Q&A: 'The Spectacular Now' star Miles Teller

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in 'The Spectacular Now'

Miles Teller and Shailene Woodley in 'The Spectacular Now' (August 1, 2013)

While filming the highly anticipated big-screen adaptation of "Divergent" in Chicago, Miles Teller also attended two Rolling Stones shows, a Hawks playoff game, a Bulls playoff game and two Cubs games.

In the excellent coming-of-age film "The Spectacular Now," opening Friday, Sutter (Teller) likewise wants to make the most of his time. Preaching "Live in the now," he's a think-later high school senior who charms shy, sweet Aimee ("Divergent" co-star Shailene Woodley), whose perception of what Sutter can give her may cloud her view of what he can't. At Sundance, the actors deservedly won a Special Jury Award for their performances.

By phone from L.A., the 26-year-old actor ("21 and Over," "Rabbit Hole") talked about nixing dialogue, putting his best moves into the movie's sex scene and whether he feels like an adult.

You're an enemy to Shailene in "Divergent" and fall in love with her in "The Spectacular Now." Which is easier and which is more fun: to love her or give her crap?

It's easier to fall in love with her, but it's more fun to beat her up.

Why?

Hmm ... Because it's fun! [Laughs] I don't know. It's nice doing some action stuff, I guess would be the answer to that. It's hard to give a good answer to why it's more fun to beat up a woman. But in that world of "Divergent," the guys beat up the girls. ... We're just looking for the best warriors. I put it into context.

"The Spectacular Now" director James Ponsoldt gave you a lot of freedom with your character. How do you feel like you took advantage of that?

I think the more creative freedom that you have, the more personalized you can make the character. Even the wardrobe woman, the costume designer, she allowed me -- I said, "Hey, there's a couple thrift stores here. Do you mind if I go out and pick out some stuff that I think would be right?"James never made me audition. He just went off a hunch that I could play this character, and I was happy for him to allow me the freedom to do a lot of stuff.

Can you remember something you didn't want to say?

I didn't want to call myself "The Sutter man." And I didn't want to say "fabuloso."

Why not?

Because. You try it! What's your name again?

Matt.

Matt. Call yourself the Matt-meister.

"What's up, this is the Matt-meister, and I'm super-fabuloso." Doesn't work.

[Laughs.] Yeah, see? I tried saying "fabuloso" in just everyday conversation, and every time I would do it people would look at me weird.

It's cool that Shailene was talking about loving the scene of you two having sex in the movie because it's so real --

Well, look who she's working with. If I was Shailene, I would love having sex with me too.

What's it like to try to be awkward on purpose in that situation?

You mean for her?

No, for you.

You thought I was awkward during my sex scene? Those are my best moves, Matt.

I thought you performed admirably, but I think part of the reason she said she liked it was it's such a natural, human thing.

It is. When you're in a 15-year-old's bedroom and her character's just this nice, cute, kind of shy girl -- not overly shy or anything -- but it just all kind of fell into place. I feel like the characters, we really wanted to tell their story. At that moment, we are right there.

Shailene has said Sutter is a composite of her high school relationships. Did you date someone like Aimee?

Yeah, I did. I dated all over the place. I remember I dated a girl who was in drama with me. She was the lead singer of my rock band. She had this Evanescence voice. That was a weird choice; my buddies didn't really understand that. And then I dated a cheerleader for a little bit. But really Aimee reminds me of this girl that I dated my sophomore year of college.

Their relationship has an interesting beginning, with her finding you passed out on a lawn. What's the strangest story you've heard about people getting together in real life?

The girlfriend that reminded me of Shailene's character, I met her at nickel beer night. And I remember her carrying a stack of cups `cause she was stacking all the beer she had drank and there's a good amount of `em. She came up to me, she said, "Hey, can you hold these while I go pee in a parking lot?" So I held her cups, and by the time she came back I was still holding them and we started talking and I got her phone number and we ended up dating for like a year and a half.

That’s a really good story of how you meet someone.

Yeah! We talked about jazz band for a while. I played saxophone, and she played the flute.

I played drums. Next time you see her we’ll all put on a show.

Whoa, watch it, Matt!

I wasn’t implying that you’re still in touch with your ex-girlfriend.

[Laughs] No, I’m really not. It’s all good.

Sutter says he doesn't see what's so great about being an adult. How do you think people know when they're supposed to be an adult and have gotten to that point?

I think life just puts it in front of you and you deal as it comes. Two of my best friends have kids that are three and four. They're dealing with some real adult stuff; who knows when that's going to happen for me? But then again me and my group of friends, there's like eight of us, we lost two really good buddies of ours in car accidents five weeks from each other. That was like a year before I shot "Rabbit Hole," and I felt like as a 21-year-old I was dealing with much more adult issues than some adults.

Does going through all this publicity and everything involved in being an actor make you feel old, or does it sometimes make you feel young?

Oh, I feel super young. I got a buddy who goes to work every morning at 6:30. That's some adult [bleep]. I don't do that. He comes back, [and] I'm playing video games.

Plus:

Memorable eats in Chicago: “Had the best steak of my life in Chicago. Well, I had the two best steaks of my life. The first one was at the Chicago Chop House: I got the bone-in filet mignon and that was delicious. And then I went to Mastro’s, which was also very good.”
Why he didn't read RedEye while in Chicago: "I was too busy jumping from trains and living in abandoned buildings."

How often the cool, confident high school guy like Sutter is usually putting up a front for something: “I think all the time. I think in high school people are not as comfortable being completely themselves … That’s why you have those cliques because people just fall into these categories. They’re trying to be something. They want to be part of something.”
On if he had any concept of what it was like to have Kyle Chandler/Coach Taylor playing his deadbeat dad in “The Spectacular Now,” since Teller didn’t watch “Friday Night Lights”: “Not really. James had me YouTube some Coach Taylor stuff. He was like, ‘Just type coach into YouTube and watch this, man. And if you don’t want to just go to battle for him, something’s wrong with you. You’re not American. Basically this dude’s like the all-American great guy.’” … So I watched some clips. But I didn’t really have much background of Kyle. I’m kind of glad I didn’t.”
What frustrated him as a kid: “I had two older sisters and I just remember my sister Dana, who’s like 18 months older than me, for Christmas she got this [gift], and the idea of the gift was you could direct your own play. So it gave you a bunch of scripts and a couple costumes and you would cast the play and you would be the director. And it was ‘Little Red Riding Hood.’ And there was the part of the wolf, and that was like the only boy part. And it was between me and my cousin Richard. My cousin Richard’s like six years older than me. And she cast my cousin Richard. And that pissed me off so bad. A. I’m her brother and B. I’m a much better actor obviously. So I thought the whole thing was fixed.”
Something that scared him as a kid: “We used to do ‘Bloody Mary.’ I don’t know if you know what that is, where you look in the window or you look in the mirror and you say ‘bloody mary, bloody mary  bloody mary,’ and bloody mary’s supposed to come at you. One time me and Dana are doing it and my oldest sister Erin was babysitting us and we didn’t know it but she was hiding under the sink. So we said ‘bloody mary bloody mary bloody mary,’ and Erin came on in this Nickelodeon microphone. It was like (spooky voice), ‘Miles!!!!’ She had booby-trapped the whole bathroom to where the window was shaking and the curtain was shaking and we freaked out, ran out, and I went to sleep with a bible on my chest watching some Spanish priest on TV. So that scared the crap out of me.”
Something he’s proud of with “Divergent” and something he can do better in the sequel: “I’m proud of my muscles. Mostly my bis and tris. And something that I can do better is my core. Probably get a little bit more ab work in.”
Rap song he knows all the words to: “Warren G, Regulators.”
Guilty pleasure TV show: “’Swamp People,’ although I’m not ashamed of that at all.”
First album he bought: Smash Mouth, “Fush Yu Mang.” “I actually listened to that not too long ago. It was a long road trip and I ran out of good stuff. We just went back. I got ‘Fush Yu Mang,’ OMC ‘How Bizarre,’ Sublime self-titled, and  Mighty Mighty Bosstones from BMG when I was in fourth or fifth grade.”
Movie that scared him: “Nosferatu.” “My grandma showed me that when I was literally probably six years old, and it scared the [bleep] out of me. She was eating an English muffin with jelly on it and just laughing.”

Watch Matt on “You & Me This Morning,” Friday at 6:55 a.m. on WCIU, the U

mpais@tribune.com

 

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