‘Bleed for This’ star Miles Teller speeding toward goal
The 29-year-old actor, one of his generation’s most promising talents, looking to avoid bumps in the road.
Car accidents keep coming up in Miles Teller’s movies. He can’t escape them. The same way Brad Pitt seems to have a scene where he’s eating in every one of his movies, Miles Teller’s characters are frequently involved, directly or indirectly, with car wrecks.
In “Rabbit Hole,” his 2010 debut film, he plays a driver who accidentally runs over a 4-year-old who runs out into the street after his dog. There’s a fatal car crash in the opening scene of the 2011 remake of “Footloose,” in which he plays a supporting part. In “The Spectacular Now,” his 2013 breakout film, he played a teenage alcoholic who swerves off the road and nearly kills his passenger, played by Shailene Woodley. They get into an argument and Woodley’s character exits the vehicle and is subsequently hit by a speeding bus.
There’s more. In the 2014 comedy “That Awkward Moment,” Teller’s character gets hit by a taxi while stepping into the street without looking. In “Whiplash,” his character is plowed into by a semi truck while speeding to a performance. Most significantly, in this weekend’s “Bleed for This,” Teller plays professional boxer Vinny Pazienza, whose career was sidelined in 1991 when he was hit in a head-on collision with another vehicle, leaving him with a broken neck. The wreck is recreated in vivid detail in the film.
The repetition is not lost on Teller. “I’m gonna get in a plane crash in my next movie,” he says, talking up “Bleed for This.” “I gotta go up, I’m tired of just cars.” He’s joking, but there is a dark parallel with his on-screen car crashes and his real life: When Teller was 20, he was in a nasty car crash where he was thrown from his vehicle after a car he was in flipped eight times and skipped across three lanes of traffic. The signature scars on the left side of his face are a permanent reminder of the incident.
Teller says growing up in a small town on the west side of Florida, car crashes were a part of life.
“Pretty much everybody I know has been in a serious car accident,” says Teller, 29, on the phone last month from Los Angeles. “If they haven’t, somebody they know has. It’s just a part of growing up in the United States. It’s a tragedy that happens every day.”
Teller and Pazienza didn’t swap car crash stories when they met during filming, “but I can absolutely relate” to Pazienza’s wreck and recovery, Teller says. The actor had more pressing needs playing the fighter, specifically getting his body in fighting shape, which involved eight months of diet, nutrition and weight training, and five weeks of boxing training with Sugar Ray Leonard’s former trainer. “I needed every hour of that preparation to play Vinny,” says Teller.
In another sense, Teller has been preparing for the role for years. He grew up loving sports and music, playing in his middle school marching band, his high school jazz ensemble and in a rock band with friends, where he played drums. He was drawn to broadcast journalism and hosted his high school’s daily morning show, and was regularly written up by teachers for being a class clown. “I guess I always needed some kind of audience,” says Teller, who was born 30 miles outside of Philadelphia and lived in New Jersey and Delaware before attending high school in Florida.
He began to channel that need for attention toward acting when a friend convinced him to try out for a school play. It was “Footloose,” and he played Willard, whom he would go on to play in the movie.
“I got on stage and I got a laugh,” says Teller, who is watching a college football game in the background and frequently chiming in with updates. “I remember the moment specifically. I remember where I was standing on stage, and I remember people laughing and clapping. From that point on I knew that was something I was going to do.”
He went on to study acting at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and appeared in several short films. Beginning with “Rabbit Hole,” Teller has carved out a career as one of the most promising young talents of his generation, and has graduated from teenage party films (“Project X,” “21 & Over”) to franchise fare (the “Divergent” movies) and awards fodder.
Teller turns 30 in February, and is excited for what the next decade — and beyond — has in store.
“With film, you’re kind of pigeonholed in the beginning. And the parts that you’re getting in your mid-20s, the stakes aren’t as high and you’re not given as much responsibility,” he says. “An actor’s greatest performances and the greatest material they’re getting is when they’re in their 30s and 40s. I feel like it’s only going to get better, hopefully, in terms of the opportunities I get. So I’m just excited for all of it.”
Teller has the keys, and he’s in the driver’s seat. Now he just has to make sure he keeps his eyes on the road.
‘Bleed for This’
Rated R for for language, sexuality/nudity and some accident images
Running time: 117 minutes