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  1. Arts & Entertainment

Snoopy? How rising star Miles Teller, a Lecanto High grad, found acting (w/video)

Miles Teller as Andrew and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher in new movie Whiplash. 

Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Miles Teller as Andrew and J.K. Simmons as Fletcher in new movie Whiplash. 

Photo by Daniel McFadden, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics
Published Nov. 12, 2014

Maybe if Beth Bedee weren't so pretty, Miles Teller wouldn't be a movie star.

Teller, earning Oscar buzz for his new movie Whiplash, would've kept playing baseball at Citrus County's Lecanto High School, with sportscasting in mind after graduating in 2005.

But boys will be boys, and Mrs. Bedee was a blond, young incoming teacher taking over the Panther Players drama program. Like other smitten students, Teller joined in his sophomore year, debuting as "Willard" in a production of Footloose.

"When I got on stage and got the first laugh, I was hooked," Teller said in a telephone interview. "It absolutely felt like something had been missing from my life up to that point."

Just eight years later, he reprised the role in a Hollywood remake.

Then and now, Teller credits Bedee for his success nearly as often as his Tisch School of the Arts instructors in New York.

"Had she not come to Lecanto, I'm sure I would've found acting at some point," Teller, 27, said. "Without her energy, her professionalism, I don't think it would've happened nearly as fast."

These are heady days for Teller who has a Gotham Award nomination for Whiplash (opening locally Friday), a Sundance acting prize shared with co-star Shailene Woodley for The Spectacular Now, two blockbuster franchises in the can, and is filming a biopic of champion boxer Vinny Pazienza.

Bedee, now Citrus County's social studies supervisor, is proud of, yet modest, about her role in Teller's rise since his 2010 screen debut opposite Nicole Kidman in Rabbit Hole.

"You could see it right away, that he just had a special talent, had that 'it' factor," she said. "And he always fed off the audience. If he got that applause, or whatever reaction he wanted, that really drove him."

Ironically, not getting a desired response in a classroom exercise is what shaped Teller's future.

Bedee assigned her students to write and perform a skit. Teller and a friend developed a serious piece that nonetheless drew classmates' laughter. His joking reputation got in the way.

"That upset me a little bit," he said. "I felt like I was one with the people, man, in control of the message. But at that point I realized that anything I wanted to do, they would assume it was supposed to be funny.

"I didn't want to be a standup comedian, or just a comedic actor by any means. So, that was a clear moment for me to start engaging in more dramatic material."

Teller and Bedee found the monologue About Sally, which involves a father grieving his infant daughter's death, to polish for entry in high school acting competitions. As a junior, Teller earned a superior rating at the annual Florida State Thespian Festival in Tampa.

"This kid who's 15 or 16 is playing a father who lost a child, and he had everybody in tears," Bedee said. "He was like a minor celebrity walking around Tampa at the convention: 'There's that About Sally kid.' "

Teller's father, Mike, said: "It was at that point in time that we thought, okay, there's something special going on here."

Looking back, Mike Teller should've seen stardom coming. His household was musical "controlled chaos" with Miles, sisters Erin and Dana, and mother Merry. Each played piano and sang, Miles took saxophone lessons and taught himself to play guitar and drums (a handy talent for Whiplash, in which he plays a driven jazz drummer).

"Friends coming over would always know there was a mini-circus going on," the actor said. "I never had a house where my parents would say turn it down."

Mike Teller thinks his son's acting ambitions were rooted at preschool age, when he visited backstage at a community theater production of The Wizard of Oz: "He was 2 feet high, looking up at all these people in costume and he wasn't intimidated. He was taking it all in."

Soon after, Miles surprised his parents at a souvenir stand, with a pair of Dick Tracy and Breathless Mahoney figurines, from the movie starring Warren Beatty and Madonna.

"He puts them on the counter, one in each hand, and proceeds to sing the song verbatim: 'Sooner or later, you're gonna be mine,' from the movie," Mike Teller said. "And he's playing with them like they're toy soldiers.

"Merry and I looked at each other like, oh my god. From that point on, Miles had a unique ability to capture movies that he would remember and start play acting. Home Alone came out not too long after that; he was booby trapping the house."

Yet aside from two wordless stage roles as a child extra, Miles Teller didn't do any acting until joining Bedee's Panther Players. Footloose led to roles in Damn Yankees, Bye Bye Birdie and as Snoopy in You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown. Bedee's lessons and acting exercises stick with him today.

"Some of the stuff I was doing in Beth's class was just as advanced as what I was doing in college," Teller said, "how we'd critique it and wanted to make it better.

"Absolutely without her I don't think I would've ended up where I'm at."

Bedee isn't so certain about that, sounding like a teacher you'd like to have:

"What I did was allow him to have an outlet. … I just got him, understood where he was coming from, and was able to kind of bring it out, give him opportunities to shine.

"But as far as creating the genius? That came from him."

Contact Steve Persall at spersall@tampabay.com or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.

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