as: Terence Fletcher
If you love movies or music or both, you must see Whiplash. Even if you’ve already seen it, go watch it again. It’s a real corker! Without a doubt, the best part of the film is J.K. Simmons’ masterful performance as Terence Fletcher, the maniacal, unhinged jazz ensemble leader. Simmons should’ve gotten two Oscars for the role, he’s so good.
That said, however: Tom Wopat could’ve and would’ve been better as Fletcher. Simmons killed it, for sure, but Wopat would’ve killed it, brought it back to life, and killed it again.
The one thing about Whiplash that struck me as odd is that Fletcher, the hard-driving, perfectionist music teacher, is not shown performing any music himself until the end of the film. And, even then, it’s only for a few fleeting seconds. From what I can tell, Simmons was genuinely playing in his performance scene, but it’s nothing terrible impressive. (Which, I suppose, is the point—“those who can’t do, teach” as they say. Though Fletcher takes it a little far with the “making up for my own shortcomings” thing. Anyways…)
With Wopat, an accomplished musician in his own right, in the role, we would add more scenes of Fletcher playing, here and there. The protagonist, Andrew Neiman (played by Miles Teller), would come across Fletcher playing solo acoustic jazz guitar (as Wopat is a talented guitarist)—really, really well—in an empty studio at the music conservatory where most of the story takes place. Amazed by his teacher’s skill, Neiman would be inspired to practice harder to try and match his skill (though Andrew is a drummer). This would, of course, be on top of the other “motivational” methods Fletcher employs to get the best out of his students.
Personally, I think this would make Fletcher an even more intimidating figure. It’s one thing to have a lunatic band teacher yell at you to do better; to have a lunatic band teacher that you know is a genius player himself yelling at you would be even worse. Like, “Dang, this dude really does know his stuff. I better play my @$$ off if I’m going to impress him even a little bit.” It would be akin to having Lebron James as your basketball coach: “How am I ever going to be good enough to meet those high standards?”
In all honesty, though, it’s hard to imagine anyone giving a better performance than J.K. Simmons did in Whiplash. It’s one of the finest cinematic performances of the 21st century, if not of all time. Still, can’t go wrong with Wopat, amirite?