Director James Ponsoldt’s The Spectacular Now has been hailed as the next Say Anything – a raw, touching, honest take on the coming-of-age story anchored by two incredible performances, and a sorely needed throwback to the John Hughes-era teen dramas that helped define 1980s culture.
Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley’s portrayals of fun-loving budding alcoholic Sutter Keely and naive, nice girl Aimee Finicky would be star-making performances if the two weren’t already on their way to becoming household names -- they each got their start with breakout roles alongside major Hollywood players and will be costarring together in the highly anticipated YA novel adaptation Divergent next year.
In The Spectacular Now, Teller’s transformation from party boy to soulful romantic is nothing short of transcendent. He’s everything his beloved '80s-era predecessors were: charismatic, vulnerable, lovable, funny, relatable. His magnetism is matched by that of Woodley, and the two are an untouchable force together on film.
We recently spoke with Teller about his latest role and learned, among many other things, that he still hasn’t seen most of the classic films that The Spectacular Now is garnering comparisons to.
Movies.com: Peter Dinklage was at this hotel's bar before. If you hang out here tonight, you might just end up drinking with Tyrion Lannister!
Miles Teller: Is that a Game of Thrones reference? I've never seen it, but he was a big hit at Comic-Con.
Movies.com: You have to remedy that immediately! You weren't exactly a slouch at Comic-Con at the Divergent Hall H panel. You got some big laughs from the crowd. What's it like to be on the stage in Hall H?
Teller: Well, I couldn't hear anything that was going on. It's like the echo effect. You can see floating heads, a little bit.
Movies.com: It must've helped you realize the gravity of this massive movie you're about to be a part of. People love those books. Plus, you get to play Peter, who's a total jerk. That's a new type of role for you!
Teller: Yeah, it's also fun to not necessarily play somebody that gives a s**t.
Movies.com: Well, lately people have been referring to you as the Ferris Bueller or John Cusack of your generation. Is that a lot of pressure?
Teller: Yeah, I hadn't seen any of those. I still haven't seen The Breakfast Club or 16 Candles. I finally watched Say Anything. At the end of this movie, the producers bought me a collection of DVDs that I should watch. It was, like, Say Anything and Ferris Bueller and all that stuff. So I'm getting caught up. It's still not going to be as impactful for me now, I guess, as it was for people when they first saw it. I think James was like 16 when he saw Say Anything. But I think we're dealing with teenagers in a pretty intelligent way, and I think we're dealing with them in a responsible way, showing what's really going on at that age. It's not all High School Musical. Kids are going through some tough stuff.
Movies.com: So what did you grow up watching, then?
Teller: I've seen Ferris Bueller in pieces, on TV and stuff. I don't really watch a lot of films. When I was a little kid I watched The Wizard of Oz every day. And Dick Tracy and Who Framed Roger Rabbit were my popular ones. But my mom was very important to me and she just created an atmosphere in my house for me and my two older sisters that was very creative. We all play instruments, and my mom loved the chaos of it, and she always encouraged us to perform.
Movies.com: Some of the major similarities between Say Anything and The Spectacular Now are those scenes that so perfectly juxtapose the sweet and sour. Like the sex scene with you and Shailene.
Teller: [Laughs] Yeah, it was a little uncomfortable!
Movies.com: And it was one long take, too. Between that scene and the long take of the first kiss scene, did you feel like James was torturing you guys a bit with these drawn-out intimate moments?
Teller: It wasn't torture to be there with Shailene! I loved the fact that James used long takes. I loved the fact that he didn't cut away, [that] there's not a lot of coverage. He could've had two cameras set up. But instead he'd shoot it at this wider angle. But yeah, that sex scene is one of my favorites. And when we're walking at the keg party, that scene's great.
Movies.com: It makes sense that James used a one-camera setup. Everything feels really authentic, like you didn't lose any of the magic while shooting coverage. How much of the stuff on-screen was a first or second take?
Teller: We didn't have that many takes for a lot of these. And for that one, in particular, I think it was maybe four takes. What I like is that it's not too polished. Like, you're having a conversation with somebody and they're in between moments, and the conversation flows from that scene to casual banter to some awkwardness and nervousness and flirtatiousness, and then there's times when people don't know what they're saying or what to say. I like that he captures the in-between.
Movies.com: That's what really strikes you about some of these moments. How much of that awkwardness is real and how much of it is acting?
Teller: Obviously these are all imaginary circumstances, but what's going on in all that stuff is real. And that's just a credit to Shailene. You do enough preparation to where you allow yourself to be free in the scenes. We're both very present. I'd say [that] is our greatest asset as actors. Whatever she would do I would respond to, and vice versa.
Movies.com: And it is kind of lightning in a bottle when it comes to on-screen chemistry, which you two have in spades. Did you guys chemistry test together before this?
Teller: No, neither of us had to audition for James. He knew Shailene was interested. So Shay was attached before me, and then I met James at a bar and we had drinks. I auditioned for it like two times over the span of two years, and I bombed those auditions and it was a different director. And then they offered it to... I think Nicholas Hoult was attached? And then it came back that I met James, and James was like, "I want to offer it to you." But we didn't rehearse any of the scenes. She's like my sister.
Movies.com: Well, you two are working together again now with Divergent. What came first, this movie or that one?
Teller: We filmed this last summer, and then Divergent filmed from like March to June [of this year]. The producers had seen The Spectacular Now and they said, "Hey we think it'd be cool if you played this part! He's different than other stuff that you've done!"
Movies.com: It's funny you say that, because your debut in Rabbit Hole was a really emotional, dark character, and then you went on to play these fun-loving playful types. Now you've kind of split the difference with Sutter, and then you're going on to play a villain in Divergent. Were these concerted moves on your part or just luck?
Teller: I take acting very seriously, for sure. Even when I'm playing party guys in some movies -- that's because that world is fun to me. But acting comes first for me. I went to theater school, and I trained, and I feel like I put in a lot of preparation time. I've been lucky in terms of the stuff that I've wanted to do, I've gotten. And I haven't had to do something just to keep working. I feel like everything on my resume I'm pretty proud of.
Movies.com: This film does feel like a bit of a throwback to the realistic teen dramas from the '80s. Do you think young people these days really need films like this?
Teller: I think this is great! I remember the writers of this said there was a teenager they saw and they said, "Hey, what's your favorite teenage movie right now?" And they said, "Harry Potter." Which isn't bad -- fantasy is great -- but I do think it's nice for kids to be able to see a movie where they can relate to people honestly. And that they don't necessarily have to live in this world of vampires and all that kind of popcorn stuff. You can actually deal with teenagers as adults.
The Spectacular Now hits theaters August 2.