Some of most memorable movie villains aren't the biggest or the baddest ones, but the most charismatic. They're the ones who mesmerize heroes and audiences alike through charm, guile or sheer force of personality and almost succeed in luring them to the dark side.
A recent addition to their ranks is J.K. Simmons' Fletcher, the domineering but magnetic teacher to Miles Teller's aspiring jazz drummer Andrew in the music drama "Whiplash." Fletcher drives his pupil to the edge of sanity while giving the young man just enough encouragement to keep him under his thrall.
At a recent presentation of "Whiplash" for the Envelope Screening Series, Simmons and writer-director Damien Chazelle discussed the film's fraught student-teacher dynamic, in particular a key scene in which Fletcher treats Andrew with uncommon warmth. (Watch a clip of the discussion above.)
"That scene is kind of just Fletcher looking for ammunition, and succeeding," Simmons said. But Fletcher doesn't act out of pure malice, the actor added. "Obviously from the beginning there's a sense that this kid Andrew has real potential and is worth [Fletcher's] time and effort to abuse the ... out of him."
Chazelle said with regard to teachers who bully, "I'm always struck by how charismatic these people are able to be, and how it's constantly this carrot-and-stick thing: They'll give you just enough to keep you coming back for more."
He added: "That scene was so crucial, in a way. It was crucial to almost play it like a love scene because it's Andrew's moment of realizing what it's like to be loved by Fletcher. So as soon as that's stolen away from him, he's going to do anything he can to get it back. And that's the sad but sometimes motivating dynamic that can happen between an abusive teacher and a student."
For more from Chazelle and Simmons, watch the clip above and check back later this week.