Walter Mencken 9:27 a.m., Feb. 27
Penning Teller: An interview with the spectacular Miles Teller
Everything you need to know about the star of The Spectacular Now, currently playing at a theatre near you, is contained in the interview. I had a ball talking with the 26-year-old actor when he came to San Diego last week. He's smart, funny (in a self-deprecating manner), handsome, but not dangerously so, and thrilled to be doing what he does. The lad has a huge career ahead of him. Don't forget me when you're big, okay kid?
Scott Marks: I really like your work.
Miles Teller: Thanks, man.
SM: You have this natural ease and charisma that allows you to play a slob...
MT: (Laughing) Yeah.
SM: ...a song and dance man, and now you’re terrific as the romantic lead in The Spectacular Now. How did you get into acting?
MT: I did some plays when I was in second grade. The local high school needed some kids. So I got into that. I used to host our morning show, a little broadcast journalism stuff...
SM: Was this radio or TV?
MT: TV. It was the morning show for our high school. We’d do a lot of funny stuff. During my sophomore year, the school hired a pretty, young, hot drama teacher. My brother saw her and suggested that we audition for a play. By Junior year I was the lead in every play. In Senior year, I was president of the drama club.
SM: I first saw you in Rabbit Hole and I swear, the minute I heard that they were planning a remake of Footloose, your name came to mind to play the Chris Penn part.
MT: Yeah, right? When I was 16 I played the part of Willard in our high school production.
SM: My partner on the blog, Matthew Lickona pointed me in the following direction: In Project X you’re getting sloshed at a house party. In 21 and Over you drink like there’s no tomorrow. Now you’re spectacularly bringing Shailene Woodley on the sea of booze with you. Your next project, Get a Job, is rated R for substance abuse. You’ve heard of AA? You can start your own wing and call it Alcoholic Movie Roles Anonymous.
MT: There’s no substance abuse in Get a Job.
SM: Part of the reason it earned its R is for “drug use.”
MT: Really? There’s a little bit of pot smoking in there.
MT: Why not? We’re in California. At least there are no bath salts in it.
SM: (Laughing) It’s too hard to keep the tub lit. What is it about these roles that causes casting directors to give you a call?
MT: Somebody asked if I was worried about getting typecast. When I was like 16, me and my buddies were buying kegs from the seniors. I thought 21 and Over was really funny and that’s why I wanted to do it. When I was in high school I saw Superbad and The Girl Next Door and always wanted to make my own rated-R comedy. Other than that I think I’m a good person to have a drink with. I met the director for this at a bar and that’s when he cast me. Maybe I’m just good in that setting.
SM: What’s it like having an engineer at nuclear power plant for a father?
MT: We moved around a lot when I was a kid. Power plants have a tendency to do a lot of layoffs or they’ll shut down completely. I was born in Pennsylvania and lived in 5 states before I was 12. You learn to adapt. As a father, he’s the most supporting loving guy there is, always putting his kids first. He used to drive an hour-and-a-half to work each day just so we could live at the beach.
SM: It’s like being an Army brat with the added perk of radiation.
MT: Yeah, well, that’s where I get my good looks from.
SM: (Laughing) What one term that’s been used to describe you do you find the most hilarious?
MT: Not traditionally good looking.
SM: That’s like “For a fat chick you don’t sweat a lot.”
MT: Right? I’ve also been described as lanky. I’m not lanky!
SM: The camera adds two feet. Believe me, you’re the guy that all the girls want and all the guys want to be.
MT: I wish you were writing more reviews of my films.
SM: It’s true. That’s the appeal of your character. Let’s talk about working with Shailene Woodley. Your chemistry is palpable.
MT: We get along really well. She has a younger brother and I have two older sisters. I think for us it just kind of fell into sibling comradery with moments of sexual tension. She feels comfortable just picking stuff out of my hair. We’ll like randomly break out in song together, usually something from Oliver Twist. It can get kind of stuffy on a film set, but Shailene and I are usually pretty good at keeping everybody loose.
SM: There’s a lovely feeling of naturalism whenever the two of you are on screen together. There are times in the movie where I want to kill you for what you’re doing to this girl.
MT: I know. My buddy accused me or ruining the poor girl’s life.
SM: It’s your generation's answer to The Days of Wine and Roses.
MT: I haven’t seen that.
SM: It’s so depressing. You’ll need a few drinks to get through it. This features your first on-screen sex scene.
MT: (Smiling) And not my last! I’ve got a couple more coming your way. For the guy, you’re wearing this nude thong kind of thing. You hope that the person you’re working with is pretty...pretty comfortable with it.
SM: I’m glad that you didn’t stop at pretty.
MT: Right? It would make you feel weird to be having a sex scene with somebody who feels uncomfortable. If they feel uncomfortable, it makes everybody feel uncomfortable. It feels like you’re directing a porn. In this movie it’s not that way. It’s such a special moment for these characters. There’s a nice, innocent, awkward sweetness about it.
SM: You are re-teaming with Shailene on your next film, Divergent, which, if you’re lucky is going to be another Hunger Games, and if you’re not lucky is going to be another Beautiful Creatures. You’re big time!
MT: (Brushing it off) Yeah...A buddy of mine is still sleeping on my couch so I don’t know how big time I am. I don’t really find myself in a lot of PG-13 audience circles. The movie I get noticed from the most is Project X.
SM: Really? You’re in it for a minute.
MT: No time at all.
SM: People don’t come up to you and ask, ‘Where’s Jeff Chang?’
MT: No. But my buddy Justin Chon (who played Jeff Chang in 21 and Over) he’s like, ‘Man, you assholes. I’ve been called Jeff Chang every day for the past year!’
SM: He’s hilarious in that movie. I saw it twice.
MT: Did you?
SM: Why not? He’s one of the funniest little burnouts I’ve ever seen put in a film.
MT: Funny little burnout. That’s how I’m going to start describing him.
SM: You mentioned earlier that you ‘auditioned’ for James Ponsoldt at a bar. How did that come to pass?
MT: I don’t know who set it up. I auditioned for the movie, and a different director, two years ago. It was Lee Toland Krieger. He did Celeste and Jesse Forever, which was a festival movie that came out not too long ago. I bombed the first audition and asked for a second one, got the second one and it didn’t go that well. At the time, they said it was not going any further. A year later I got a call telling me that James Ponsoldt was now going to direct. They asked me to meet him at a bar. We met for what was supposed to be a 30 minute meeting and wound up hanging out for 2 hours. At the end he said, “I’d like to do this movie with you*. He never made me audition which was good because I probably would have bombed it.
SM: When did you meet Shailene?
MT: Shailene and I met at a lunch, although she didn’t eat anything because she’s pretty specific about what she’s going to eat in terms of where the animal is coming from. She’s very much the herbalist. We met for an hour a week before filming. That was it. We really didn’t hang out until we started filming.
SM: No rehearsals?
MT: Nah. No rehearsals. You don’t have time on these...I guess we could have rehearsed before we went down there.
SM: I’m surprised. They usually set aside rehearsal time on independent films.
MT: I’m starting a film in a couple of weeks called, Whiplash. I think we have a week of rehearsal. How many movies do see a month?
SM: (Laughing) I generally average 250-300 new films a year.
MT: And you review all of them?
MT: Is it a write off for you?
SM: No. I see them at studio screenings or get passed in when they open. Getting into movies for free is my one super power. How many movies do you see each month?
MT: I’m not a big movie guy.
SM: Check, please!
MT: Sorry. It’s rare for me to watch a film in a theatre.
SM: You must sneak into the back row of a theatre to gauge the audience reaction to one of your own films.
MT: I wanted to do that for 21 and Over because it’s a comedy, but, no, I’ve never done that.
SM: Do you do much time in San Diego?
MT: My buddy from high school lives down here, so I’ve been coming here for 4 years now. Mostly P.B.
SM: Red Bull and Vodka. I saw you this morning on Fox5 News.
MT: Red Bull and Vodka Slushies!
SM: Even better. So that’s where you spend most of your time when in town?
MT: Mostly. My friend is in the military. Those military guys like to drink.
SM: Unlike actors.
MT: (Laughing) Such an odd pairing.
Click for showtimes and to read Matthew Lickona's review.
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