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Miles Teller on Insurgent, Bleeding for Roles, and Why He Still Hasn’t Paid Off His Student Loans

Miles Teller. Photo: Jim Spellman/WireImage

In the past two years, Miles Teller has made a name for himself with intense roles in small indies like The Spectacular Now and Whiplash. This summer, he’ll make the leap to blockbuster leading man when he stars as Reed Richards in The Fantasic Four. He also appears in the Divergent franchise, the second installment of which comes out today. Vulture spoke to Teller on the phone at SXSW to discuss the differences between blockbusters and indies, and his role as a champion boxer in the upcoming Bleed For This.

I counted, and this is apparently the sixth time we’ve talked to you in the past 18 months.
I don’t know what that says, but it’s always good to get familiar.

Whiplash was such a tiny movie, and now you’re getting back into blockbuster mode. Was that an odd adjustment?
Not really. The difference between the small movies and the big movies is just comfortability. When you do a smaller movie, you relinquish any vanity because all the money has to go into making the film. You sit around a bit more in the big films, but the preparation is the same. I just played Reed Richards, and Reed Richards is just as much of a character to me as anything else I’ve done, in terms of how much research I had to do.

What kind of research?
I tried to ingest as much of the history of the character, while knowing that we weren’t necessarily cementing ourselves to one particular comics storyline. And if my character’s talking quantum physics or biomechanical engineering, I need to know what those are. Our technical adviser was the smartest dude on set, so I would just be talking to him all the time.

So what was the best thing you learned?
I learned a lot about rocks.

That’s cool!
It’s like school. I couldn’t tell you a single thing I learned in college. You’re into it at the time and then when you leave, you kind of forget it.

You’ve already got Fantastic Four 2 on the schedule, and you’ve presumably got two more Divergent movies on the way. The next few years are kind of all planned out for you.
It’s nice, because you can get involved with a project early. You’re not scrambling to figure out what to do. These movies basically only take up my summers, and even then, if a movie wants you bad enough, they’ll work around it. I can do two, three films a year. I know I’ll at least be doing one, so I can balance it from there.

How much of this was a plan, and how much of it was just saying yes to what’s out there?
I never pick anything based on, oh, this is what’s out there. I don’t work for the sake of working. Everything that’s come my way has been thought out in terms of what it’s doing. When you’re going to shoot these movies, that is your life. If I’m in Canada for six months and it’s freezing cold, if I next have the choice between a movie that shoots in Hawaii and one that shoots in the Arctic, I’ll probably choose the one that’s warmer. As much as you want to be satisfied artistically and creatively, the market has changed so much, and studios don’t make dramas, and so you want to think of all the different factors when you’re picking out a movie. You just try to be a part of the good ones.

There’s been a debate online over what to call the new Divergent movie. Insurgent, Divergent: Insurgent, or the full The Divergent Series: Insurgent. What did you guys call it on set?
We just called it Insurgent, or, “What are we doing on Wednesday?”

You just finished up playing a boxer in Bleed for This. What was the training like?
I’m playing Vinny Pazienza, a five-time world champion boxer from Providence, Rhode Island. He’s a real person. I first found out I was doing it was in April, and we shot in October, so it was eight or nine months of training. Diet, boxing, weights, accent, all that stuff.

Did you meet Vinny beforehand?
I didn’t meet Vinny until I got to Providence, a week before we started filming. I thought I was going to be more nervous about having him on set, but I actually welcomed it. I wanted him there almost like you want your dad there, so he can see how much work you’ve put in. They actually didn’t want me to meet him too early, because you’re not playing the guy now, you’re playing him as a 27-year-old. He’s very different now than when he was fighting. I watched his fights over and over.

What kind of fighter was he?
The kind that bleeds and that broke his nose every fight. No matter who he was fighting, he was the tougher guy in every fight. He was the warrior.

That sounds a lot like Whiplash.
Yeah, Whiplash probably also could have been called Bleed for This. If you look at the souls of Andrew and Vinny, they both had the desire and the passion to be the best in the world.

What draws you to roles like that?
I don’t want to play a character. If I’m going to do something dramatic, I want it to be inspired. I want it to be passionate. It gives you a lot to work off of, and I like the challenges of doing an accent or learning a skill, really putting yourself out there. I was so nervous when they offered me this boxing movie, but once you know you’re going to be onscreen as a world-champion boxer, it’s just like, Okay let’s go. I think in movies, I’m very nervous that I’m not going to be able to do it, but I just trust that the fear of failure will drive me.

I read last year you hadn’t paid off your student loans from NYU. Now that you’ve played a superhero, that still true?
That is true. My business manager says the interest is so low, there’s no sense in paying them off. I can, if I want to have that badge of accomplishment, but until then I still very much have my NYU loans.

Miles Teller on Insurgent and Fantastic Four