Teller comes back swinging in ‘Bleed for This’

LOS ANGELES — By his count, Miles Teller has done 13 films in the past five years — four of them came out this year alone. Suffice it to say, the 29-year-old actor is about ready to take a break for the first time.

He’s been going at breakneck speed with a series of ups and downs that many actors won’t see in a decade. In just two years he went from breakout revelation of “The Spectacular Now” to the star of an Oscar-contender (“Whiplash”) to the guy leading the one of the bigger flops of 2015 (“Fantastic Four”) topped off by a colorfully unflattering profile in a national magazine. The bumpiness continued this year, too. There was the poorly received third installment in the “Divergent” series “Allegiant,” the long-delayed release of the recession comedy “Get a Job” and the bros turned arms dealers pic “War Dogs.”

It’s somewhat fitting that he’s closing out the year on a high note with the comeback tale “Bleed for This,” about the incredible story of boxer Vinny Pazienza that features Teller’s most mature performance since “Whiplash.”

Directed by Ben Younger in his first feature since 2005’s “Prime,” “Bleed for This” is a raw and often funny portrait of how champion boxer Vinny Paz (“The Pazmanian Devil”) defied the odds, and doctor’s orders, and came back to the ring after a near-fatal car crash.

Teller was cast before “Whiplash” had even come out. It would be one of the first movies where he’d actually be playing an adult, too.

“It’s not like I had a ton of heat on me. I probably wouldn’t have been on any studios’ top 10 list of people to play Vinny Paz,” Teller said. “But Ben saw something in me … I wanted to evolve and I had to challenge myself and Ben gave me that opportunity.”

For the next eight months, while filming two other movies, Teller trained to get in believable fighting shape.

“Dude, I didn’t drink, I didn’t eat bread. My girlfriend and I would go on dates and she was like ‘you are no fun. This is brutal,’ “ Teller said. (When the film wrapped, he remembers waking up next to a pizza box in his bed).

It’s a lot of work for only 24 days of shooting, but for both the actor and director, it was necessary.

Younger was even able to cut in archival footage of Vinny that looks believable next to Teller. But Teller has always had a reputation for being a committed actor, whether it’s drumming till your hands blister or screwing a metal “halo” onto your skull securely enough so that it doesn’t move, as he did for this film.

“The dude has thought about every decision he is going to make. He has an answer for every choice he’s made,” Younger said. “If you want him to do something or not do something, you better have a good reason because he’s done his homework so you better have done yours.”

Younger was told that he and Teller had a good rapport and one that was slightly different from how he’s been with other directors.

Teller appreciated that Younger knew when to “step back.”

“To me that’s the sign of a confident director. If a good performance is happening they don’t feel like they need to be responsible for it or get the credit for it,” Teller said. “You just want to feel like you’re treated as a peer and as a collaborator. I don’t like when directors treat you like pawns for their vision, like it’s the director’s movie. ‘No it’s not, man, it’s really all of our movie.'”

Younger reflected on how Teller has changed and matured, even in the two years since they started working together. The director thinks part of that is just the nature of being in your 20s, and part of it is the extraordinary scrutiny Teller is often under.

“I see a lot of humility and gratitude and he figured it out before I did,” Younger said. “It took me 10 more years to figure out what he seems to be figuring out right now, which is that you have to be very grateful for the opportunities you get in this business.”

Grateful is definitely something Teller is — and that drive to do more is why he hasn’t thought to take a beat for himself in years.

“If I connect to the material, I’m going to want to do it and I’m not going to want somebody else to do it,” Teller said. “Like, ‘I’m going to give this opportunity away because I want a break? Nah, I’ll take a break later.'”

Now he finally feels comfortable enough to not have two projects on the horizon at all times. It might just be a few months, he said, but that too is for the art.

“Someone sees you in a movie and they don’t know how much time you had or what you had just done before that. They are just watching this movie and are like how good is your acting in this movie,” Teller said. “For me, I just want to see what I can do if I have a couple of months that’s not squeezed in between two other things. I want to give my focus to that.”

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