AUSTIN, TEXAS — Maybe for the first time in his entertainment career, Miles Teller knows much of what he's “doing” for the next four or so years.
He just boarded bank robber flick “Life and Times of the Stopwatch Gang” as producer and lead. Fresh off of Oscar season with “Whiplash,” the 28-year-old actor headed right into promotions for “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” out tomorrow (March 20), the second movie in a four-film adaptation. His turn as Mister Fantastic in “The Fantastic Four” films will take him on a two-movie ride, at least. “Bleed for This” — which will feature Teller portraying boxer Vinny Panzienza — is out later this year, “Arms and the Dudes” is due 2016 and there are a few other flicks in the development hopper.
Even for a schedule so busy, Teller looked at least like he was trying to relax, sinking into a wicker patio chair in a garden on the fringe of South By Southwest festivities this past weekend. Just as he said, below, he'd rather be on the outside anyway.
Read our abridged interview below on “Insurgent,” producing and how all he really wants to do is be eye candy.
HitFix: How does it feel to know what you”re doing for the next five years?
Miles Teller: When you enjoy what you”re doing, you know, if you enjoy the people that you”re working with and it”s engaging and interesting material then it”s nice. And, you know, for this like whether it”s elite, something with the Divergent franchise or Fantastic Four that takes up my summer and then I can kind of choose. I can pick like a smaller film or bigger film but I can, you know, I know I”m doing that then I can kind of look at the rest of the year.
It”s kind of seasonal.
Oh it”s very seasonal. You have like your movie you can do in the spring, one in the summer, one in the fall – maybe two in the fall or something.
Does it feel like an education or an academic thing to be into such different roles from season to season?
I mean hopefully, yeah, you learn from every film you do you should learn something about filmmaking and then also just about yourself as an actor because there”s a constant discovery and I don”t think that ever goes away. I don”t care what actor you are or how good you are, you know, you”re constantly wanting to do more. You”re constantly feeling like you didn”t get to do everything you wanted to do in a film.
What did you learn from the Oscar season?
Oscar season I learned what the really famous people do after the Oscars. I went to this – it was like Madonna”s party or something. And so I said okay, this is what people do after these kinds of things.
Any details on the shenanigans?
I mean, I was hanging out with Lars from Metallica. Lars has kind of befriended me since he saw “Whiplash” at Sundance. But it was just cool, man. Mick Jagger was there. He loved “Whiplash” but I didn”t get a chance to talk to him unfortunately.
Was there anybody you were surprised was a fan of the film?
I mean pretty much anytime I”d meet somebody who came up to me saying, you know, whether it be like Cate Blanchett or Mark Ruffalo or Clint Eastwood. I know Arnold Schwarzenegger loved it. Like these are all some pretty big names. Brad Pitt came up to me and said how much he dug “Whiplash,” that”s pretty cool.
When I did the “Whiplash” press day, I asked J.K. [Simmons] about heroes and he was telling me about Sidney Poitier. He said, “That to me is the ultimate.” Do you feel like there”s an ultimate for you?
Not really. I mean there”s a lot of actors that I love that I haven”t really gotten to meet. Philip Seymour Hoffman was one. And I went up to him at Sundance two years ago and I just saw him and I was like “Hey man, I”ve just got to say I”m a big fan. 'Love Liza' is like my favorite movie.”
Tom Hanks is one that I”ve just seen his face and heard his voice my whole life. A lot of the comedy guys – Jim Carrey, I recently met [Adam] Sandler. He came up to me and he just – I was like with my girlfriend”s family. We were eating lunch and Adam Sandler just happened to be there and he started talking to me. And her family was just like “Wait, do like all famous people just f*cking know each other?”
You all text. You must. Getting into Insurgent a little bit, how has that scratched an itch for you as a creative person?
Yeah well what”s nice with the role of Peter, especially in this movie was like he – all the characters are so well defined and you have the factions and you have those kinds of things. And then you have Peter who”s – he”s a little more rogue and so what”s been fun for me is just to make him, you know, just trying to make him more complex maybe than how he”s written. And you always want to if they”re considered like an antagonist character, an evil character, villain, you try to make them as redeemable as possible. So that”s been the trick with Peter is just to try and make people not quite understand him and to kind of, you know, at the end maybe sympathize with him a little bit or kind of root for him a little bit. Or at least enjoy watching him.
I think that”s half the fun of kind of antiheroes — total dick moves, but you kind of bring something out in them. Is that what”s going to happen with robbing banks, for “Life and Times [of the Stopwatch Gang]?”
That”s the coolest story I”ve ever heard and it”s true. It”s so awesome to be a part of it and it”s great that at this point in my career people want to involve me earlier. Because I just want to collaborate I think in its highest form. It is collaborative. I love when I work with directors and we”re working as peers, almost. They”re absolutely in charge but they respect my intuition of what I want to do with a character and they allow me that freedom also with directing me. And so to be brought on as a producer is just great because you can just get more creative control on the story you want to tell.
How do you really want to shape this story?
Right now we”re figuring out writers and we can pick writers based on tone and kind of what they”ve done and then we assemble a list. We get a couple of guys or girls and they come in and they pitch their idea for it. And then whoever kind of gives the right pitch they”ve got to write the script. Because the script I think that”s the hardest part. You can”t make a good movie out of a bad script but you can make a bad movie out of a good script.
You mentioned working with women or men on this next project. There”s a big conversation now about gender and diversity in the industry. As a white dude in Hollywood – and having worked repeatedly with actresses like Shailene [Woodley] — how top of mind is that for you going forward as a producer and actor?
I mean yeah, you want to see the same way that for me as a young actor I didn”t want to just be limited to kind of cookie cutter teenager parts. If you want to see actresses given the same opportunity to not just play the supporting character, not just play the main guy”s girlfriend or the main guy”s wife. You want to find – yeah, you want to have rich complex characters and absolutely man. I love it. Like in Insurgent I love all the women I think steal the show in this movie. It”s Kate [Winslet], Naomi [Watts] and Sha.
And I think it”s great that you have, you know, people are just becoming more outspoken about it, whether it be Patricia Arquette or Reese Witherspoon. And the more attention that”s brought to it I think the more change you”re going to see. And a lot of the time, you have to become a producer and kind of do it yourself and that”s what Reese has been doing with “Gone Girl” and “Wild” and so on.
So is that your aspiration, too, opening it up?
I just want to be a piece of eye candy in a female-driven movie.
Ha, now you”re speaking truth.
I just want to be the stay-at-home dad in a film that”s good.
Well, you are picking roles exactly the opposite of that – boxing, “Fantastic Four,” “Divergent,” bank robbing. For you, is there a challenge or fear about pigeonholing if you take on a “Fantastic Four?”
Very early on I wanted to – even going back to high school like when I first got involved in plays and stuff in high school — I was just like the class clown. And everything I did, you know, people were just like laughing. I remember I did a serious piece of material and people just started laughing. The fact that I felt like I wasn”t taken seriously, that kind of lit something in me and I said “Alright now I”m going to start doing like dramatic stuff and kind of start working on it.”
And so early on, you know, [2010's] “Rabbit Hole” was a great introduction because it was just like an actor”s piece and I got to work with John Cameron Mitchell who”s really kind of sensitive to actors. And we had great material and but I always wanted to do comedy. I always wanted to make a “Superbad,” or, like, even “The Girl Next Door” was a big one for me. And so when I was trying to do the comedy stuff early on they were saying “the kid from Rabbit Hole.” My agent said “No, trust me.”
So I think as long as you don”t pigeonhole yourself, I think as long as you seek different material every time then you can be ahead of the curve on that.
Maybe it”s hard to choose something different every time though when you”re involved in two major franchises?
Oh, to me I think that makes it easier almost because you have this thing that everyone, you know, like people are going to see and you can have these characters and then from there that”s where you can branch off. It”s nice that you can have this thing. Like, then people are seeing that you have this other thing that”s picking up momentum at the festivals and you”re playing something completely different. It”s like [having] a main course and then you get to color it however you want. You can put all this other stuff around it.
I heard the second Fantastic Four movie date moved around because there”s Star Wars over here, and then there”s these other comic book movies over here. Everybody”s got to find their lane. Do you feel like there is any kind of fatigue on the audience”s part of these franchise and comic book films, and how do you feel like “Fantastic Four” will tackle that head on?
“Fantastic Four” it is a lot different and I think when people watch the trailer, I think people can get a sense of that just tone, kind of how we shot it. It”s grittier. It”s more, you know, real. I think we”re humanizing these people a lot more. It”s different and the fact that we”re taking these characters from an origin standpoint we are discovering these characters that everybody just like the audience will be.
I”m not a big… I don”t watch a lot of movies so I don”t know if people are oversaturated with it. But it does seem like if they just want to put things on screen that are identifiable, and so that”s why you have the merging of, like, Captain America and you have Iron Man and you have Hawkeye and everyone seems to bleed over into the next. And the movies do really well.
So I guess people do enjoy that kind of full action, full throttle high entertainment. And yeah, I don”t know. We”ll see.
You said you don”t watch a lot of movies?
Yeah, I don”t watch a lot of films. If I do watch TV or film I tend to lean more towards reality — in the sense that I usually watch survival shows or, like, “Gold Rush Alaska” or “Dual Survival.” Anything with gold. “Bering Sea Gold.” And then for movies I tend to watch documentaries or… I don”t know. I don”t watch movies. I”ll sit and listen to music.
You picked a strange path, then.
If I was a director, absolutely, I think that I should watch a lot of films but for acting I think you just have to be able to relate to your character and most of the time I relate to my character not through a movie I”ve seen. I relate to them through like a life experience. And I”ve always rather been on the outside than in.