Interview: Miles Teller off to 'Spectacular' start on bucket list

Miles Teller from The Spectacular Now poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Miles Teller from The Spectacular Now poses for a portrait during the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in Park City, Utah.
Published Aug. 20, 2013

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

At 26, Miles Teller is too young to have a bucket list, at least for his life that's charmed so far. Professionally, Teller is making and filling a to-do list fast.

"As an actor you have a bucket list, a checklist of things — at least I do — of things I want to experience," Teller said during a freewheeling telephone chat. "Sundance had always been one."

A snowy mecca of indie cinema is a long way from Citrus County, where Teller grew up. Arriving at Sundance in January with The Spectacular Now, the 2005 Lecanto High School graduate checked off a career goal. Then he underlined it with a special jury prize for acting, shared with his co-star Shailene Woodley. "Icing on the cake," Teller said.

Three years after an impressive debut opposite Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole, Teller's performance in The Spectacular Now as an alcoholic teenager in love is getting much buzz. Entertainment Weekly recently name-checked him among the next wave of New Hollywood stars. An honorable mention will do for now, but not for long.

Affably loose-witted like his roles in Footloose and 21 and Over, Teller jokes that he's talking to the Times because his hometown newspaper doesn't. "Maybe the Chronicle will (write) about me after Divergent comes out," he said, referring to his reunion with Woodley, adapting a YA novel with serious Hunger Games potential in 2014. Which sounded like a cue to ask Teller about …

Acting with Woodley

She's one of the best around. It makes my job a lot easier (working) with somebody who's not trying to direct you. … Shailene and I work very similarly in the fact that we have all our lines memorized but we're both very present. Neither of us have a very strong agenda in the scene as much as we just want to make an experience that's real. The best way to do that is to listen and be with that person in that moment.

A 2009 video podcast, showing off his moonwalk and …

My hammer thumbs. (laughs) At the time that was big for me. That was the first talk show of any kind that I'd been a part of. I just did Kimmel for the first time — my first real talk show — just a couple of months ago. That's a pretty big leap between now and four years ago.

What changed since then

Not a whole lot. I never get too high on myself. If anything I've become humbled by this business. I used to think you just need to do one movie and that would propel you to what you wanted to be: the lead in a movie and it would do big box office and this and that.

What I've realized is that it's very rare to have a movie that does that … how hard that is. As an actor, when I watch previous performances I can really nitpick them. I'm happy because I know I put in 100 percent, but you're constantly watching old stuff and thinking it's pretty bad and wanting to do better. It's a constant humbling. I don't know if you ever get to where you really want to be.

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What else is on that bucket list?

I want to work with Scorsese, Spielberg. I want to play some iconic roles and work with the great actors. … I think you want to make a classic, at least I do, a movie that stands out and really stands the test of time with people, that they hold very dear to them.

Steve Persall can be reached at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall on Twitter.