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Miles Teller on The Spectacular Now, Moonwalking, and the DivergentHunger Games Comparisons

Miles Teller. Photo: Jamie McCarthy/Getty

On Monday morning, after a long night of post-VMAs partying, Miles Teller sat down to talk with Vulture. He’d been at the MTV awards to premiere the trailer for his next movie, Divergent, but the purpose of this particular press round was to promote his Sundance romance, The Spectacular Now, which goes nationwide tomorrow. Both movies star Shailene Woodley, and both are based off YA novels, though very different ones: Divergent imagines a dystopian world in which people are divided into factions (Teller plays the ruthless Peter to Woodley’s heroine, Tris); Spectacular Now tells the story of a gregarious, alcoholic high-schooler (Teller) and the sweet bookworm he takes advantage of (Woodley). We spoke to Teller about the VMAs, learning to moonwalk, and originally auditioning to play Four, Divergent’s heartthrob.

You were probably out late last night for the VMAs. Are you going to be hung-over when we talk?
Uhhh, yeah. I thought it was a bit rude for my publicist to invite me to these VMA after-parties at the same time she was scheduling me for, like, Good Day New York starting at eight o’clock.

What did you think of the VMAs?
I thought they were great. I was one of the dancing bears in Miley Cyrus’s act.

Were you the one who got the anilingus?
[Laughs.] She has a long tongue, right?

I’m going with yes. You went to NYU. Do you visit your old spots while you’re here?
Every time I come back, I walk by Third North [an NYU dorm]. I make the walk from Third North to Washington Square Park.

Do you ever feel embarrassed saying you went to NYU? I wore my NYU hoodie out last night for the first time in a long time. And I was embarrassed.
I mean, first of all, in L.A. people would be like, What is that? You go to college for acting? That’s weird. But, no, when I was in college I never wore anything because I thought that was cheesy. And now I actually bought a bunch of shirts last time I was here, stocked up.

So the Divergent trailer premiered last night, too. I think I see Peter kicking Tris?
Yeah. That’s my knee. The trailer could have used some more Peter.

They did bring you all the way out here. Are you at all disappointed you’re playing Peter as opposed to the heartthrob, Four? And did you audition for Four?
Well, Theo [James, who plays Four] is very tan. [Mocks sadness.] He’s always going to be tanner than me. No, I auditioned for Four originally and maybe, yeah, that would have been cool to do. But it’s nice to play against type. I think I play usually very likable characters, and so it was refreshing to be on set and not have to make people laugh. It was just like, Get in shape and pick on Shailene. That’s really all I do in that whole movie, just pick on her.

How did you go from maybe playing Four to playing Peter?
I auditioned for Four and then they said I wasn’t going to go further. I said okay. And then the producers had seen Spectacular Now — this was like months after I auditioned, maybe a year later. So they had seen Spectacular Now and they said, “There’s this part Eric maybe you could play.” I said, “I don’t know” — because [as Eric] I’m supposed to be intimidating to Theo. I don’t know if that works. Plus I think Eric would be a little older than me. So then they said, “What about Peter?” And then Shailene shot me a text message saying, “Please come do this movie with me.” It seemed like a good idea: Kate Winslet, the director of Limitless 

You won’t get any scenes with Kate Winslet this movie, right? It’s following closely with the book?
I didn’t get any scenes with Kate. I left as she was coming. So I’m looking forward to that in the second one. She’s fantastic. I saw Titanic when I was 11 with my girlfriend and it was pretty special.

You had a girlfriend when you were 11?
Yeah. When I was 11, that was a cool year for me. It was the first time that I made out with a girl. And I just think Titanic … being able to go to a theater and seeing such an epic love story that lasted three hours and your parents aren’t there — it’s like you’re in a cocoon. It’s a great freakin’ movie.

It is. Do you feel the stress of the Hunger Games comparisons?
No. I mean, maybe Shailene does. But for me, I just kind of come in and play Peter. But I think Hunger Games is — you look at Jennifer Lawrence, and she’s a pretty great actress. If it’s anywhere close to Hunger Games, that would be great. Because then you get what’s called “international value,” which I don’t have. So once I get that, then I can get movies made. Like Spectacular Now, we got made pretty much because of Shailene.

I have mixed feelings for Sutter [his character in Spectacular Now]. He’s the romantic lead, but he’s also very flawed.
Yeah. Someone said it’s like if Ferris Bueller was like a real person.

Yes. Except Sloane has more chops than Aimee. Aimee’s a little weak for Sutter, is the problem with them.
I’ve never seen it.

You’ve never seen Ferris Bueller’s Day Off?
I’ve seen parts of it on TV but not enough to know the Sloane reference. That’s his girlfriend in it?

Yes. And she’s not a doormat the way Aimee is. Why haven’t you seen Ferris Bueller? Not to go on a tangent, but.
No, no I don’t watch a lot of films, I guess. When I was a little kid I watched a lot of stuff that probably stayed with me. But I never saw Say Anything or Sixteen Candles, Breakfast Club. I saw Say Anything a couple months ago because the producers gave me a bunch of DVDs at the end of Spectacular Now. Like, These are all the coming-of-age movies you should know.

You feel like you’re watching real people in this movie. Is there a lot of Sutter in you?
When I read the script, I thought, Oh, I am this guy. Meanwhile, when I was in high school, I was like National Honor Society and I played in jazz band and I was president of the drama club. But then me and my friends also threw the parties. So I was Sutter if Sutter had two parents that told him he could do anything and two older sisters that just like adored him and he really had all the tools to succeed — then I think I was that kid.

You had two older sisters who adored you?
I think if you’re the only boy and you have two older sisters, you just have a lot of, like, love.

Aw. Did they ever embarrass you, though?
Oh, yeah, my two older sisters — Dana, who is like eighteen months older — she played on my baseball team. She was just very athletic. She used to beat me up in front of my friends; she used to bully me a little bit. But she took me to all her parties. When I was a sophomore, I was hanging out with all the cool seniors.

Did you ever date her friends?
Yeah, I did once. It didn’t end well. Her friend was [pauses] not a good person.

How do you think things went for Aimee and Sutter at the end? [SPOILER: Sutter goes to visit Aimee at college after he breaks up with her by standing her up. They see each other, but then the movie ends; you don’t know what happens.]
I think they probably go to lunch. I think Sutter could always get a lunch. And I think they talk about some stuff. But I don’t think she takes him back. Even if he could get her back, I don’t know that he’d know what to do with her. I don’t think he’s changed that much just because he has on that collared shirt. He’s cleaned up a little bit. But Aimee just seems more sure of herself.

You want them to have closure, but you don’t actually want them to be together.
It’s a bit split. Some audiences want her to give him another shot.

Younger viewers, probably.
Yeah. If you were to ask me a couple years ago I would have said, “Yeah, give him another shot.” You know, because I had a girlfriend that kind of reminded me of Aimee. We just didn’t have a good breakup and I was selfish. And a year later I finally realized the things that I did and I sent her this very long e-mail and she was like, “I appreciate it. I don’t want to be friends with you.” But now we’re cool; now we’re friends.

I saw a video of you moonwalking. Did you moonwalk at your prom?
Uh, I moonwalk every chance I can get. If you can do a moonwalk, you don’t have to do anything else. People just assume you’re a good dancer. Which, I do have really good rhythm; I am a good dancer. I usually think I’m the best dancer in the room.

[A publicist ask us to wrap things up. As we’re leaving the room, Teller asks if anyone has an aspirin.]

Miles Teller on Spectacular Now and Divergent