Miles Teller: From drummer to boxer | Inquirer Entertainment
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Miles Teller: From drummer to boxer

By: - Columnist
/ 12:11 AM September 26, 2014

MILES Teller (left) as Andrew Neyman and JK Simmons as Terence Fletcher Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

MILES Teller (left) as Andrew Neyman and JK Simmons as Terence Fletcher Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

LOS ANGELES—Miles Teller will play a boxer after his acclaimed turn as a drummer prodigy in “Whiplash.” “I’m training for this boxing movie in November,” announced the actor, who made his film debut opposite Nicole Kidman in “Rabbit Hole.” Now 27, the “Divergent” star still looks boyish, but he’s actually an intense young man.

“I’m playing this dude named Vinny Pazienza. It’s a biopic,” Miles said. Also known as Vinny Paz and The Pazmanian Devil, Vinny was a five-time world champion who survived a car accident that broke his neck. He was told that he might not be able to walk again, but he went on to win three additional boxing titles. The film, “Bleed for This,” will focus on Vinny’s astonishing comeback.


“Ben Younger is directing it, and Martin Scorsese is producing,” Miles pointed out with understandable pride. “I’m cutting body fat. I’m training all the time.”


Miles and Shailene Woodley’s careers seem fated to be intertwined. They both made a splash in Sundance 2013 when they shared a Special Jury Prize for their compelling performances in “The Spectacular Now.” And, of course, they costar in “Divergent” and the next installment, “Insurgent.” Miles revealed that he would have done another film with Shailene, but that he lost out on that role (more on this later).

Deemed one of the most notable young actors, Miles has finished “The Fantastic Four,” where he plays Reed Richards/Mr. Fantastic.


In the meantime, he is helping promote “Whiplash,” which has deservedly kept its momentum despite having premiered as early as last January in Sundance. But it was a splashy debut. Writer-director Damien Chazelle’s tale of a young jazz drummer who goes under the tutelage of a “terror” band instructor (a terrific JK Simmons) grabbed both the Audience Award and the Grand Jury Prize.

Ironically, Miles almost turned down the role that is bringing him the biggest buzz in his career. It was his manager that encouraged him to take it on.

Miles is himself a survivor of a car accident that nearly killed him in 2007. He and his two buddies were on their way home to Florida from a music fest in Connecticut. Miles’ friend tried to switch lanes but almost hit another car. He lost control of the vehicle, which rolled across three lanes of traffic and flipped eight times.


Miles was thrown 30 feet out of the car and knocked unconscious. He woke up soaked in blood. “I should have died in that car accident,” he said.

He still has scars on his chin, neck and shoulder. He said, “There was a time when I would go into an audition, and the casting director would say, ‘Miles—very good actor—but it doesn’t make sense for the character to have scars.’

THE ACTOR dances with grandma at the HFPA/InStyle party at the Toronto fest.  photo by Ruben V. Nepales

THE ACTOR dances with grandma at the HFPA/InStyle party at the Toronto fest. photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Laser surgeries

“When I was in college, I [underwent] a bunch of laser surgeries. It’s basically the same surgery for tattoo removal, pretty painful. The scars puffed up for [two] weeks.”

The scars almost discouraged Miles from pursuing his passion for acting. But after two months, director John Cameron Mitchell cast him in “Rabbit Hole.”

Miles relates, “He said, ‘I love your scars. They tell a story. When something like that [accident] happens, you get to ask yourself a lot of questions and know yourself more.’ The scars [do] give me a bit of an edge that I may have had to work for otherwise. I’d much rather have people talk about my acting than my six-pack, or lack thereof. I just want to be respected by other actors.” Speaking of respect, Miles admires JK in “Whiplash.”

Bleeding blisters

“Like any great actor, JK surprises you,” Miles said. “That’s important. You want to do something different in each take. [With JK], you’re not acting—the lines go away. You’re just responding to this person in front of you. That’s a credit to JK.”

Driven to excel as a drummer by JK’s brutal instructor, Miles’ Andrew practices until his hands bleed. “In the script that Damien (who played drums) wrote, he describes Andrew playing, the sweat’s pouring down his face, the tempo builds and blood starts to splatter on the drums,” Miles recounted. “I asked Damien, ‘Would that actually happen?’ He said, ‘Oh, yeah.’ Once I started rehearsing, doing four-hour lessons a couple days a week, I started to get blisters, which bled.”

Miles has been playing drums since he was 15; still, he had to take drum lessons for three weeks.

“My parents bought me a drum set,” said Miles, of his drumming background. He played in three bands while in high school. “If you’re a drummer, band practice is at your house because you can’t take that thing around. My parents listened to a lot of really bad cover songs for years.”

Music has always been a big part of the actor’s life. His parents are Mike, a nuclear engineer, and Merry, a real estate agent. “My mom wanted a Partridge family,” said Miles, who was born in Pennsylvania and raised in New Jersey and Florida. “We all grew up playing instruments.”

Apparently, it’s a family that loves to dance as well—one of the coolest sights in our recent Toronto film fest experience was that of Miles happily dancing with his grandma as his parents looked on during the InStyle/Hollywood Foreign Press Association party.

MELISSA Benoist and Miles Teller in “Whiplash” Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

MELISSA Benoist and Miles Teller in “Whiplash” Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

Pure rhythm

“Drumming came naturally for me,” said Miles, who admires Mitch Mitchell (from Jimi Hendrix Experience) and John Bonham (Led Zeppelin). “As people say about comedic timing—that you can’t really teach it—drumming is purely rhythm. If you got it, you got it.”

Miles is grateful to the training he got from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU drama program. “I was surrounded by really talented actors and teachers who didn’t sugarcoat,” he said. “It’s important to get your training in New York; it’s a competitive atmosphere.”

Miles is admittedly a driven person, “but I don’t throw relationships away to get something I want.” Miles was referring to his “Whiplash” character, who breaks up with his girlfriend (Melissa Benoist) so he can concentrate on drumming.

“It’s very hard to make it in this business,” he said. “I’m in a pretty good position, where I’m grateful to be. I work really hard so the next guy doesn’t come along and take that from me.”

Unlike some actors who loathe auditions, Miles thrives in the competitive atmosphere: “Coming from theater, I like the nerves.”

As for how he reacts if he doesn’t get the part, Miles candidly replied, “I feel like the director made a mistake. Honestly, the one part I was pretty bummed out about was the stoner boyfriend of Shailene in ‘The Descendants.’ I got pretty close.”

Damien obviously made the right decision when he cast Miles in “Whiplash.” It is to Miles’ credit that he’s not overshadowed by JK’s bravura performance. “Great art is collaborative,” Miles said.

Presley look-alike

MILES Teller’s scars tell a story, says a director.  photo by Ruben V. Nepales

MILES Teller’s scars tell a story, says a director. photo by Ruben V. Nepales

Miles will collaborate again with Damien in a musical, “La La Land,” which will also star Emma Watson.

For someone who’s supposedly “not traditionally good-looking,” Miles gets comments that he resembles Elvis Presley and Richard Gere. At least two Elvis projects have been presented to him, in fact.

“People have told me, ‘You kind of look like Elvis.’ And I do, the more I think that I could do that person justice,” he said. “I would absolutely love to do something no one else has done [about Elvis]. ”

Miles admitted that he doesn’t watch a lot of movies; he’d rather listen to music “when I want to be inspired at… whatever.”

On his iPod he has a lot of Grateful Dead songs, some Otis Redding, The Band. “Then I have some dance stuff for the gym. No Lady Gaga.”

Miles is dating model Keleigh Sperry. Hypothetically, how would he approach a girl, now that he has become a lot more recognizable? “I’m still the same person,” he said. “When I’m talking to a girl, I assume she hasn’t seen me in a movie… If I don’t feel like I have to work for it, then I’m not interested. I want to try and get the girl [whom] I don’t think I can.”

For now, he shares a house in LA with two friends from high school. “I come home and it’s like a Pizza Hut box… I’m getting my own place very soon,” he declared with a grin.

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TAGS: “Whiplash”, Boxer, Celebrities, Hollywood, Miles Teller

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