This can’t be Miles Teller.
No. Miles Teller—the breakout star of last year’s Whiplash, the guy who played the meek aspiring jazz drummer Andrew Neiman, a pasty fleck of a boy brutalized, mentally and physically, by his mentor-tormentor at a Juilliard-meets–Full Metal Jacket arts academy?
OK, sure, Miles Teller was also front and center in August’s superhero franchise reboot of Fantastic Four—but, even by the actor’s own admission, his character “shouldn’t be in good shape. If you’re playing Reed Richards properly—a guy who’s isolating himself and is obsessed with academics and studying and traveling and exploring—that guy is not going to the gym.”
No. But this guy here, chomping on a Paleo plate on the patio of a Studio City restaurant, clearly is.
At a lean 6'-something, this Miles Teller has broad shoulders and the effortlessly rigid posture more reminiscent of Thor’s Chris Hemsworth, and his Grateful Dead T-shirt (hey, he’s an iconoclast) spouts an impressive set of coiled biceps. The guy’s back is even shaped like a kite.
No, this isn’t the Miles Teller we know, the inveterate, wise-cracking sidekick in his short, if already highly prolific, career. The guy sitting in front of me looks a little more like a Division I first baseman, or an avid CrossFitter.
Or even a lightweight boxer.
Vinny “the Pazmanian Devil” Pazienza, the real five-time world boxing champion who inspired Teller’s transformation, has a life story so compelling that none other than Hollywood heavyweight Martin Scorsese decided to bring it to the screen.
In 1991, after having won two world titles, Pazienza broke his neck in a car accident. He was told he wouldn’t walk again, but, thanks to a skull brace and a crazy workout regimen, he somehow managed to not only completely recover but also go on to win a third major-title fight just a year later. As executive producer on the project, Scorsese apparently needed just one thing: an actor who could handle the part.
“Honestly, when I read the script,” says Teller, “I was like, ‘This is going to be really great for someone else.’ It was this masculine, macho story about this world champion boxer. I don’t think after people saw Whiplash or That Awkward Moment they thought of me and said, ‘This dude is a badass fucking boxer.’”
But Teller met with director Ben Younger (Boiler Room), who he says “liked my vibe.” The 28-year-old actor got the part and immediately felt immense pressure. “At the time I was 188 pounds and 19% body fat,” he says, still showing a hint of embarrassment.
It was the ultimate challenge. “You can’t wait for people to tell you that [you have what it takes to become Vinny Paz],” Teller says. “You have to tell them.”