film academy awards]. I was very kind of discombobulated when I noticed the camera shoved up in my face. At least here I knew what was coming a little bit more. But at the same time, when genuinely emotional stuff happened, any time we won anything, you kind of quickly forget that there’s a camera there and it’s just fun.

A lot of people were rooting for “Whiplash” to win for adapted screenplay.

Well, I’ve known Graham [Moore, “The Imitation Game’s” screenwriter] for a few years. I love Graham. So I was really stoked for him. I think we won more than enough. [Laughs]

OSCARS 2015: Complete list | Show highlights | Red carpet | Quotes from the stars | Backstage | Top nominees | Q&As with the contenders

Were there any particular moments when you really felt like you were outside your body?

Just entering the theater was surreal, and then any time they even mentioned the movie was surreal. The most fun part of this whole thing is meeting people you’ve never met before who you really admire. I got to chat with Benedict Cumberbatch, Eddie Redmayne, David Oyelowo -- all these actors I’m such a fan of. Then you see people who you’ve gotten to know on the awards circuit, like P.T. Anderson and Laura Dern. You’re in a room with all of these people you want to meet and all of these people that you feel really lucky you’ve already met.

Anyone you were too intimidated to even try to talk to?

I still can’t really try to talk to anyone. [Laughs] I’ll get introduced to someone or they’ll introduce themselves to me, but I still haven’t quite gotten over my intense intimidation by any of these people. I’m not at the point where I can literally go up and introduce myself.

The reviews of the show generally haven’t been great -- though, of course, the reviews are almost never great. How did it feel to you in the room?

I mean, I had a blast there, but I’m not having the usual experience. [Laughs] The Oscars are fine. I’ve literally been watching it every year since I can remember, and every single year the show gets trashed. I don’t even know what the point is -- I’m not sure what people are looking for in an awards show that they don’t get. But for me it was fun. I guess there are certain Oscar shows I’ve enjoyed more than others, but being in the theater is really something else.

After all these months on the awards trail, are you ready to finally get back to reality?

Yeah, we’re going to start shooting [the musical romantic comedy “La La Land”] in September or October. I’m definitely ready to get back to real work. You start to really feel a little weird when you’ve spent this long talking about work you did in the past and not about work you’re doing in the present. I’m really excited to make something else.

Twitter: @joshrottenberg