Get used to seeing Miles Teller around, because he's not planning on going away anytime soon. After supporting roles in "21 and Over" and "Project X," as well as a critically acclaimed but underseen debut alongside Nicole Kidman in 2010's "Rabbit Hole," he steps out as a romantic lead in "The Spectacular Now," which expands its theatrical release this week.
Teller plays Sutter Keely, a charismatic but heavy drinking high school senior more concerned with "living in the now" than his future. Until, that is, he meets Aimee Finnicky (Shailene Woodley). Directed by James Ponsoldt, the film and the authentic performances delivered by Teller and Woodley (who will also appear together in the upcoming YA adaptation "Divergent") have been lavished with praise.
NextMovie caught up with Teller in New York City the day after the MTV Video Music Awards, which Teller attended (along with some after-parties, he admitted) on Woodley's arm. In a wide-ranging conversation that covered his photographic memory ("It's my thing. I can go back and recall things by, like, searching through images in my head"), and whether he would ever bring a date to a SoulCycle class ("All my dates are souldates"), we managed to talk about movies as well. Read on for Teller's thoughts on how to play drunk, watching his sex scenes with his grandma and his dream on-screen death.
Congratulations on the movie. I don't think I've met one person who doesn't love it.
I know! It's so nice, I started out with "Rabbit Hole," which was pretty well received. It was a movie that was well-received critically, and then it took me a while to get back to that, so it's nice. Once I saw it up at Sundance, I thought it was pretty special, and I felt like a moment at the premiere with the audience. I knew it was good, but you don't know. I feel like people just love to hate stuff. It's very hard for people to universally like something, but this has been pretty good across the board.
When you say that you knew it was good, what do you mean? Are there hallmarks of a good script?
I mean, it's weird. This script was really good, this one didn't take much convincing. Everything that I've done, honestly, has been something I really wanted to do. I've been lucky to not have to have been on a different path to get to where I'm at and do stuff just to do it and stay relevant. Talking about do you have a sense, I think that as an actor when you do a day's work — and if it's a smaller film you'll do three or four scenes each day — you're not gonna feel good about each scene, you're not gonna feel good about each take. Usually in there there's a couple you feel good about and then some that you don't. You never finish each day feeling like you did everything you wanted to do, because that's impossible. There's never enough time.
With Shailene, I felt good about it because I knew that we had great chemistry because I could just, it felt real talking to her, and for me that's the most enjoyable part of acting, when you have these moments that are in these make believe settings but actually feel real. You kind of forget what's going on.
One of the film's merits is that the performances are really authentic. Like there's a sex scene that's really uncomfortable, because it honestly feels like you're watching underage people have sex.
Yeah. I think it's so interesting, especially when you watch it in a theater and you're sitting next to someone — it kinda lingers long enough to where it's almost uncomfortable. In "Rabbit Hole" there's parts where people would laugh and be like "Oh my God, am I some kind of terrible person for laughing? Is this inappropriate?"
I saw that sex scene sitting next to my grandma and my mom.
Oh, wow. How was that?
It was nice. [laughing] My mom told me just to tap her when that was coming up.
What did they say after seeing the movie? Are they ever critical of your work?
They loved it. They like everything I do. I would assume I'm their favorite actor. For a while I was second to George Clooney for my grandmother, but it's frickin' Clooney, so he's got a lot more work than I do. I'll catch up to him. My grandma's always saying "If you see George, you've gotta get us an invitation to his house on Lake Como." Don't worry, my grandma's coming with me.
My parents have always been very supportive. A lot of people, when they say they want to go into the arts, their parents try and persuade them to do something different, but my parents have never been anything but supportive. Honestly, I think if they would have tried to instill the reality of a life of an actor in me, it might have been a little overwhelming. Because honestly, to graduate from New York University $220,000 in student loans with a Bachelor of Fine Arts can be pretty daunting. I booked "Rabbit Hole" like two weeks before I graduated, and I haven't really had a period yet where… [knocks on table]. Well, you know, it comes at some point. It's coming. And at least I have a nice platform so far.
Right, you can be like, guys, didn't you know I was in "Footloose"?
The remake! I love Footloose. "Mama Says." Nobody knows about Willard's mom.
You live in LA, but you went to school in New York. Which do you prefer?
I've lived in LA now for as long as I lived in New York before, about four years. I prefer LA to live in, just because it's nice space-wise, and I'm happier when there's sunshine. Every time I come back to New York, I love this city, but I went to college here, so I get nostalgic. Yesterday, I was just walking the path that I used to walk when I went to class, and I go to Washington Square Park a lot.
And all the freshmen moved in over the weekend.
I saw a bunch of people with their badges. I was like, "I know you. I am you."
I saw that you walked the VMAs red carpet with Shailene. Were you bro-dates last night, or date-dates?
If that's in reference to her new haircut, then that's offensive to little boys.
No, no. I like it!
I do too. And I think Shailene, plus everything she represents, she's a very strong voice for women in the entertainment industry and for women in general. And I think the haircut suits her.
In both "The Spectacular Now" and "21 and Over," you've had to play drunk, which can be tricky. You can't just act normal, but it would be easy to overact. Were you worried about that at all?
I was very nervous about that. I just didn't want to watch myself play drunk for an hour and a half. Especially if it was a high school kid playing drunk for an hour and a half. That would be nauseating.
Do you have any tricks?
Well, James [Ponsoldt] did a movie called "Smashed," and I thought Mary [Elizabeth Winstead] and Aaron [Paul] both, but Mary specifically, did a really great job in that, so James taught me some tricks. But also I paid a lot of money to go to acting school, so if I couldn't play drunk, then I severely overpaid. But really playing drunk is all relaxation. I think that's the key to acting, really. Strasberg says that emotion can't move through a tense muscle, so I'd be in class and we'd be relaxing for literally like two hours.
You seem like a pretty chill person.
I'm just pretty hungover right now.
It's a zen state.
If I'm not doing something, I'm just like, I'd be facedown on this table.
Facedown in a gutter.
God, the gutter?! So New York.
Anyway, you're zen, but what stresses you out?
Every time I sign onto a movie, I'm excited and then I get nervous. I think if you're doing something that's challenging, there's that little bit of anxiety of whether you're going to be able to do it or not. From everything that I've learned, like "Spectacular Now," I was pretty nervous for that. Looking forward, I want to find things that are challenging. If it's too comfortable, too easy, you're not using all of your skills. I think you, when the bar is set at a certain level, you have to go above yourself. That kind of expectation usually yields the better results.
You and Shailene are in another movie together coming up, "Divergent." In this one, you're not having sex, you're trying to stab her in the face with a knife.
Well, I'm not stabbing her in the face with a knife.
Yeah, but you're not her friend necessarily, either. I mean, I'm not going to spoil it.
I don't think we can spoil this, that book sold 2.5 million copies or something. But yeah, It's a different context.
Did you read that series?
I read the first one, and by that I mean I read the beginning and then I pretty much just read where my character was because I didn't really feel like I needed to know what was going on with Four and Tris and their stuff to play my part. I just scanned for anytime Peter was talked about, which was not as much as I'd like it to be.
Are you going to rewrite it to be the star of the second? Are you taking that up with Veronica Roth?
Veronica Roth said that Peter is her favorite character in the second one. And then in the third he apparently comes around even more. I think he's pretty surface level in the first one, you don't really understand what he's doing. So that was a challenge.
Yeah, he gets a little more complex as the series goes on. Do you know what happens in the third one, "Allegiant"? Do you have any secrets?
No. It is pretty interesting, though. Whatever that character does, I will be embodying. I hope I — well, I don't want to say I hope I die, but I've never played a character that dies.
How would you want to die on screen, whether that character or another?
I'd like to be in a big shootout. Do the, like, the Godfather thing. Poison would be kind of cool, like you're eating something and then the person who fed it to you just starts smiling. I just want to say, "It's poison!" [clutches throat, chokes, falls onto table] I think it's gotta be dramatic. It's like improv, whenever you die, you have to make it a big thing. They would probably tell me to tone it back, because I would die very over top.
"This kid just won't stop dying."
"He needs to go and learn how to die."
They'd be like, "You're killing me."
Sorry. And, of course, there are the "Fantastic Four" rumors going around. Do you know anything we don't?
I would like to play it. i think it would be cool. If they got a nice cast assembled. I like "Chronicle," I like Josh Trank's work.
Seems like you're associated with positive movies right now, between "The Spectacular Now" and "Fantastic Four."
Yeah, yeah. I just think you wanna send the right message. You wanna be a role model. I could play Optimist Prime. Ba-dum-bum! Not bad for my brain right now.
Do you have a drink of choice?
I'm a big beer drinker. I love Yuengling, because I grew up in the Northeast and then down in Florida. Lately I drink a lot of vodka soda. It's very refreshing.
That's a skinny lady drink.
I think vodka water even more so. I really am just a skinny girl deep down.
What's next for you, apart from "Divergent"?
I start filming Tuesday, it's called "Whiplash." It won best short film at Sundance this past year. Jason Reitman is producing it, this guy Damian Chazelle is directing it. He's 28, so I hope he knows what he's doing. Nah, he's great. I play a young jazz drummer and the program that I'm in is kinda like Julliard. It's very prestigious, and J.K Simmons plays my teacher. It's very intense, it's kind of like "Black Swan" but without the dancing.
Are you the Natalie Portman of that situation?
I think of myself more as a Mila Kunis, but in this movie I'm more a Natalie Portman. I saw that movie with my grandma too.
You seem to see a lot of movies with your grandma.
And my mom. I bring my family to a lot of my stuff. Sundance almost killed my grandma. The altitude. The altitude is pretty intense. You need to drink a lot of water.
Lastly, using the name of your first pet and the street you grew up on, what would your porn name be?
Sizzle Keller. Actually, no, my first dog was Lady, so it would be Lady Keller. I like that, it's like ladykiller.