Aug. 22--Miles Teller has yet to choose a bad script for the money, a sign that it's either still very early in his career or he's very idealistic. Or both.
"So many things go into a movie after the actor leaves it that I try not to have too high expectations. But that's a lie, because I always have the highest expectations. Obviously, I go into every movie thinking it's going to be great," says the 26-year-old actor, who resembles a young Tom Hanks crossed with a "Say Anything"-era John Cusack.
Sometimes, greatness is achieved, as is the case with "The Spectacular Now," which opens Friday. The indie film soars on Teller's performance as Sutter, a popular high school kid whose easy charm and heavy drinking are both reflections of some hard truths about his family that he's reluctant to face. Then Sutter meets a shy, quirky girl named Aimee (Shailene Woodley) who accepts him for who he is, good and bad.
"The Spectacular Now" was a critical darling at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and has been praised as one of the most honest, nonjudgmental teen movies in years. It has also been a springboard for its fresh-faced leads.
Woodley, a supporting actress Oscar nominee for "The Descendants," has gone on to be declared the next big thing for her role in the upcoming "Divergent," a promising contender for "Hunger Games" hit status, and her casting in "The Fault in Our Stars," an adaptation of the acclaimed novel.
Teller has been advancing career-wise, too. He also will appear in "Divergent," this time as Woodley's nemesis. "It wasn't like I was looking to do a big film," he says, sounding relaxed and slightly amused by the whole Hollywood process. "I quite enjoy doing smaller films, and the studio films I've done are usually on the smaller side. It was a great opportunity. I've never done any action stuff so that was kind of exciting for me."
Besides, he continues, "It's tough for me to watch myself on screen, so I figured if I was shooting a gun or beating somebody up, that would be a little easier."
After his debut film, the heart-wrenching 2010 character study "Rabbit Hole," Teller could have made a career out of playing brooding misfits alone. Even though it was his first feature film, he stood out as the young loner who's responsible for the accident that killed the son of the suburban couple played by Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart.
"Actually, that was one of the first auditions I had," he says, explaining that his prior cinema experience was mostly short student films he appeared in while studying at the Tisch School of the Arts.
He recalls lunching with Kidman and director John Cameron Mitchell and then arriving on the set a week later without any rehearsals. His first scene was an angry confrontation between him and Eckhart as the anguished father.
"I had never met Aaron before then," he recalls "I met Aaron pretty much on 'action.' And the director told him to scare the (profanity) out of me. It was a pretty surreal moment."
Teller made such an impression that typecasting loomed as a possibility. "I do remember (my agent) telling me she'd be submitting me for comedies and they would be like, 'Who, that kid from 'Rabbit Hole'? I don't think so.' And then she would remind them, 'Well, he's an actor. He's acting.' Comedy is something I actually love to do."
The chance to be funny and adorable arrived with the 2011 "Footloose" remake, where he tackled the role of Willard, the sidekick first played by Chris Penn. Teller says he still hasn't seen the original movie in its entirety, but he was thoroughly prepared to play the dance-challenged Willard anyway: He was the same character in his first play in high school.
"I was excited to get back into it," he says. "Once you throw on the cowboy boots and the overalls and the cowboy hat and people are calling you Willard, you start feeling like Willard."
With "The Spectacular Now," Teller has been noticed by the top echelons of the industry. He heard that Steven Spielberg saw the movie and loved it and he's met with industry figures like Ron Howard and Harvey Weinstein as a result of the film.
He is glad that the role of Sutter took him to new territory, since he stresses that he doesn't want to keep repeating himself creatively. "The kid's got vulnerability. He doesn't show it. He's more like that sad clown. I thought it was great that this film explored that. A lot of other films, you'd just get that cool party guy for the whole film. But this one, the film totally shifts about halfway (through) and you feel for the kid. He's doing a lot of self-destructive stuff but you're rooting for him."
Since 2012, Teller has made "The Spectacular Now" as well as "Divergent," "Get a Job," "Two Night Stand" and "Are We Officially Dating?" He's also been cast in "Whiplash," a feature-length version of a Sundance award-winning short about a drummer who must deal with a demanding conductor.
The schedule sounds like he hasn't paused to take a breath. "I knooooooow. Trust me!" he says with mock exhaustion. "It's a good problem to have."
Teller and his "Are We Offically Dating?" costar, Michael B. Jordan, who's getting kudos for "Fruitvale Station," represent a new generation of actors-- slightly younger than Ryan Gosling and Joseph Gordon-Levitt -- and one that's ready to advance to the forefront.
"We joke about it. We kind of say we're ready to carry the torch a little bit," he says, referring to his good friend Jordan. "We're just excited to get some of these lead roles that were going to guys older than us for a while. But now it seems like we're right here."
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