Mr Miles Teller Is On A Roll
The Whiplash actor on his journey from homecoming king to Hollywood’s next big thing
Mr Miles Teller pulls a black tin from his inside pocket and pops a little piece of Snus dipping tobacco into his mouth. We’re at Café Gratitude in Downtown LA, a high temple of vegan culture and green health where menu items have names such as “divine”, “blissful” and “charismatic”. Mr Teller may be the first customer to order $50 worth of juices to go with his nicotine fix.
“When you spend, like, every day with 20 guys in the woods, you just pick up some habits,” he shrugs. This week, Mr Teller has been filming Granite Mountain, a movie about the Arizona wildfire tragedy of 2013, in which he plays a firefighter who lost 19 friends to the flames. It’s just one in a list of serious, grown-up movies that Mr Teller, now 29, has made recently.
This summer, he’s in the crime comedy War Dogs with Mr Jonah Hill, the true story of a couple of kids from Miami who exploited a government loophole to become renegade arms dealers. Later this year, he stars in Bleed For This, the epic story of the former world champion boxer Mr Vinny Paz, which we’ll get to in a minute. After that, he portrays the full horror of post-traumatic stress disorder in Thank You For Your Service.
It’s not that Mr Teller hasn’t made grown-up movies in the past. We all remember Whiplash in 2014, and before that The Spectacular Now (2013), but there was Fantastic Four (2015) and the Divergent films (2014, 2015, 2016), and a string of light comedies, Picasso’s “bro” period, if you like. But tread carefully around that stuff with Mr Teller.
“People are so quick to judge,” he says. “The trailer came out for War Dogs, and they were like, ‘Oh, Miles is finally on the right track.’ When Project X came out, they said, ‘Oh, he’s this frat guy’. But if you’re getting speaking parts in your twenties, that’s better than most people.”
Mr Teller is prickly, ambitious, a little surly. He’s annoyed that BuzzFeed ran something about his dyed blond hair – which is for his Granite Mountain character. “They were like, ‘Who does Miles Teller think he is?’” he says. “That shit nauseates me.” His amusing retort on Twitter was accompanied by a caption reading: “Blond hair, don’t care” – and a sassy girl emoji.
His eyes are now on loftier horizons. He looks up to actors such as “De Niro, Pacino, Penn, Bridges, Hoffmans: Dustin and Phil”. He wants to emulate them. “If I go where those guys are at, I don’t want to feel embarrassed by my résumé,” he says.
He’s not yet 30, but by the end of 2016, he’ll have made 14 movies in five years. And so much of his recent work seems to relate to themes in his own life, it’s uncanny. In Rabbit Hole, The Spectacular Now, Whiplash and now Bleed For This, his character is involved in a car crash. And in Granite Mountain, he loses close friends. Mr Teller can relate to both. When he was 20 years old, he was thrown out of a car that flipped eight times while travelling at 80mph. No story about Mr Teller is complete without that crash. You can still see the scars on his face.
“I got lucky,” he says. “The EMT [emergency medical technician] told me 99.9 per cent of people in these cases would be dead or paralysed,” he says. “Recovery was slow. For years, I had to have steroid injections and laser surgery, the kind they use for tattoo removal. Very painful.”
He was at NYU Tisch School of the Arts at the time. He’d always been a high achiever. Growing up in Florida, Mr Teller was class president, homecoming king, a talented musician, Mr Popular. But now he was a wannabe actor with scars all over his face. “These scars would be a part of every character I did,” he says. “John Cameron Mitchell, who directed Rabbit Hole, loved them. He thought they added complexity. But a lot of casting directors called my agent and said, ‘Miles is fine, but the character doesn’t have scars.’”
Within a year of his crash, two of his friends died in separate car accidents. “I probably should have talked to a therapist,” he says. “But I always felt I had a pretty strong sense of self.” In that way, he relates to Mr Vincenzo Pazienza, aka Vinny Paz. The fighter broke his neck in a car crash at 29, at the peak of his career. The doctors said he’d never fight again, but Mr Paz disobeyed their orders to work out with a full neck and head brace and, within 13 months, he was back in the ring and won again. It’s unarguably the greatest comeback in boxing history.
To get into a lightweight boxer’s shape, Mr Teller didn’t eat carbs or have a beer for eight months. He boiled down to 168lb (12st) and just six per cent body fat. He got Mr Paz’s accent and mannerisms down to a tee. “Vinny came on set one time,” says Mr Teller. “I didn’t want to be doing him in front of him, but in the end, I was so proud of my preparation I wanted to show him. I wanted him to see himself, as much as he could, at age 26. And he sent me a voicemail afterwards. He said, ‘Miles, you did me so perfectly!’”
Mr Teller is not shy of a fight himself. A couple of years ago, he and his friends were jumped by a bunch of rednecks in Daytona Beach – something to do with his friend’s cousin. “Yeah, we were fighting in the middle of traffic, whatever,” recalls Mr Teller. My buddy’s on crutches, he’s getting beat. I think the cops came and broke it up in the end. I can’t remember.”
Can’t remember? He shrugs. “Things happen in Florida, man. Have you seen that meme: ‘Florida man’? It’s hilarious.”
Another time, when he was shooting War Dogs, Mr Teller was in the water on Miami beach with his girlfriend, when there was a shark scare. “This woman rushes over and says, ‘Don’t freak out, but a big shark just swam right by me. Can you help me get to shore? I’m with my baby.’ It was like out of a freaking movie. So I grab her hand and lead her to the sand, and there were all these paparazzi there. The headline the next day was: ‘Mr Fantastic Saves Woman From Drowning!’”
His phone bleeps. It’s time for Mr Fantastic to go home to Studio City, where he’s getting measured up for some suits. “I’ve got to do all these talk shows but I haven’t got anything to wear.” But after that, it’s just Mr Teller and his model girlfriend Ms Keleigh Sperry having a quiet evening in. A night off for once.
“I got my Snus, I got my ESPN, I’m taking it easy tonight,” he grins. And he downs what’s left of his juices. “But tomorrow – back in the woods!”
War Dogs is out on 26 August (UK) and 19 August (US)