In "The Spectacular Now," Miles Teller plays genial teenage alcoholic Sutter Keely with a sad-eyed wryness. Sutter's lust for life is infectious to a point, but his quest for one perfect moment after another is simply a way to avoid thinking about the future, one that he hasn't planned for or especially looks forward to. Then, of course, he meets a girl. Sutter strikes up a friendship with a refreshingly odd and intelligent girl in his class named Aimee, played by Shailene Woodley. It's not clear if she's a fix-up project, a love interest, or future collateral damage in Sutter's life.
Oddly enough, the last time we saw Teller on screen it was in "21 & Over," with a sock strategically placed over his nethers. In addition to roles in "Project X," another teen party movie, and the remake of "Footloose," Teller appeared in 2010's wrenching drama "Rabbit Hole," with Nicole Kidman and Aaron Eckhart. With two romantic comedies and one young adult franchise on the horizon ("Divergent," which also stars Woodley), Teller is one of the most interesting young actors in Hollywood today.
Below, we talk to Teller about the drunk driving depicted in "The Spectacular Now," how the movie differs from the book it's based on, and his character's tattoo in "Divergent."
I saw you a few years ago in "Rabbit Hole," which was an emotionally devastating movie for me. And then this film also has some car accident stuff that was very nerve-wracking. Are scenes like those difficult for you to do?
"Rabbit Hole" was pretty difficult for me. I had just lost two of my best friends in car accidents, like, five weeks from each other, and that was a little less than a year before we started filming. So that was tough because Nicole's character lost a son, and I'd literally, like, hugged a mother who had just lost her kid [who was also] one of my best friends. I think that it gave me a certain understanding and a certain, probably, maturity that I brought to that character that I think worked well for the script.
The drunk driving in this film is hard to watch, too. I was really worried about your character...
It's funny, some people are like, "He's making drinking look so cool, and we don't want our kids seeing that." And I'm like, you think he's making it look cool? I don't know, I don't think he really has his life together... I don't think you envy the situations he's in.
"The Spectacular Now" has a very different ending than the book. Did you read the script or the book first?
I read the script first. The script has been around for a couple of years. They've been trying to make this movie for about five years, but then I did read the book. I just felt like it would be pretty foolish not to. Obviously, a lot of people have read the book. It's popular. But you need to make a good movie. You don't need to make a movie that's trying to be a book. But Sutter's world is obviously a lot more detailed in the book, just because you get more pages.
Did you feel the movie was true to the character with a sort of happier ending?
I liked our ending better, I think. The book's ending is a little darker, it's a little more down, but I like the ambiguity of ours.
Are you taking the projects as they come, or are you like, "Hm, I feel like partying. Now I feel a little down."
It hasn't been really a conscious decision on my part. My agent sends me a lot of scripts, and she knows that I like comedy and she knows that I like drama, so it's kind of whatever -- as long as it's good. But now is the first time I'm kind of consciously -- like, the last two things I did were romantic comedies, and this action-ish thing, "Divergent," so this fall I'm going to work on something that's going to be more dramatic. And I made a conscious effort to because I don't really care to make people laugh. Comedy's underrated; I mean, comedy's hard. No matter how you're feeling, you have to be kind of [snaps fingers], you know, on. It's fun, but some days you wake up and you're like, "I'm over it. [laughs] I don't know, I'm just not -- I don't feel like being real funny today."
Which part of "Divergent" appealed to you, the action or working with Shailene again?
Shay's pretty cool. I'd say all of it. I'd never done any action stuff, so that was something I was looking forward to. I don't like really watching myself in anything -- it's always uncomfortable. But if you can watch yourself shoot a gun or beat somebody up, you can just watch that. It's hard to see myself be real serious. It's not really fun to watch myself. But it was nice -- I got to get into pretty good shape and stuff. You get paid to work out, kind of. We literally had two dudes who were in the Special Forces -- they were pretty serious about us working out.
Does your character have piercings and tattoos?
In "Divergent"? I did get a tattoo on my arm, which I probably shouldn't have because you spend more time in the makeup chair... You saw it in one scene, but now I have to have it in the sequel and everything after that.
Did it change the way you perceive your body?
It's funny because I never -- I got in this bad car accident, like, six years ago so I have some scars on my face, and then I have this scar on my shoulder. I don't even see them now, but for a while they were pretty prominent, so yeah, it did. I don't have a tattoo. I'm open to getting a tattoo, but you just gotta be sure about it because it's permanent.
Unless you get it lasered off.
I had to have that. For all my scars, to make them less red and to make them smaller, I had to get laser surgery, and it was the same thing they do for tattoo removal... It bubbles up, big and purple. It looked like I had leeches all over my face.
(This interview has been edited and condensed.)