Miles Teller’s latest project came about by chance.
The actor was in a liquor store in New York when he sampled an alcoholic beverage called Long Drink, a canned version of a spirit that’s popular in Finland but largely unknown in the United States. It wasn’t quite a seltzer or a cocktail. But he dug its flavor profile, a little like grapefruit soda tinged with gin.
“I went back to California and couldn’t find it, so I was getting in touch with the founders, and they just kept sending me some,” Teller said by phone recently. “It was at a point where they were looking to get somebody involved, a celebrity, somebody that really enjoyed the product, and somebody that could help bring awareness to it. So that’s what we did. And then I officially came on as co-owner.”
It’s a Hollywood cliche, this idea of an actor with his very own alcoholic beverage. George Clooney has Casamigos tequila. Ryan Reynolds has Aviation gin. Matthew McConaughey has Longbranch bourbon.
Teller, a graduate of Lecanto High School in Citrus County, never wanted to take that plunge, he said, “and I certainly had a lot of stuff thrown my way.”
But this turns out to be one of those things they don’t teach you in drama class. When you start making real money as an actor, what exactly are you supposed to do with it?
It wasn’t something Teller thought about after moving to Florida in sixth grade, and starring in Lecanto High productions of Footloose, Bye Bye Birdie and You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.
While he broke out in his early 20s with roles in the Nicole Kidman film Rabbit Hole and a remake of Footloose, it wasn’t until he bought his first house four or five years ago — after lead roles in Whiplash, Fantastic Four and the Divergent franchise — that he started to think about longer-term investments and business deals.
For some celebrities, that means paid endorsements. While he’d done limited work for Prada and Toyota, that wasn’t an avenue Teller wanted to chase.
“I’ve lost out on a lot of deals, brand deals, endorsement deals, because I don’t have an Instagram,” he said. “I’ve been told that point-blank. But for me, personally, I just don’t care about money enough to where that’s ever been the sole purpose. I love acting, and I’ve been fortunate enough to make a career off it, and make enough money doing that that I haven’t needed to do it.”
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A spokesman wasn’t quite what the founders of Long Drink were looking for, either. They were convinced the drink was unique enough in the States that they could take their time growing the business and its identity.
“There’s a number of brands out there that are just a brand of the celebrity,” said Evan Burns, Long Drink’s first American investor. “For this, we thought, ‘Oh, there’s no reason to do that, because it’s got its own story already. It doesn’t need to have a celebrity out there.’”
Once Teller started ordering cases of Long Drink from New York, though, Burns thought the actor could help “take it wider.” Two years ago, Teller officially bought in.
“It certainly has had a major impact on how quickly consumers get to know about the brand,” Burns said. “Which isn’t surprising. When you have a brand that’s not known by anybody, and you bring on a celebrity that’s pretty well known, it does matter.”
The timing was just right. The canned alcoholic beverage market is expected to rise from $5.5 billion in 2021 to $13.4 billion by 2028, according to one recent study. Travis Scott and Gordon Ramsay launched spiked seltzers this year. Teller helped recruit two more star investors, Norwegian DJ Kygo and pro golfer Rickie Fowler, to Long Drink.
The market is hot enough that Teller knows larger companies — think Anheuser-Busch InBev or Diageo — may eventually offer a buyout. That’s not why he signed on, but he’s open to it.
“If the right company came along, and the right deal was presented, and we felt they would expand the brand in a way that we aren’t necessarily able to with their infrastructure and relationships, then absolutely,” he said. “We really just want to be able to grow this thing as much as possible.”
Until then, Teller has been front and center as Long Drink expanded to 19 states. He’s Zoomed with distributors and will film a commercial. He’s also starring alongside Tom Cruise in one of the year’s most anticipated movies, the COVID-delayed Top Gun: Maverick, and Burns said Long Drink is planning a marketing push around that.
“When somebody’s new movie’s coming out, they’re out in the press a lot, on big shows and all that, so there’s going to be all these opportunities for Miles to be speaking about the multiple things he’s involved in,” Burns said. “Long Drink will obviously be a big part of that.”
It’s very different from acting, Teller said. But it is similar to producing, where a seed of an idea can take root once you have the right team in place.
“I’ll be involved in a movie, and the producer will tell me it took eight years for this movie to get made,” he said. “It’s a long game. But it comes down to, if you really believe in something, then you’re not shy about putting in the time. It’s a good feeling when something starts small, and grows and grows until you’re able to shine a light on it, and people are able to experience the thing that you and a couple of other people believed in.”