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29 January 2019

Miles Teller is a great actor. So why does he make so many bad films?

The Whiplash star can and must do better.

By Rohan Banerjee

Miles Teller’s performance in Whiplash (2014) as a prodigious jazz drummer bullied by his conductor was breathtaking. Made in less than three weeks and on a budget of just $3.3m, the Damien Chazelle-directed masterpiece won three Oscars and was nominated for two more. And though Teller himself was snubbed for Best Actor, few who have seen the film could argue that his powerful portrayal of the ambitious yet vulnerable Andrew Neiman was not central to its success.

But Teller’s career has often struggled to hit the heights expected of him. “If film stardom is a Monopoly board, then Miles Teller has just raced around it in double-time and set up camp on Mayfair,” wrote Tim Robey for the Telegraph in his Whiplash review. In reality, the chronic inconsistency of Teller’s filmography would be better represented by the chance pile.

A graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, Teller is undoubtedly a good actor. In addition to Whiplash, his turns as slacker Sutter Keely in the coming-of-age tale The Spectacular Now (2013), as arms dealer David Packouz in War Dogs (2016), as boxer Vinny Pazienza who returns to the ring after a car accident in Bleed for This (2016); and as PTSD-suffering soldier Adam Schumann in Thank You for Your Service (2017), are examples of Teller on form.

But that the same CV also features a few unfunny, and at times obnoxious, comedies – read 21 & Over (2013) and Two Night Stand (2014) – as well as the abominable superhero flop Fantastic Four (2015), doesn’t showcase Teller’s range as much as it suggests that, for someone so talented, he has picked some really stupid films to star in.

Teller’s behaviour off-screen, too, has gone some way towards undermining his progress. In 2017, he was arrested for public intoxication after partying with friends in San Diego, for which he blamed bartenders rather than himself. A profile by Esquire painted him as “dickish”, which, based on the evidence in the article – including a rape joke – does not seem an unreasonable shout.

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In a 2016 interview with the Guardian, Teller said he felt “extremely misrepresented” by the Esquire piece, but, generally speaking, his track record of comments to the press is not great. Ahead of Whiplash’s release he told the New York Times: “I feel like a lot of actors of my generation are not proper actors. I want to break out of that whole group of actors in their early 20s and really start to put stuff down that lets you know I take this seriously.”

Talk is cheap. Teller’s upcoming projects are a voice role in the animated picture The Ark and the Aardvark (2019) and a turn as Goose’s son in the Top Gun sequel no one asked for (2020).

But Teller’s bravado – perhaps he is a bit of a dick – does not belie his acting ability. And four months after being arrested, he told Vulture magazine: “I absolutely do care what people think about me. But I can’t put much weight into whether the public likes me because the more important thing is that, as an actor, I can truly say that there’s not a single director or actor who I’ve worked with that’d have a bad thing to say about me.”

Josh Trank, the director of Fantastic Four with whom Teller reportedly almost came to blows with on set, may disagree; but on balance, he is right. Teller, despite his brashness and several bad choices for roles, is still considered hot property in Hollywood. Whiplash remains fresh in people’s memory, because it was that good, and Teller, when he chooses his role well, is a committed method actor and an expert in depicting suffering.

That’s probably because, as far as good-looking millionaires go, Teller has suffered a lot. In 2007, while travelling to a Grateful Dead concert with friends, he was involved in a car crash, and thrown through the windscreen at 80mph. He somehow survived, but required multiple laser surgeries to repair the damage done to his face.

In 2008, one of his closest friends, Nick, was killed after being knocked off his motorcycle. A month later, another close friend, Beau, died in a car crash. Teller had sat next to Beau at Nick’s funeral. It is intriguing, then, that so many of Teller’s films to date have involved road accidents; and the raw emotion that he is able draw on is one of the big guns in his arsenal.

Yet, at 31, Teller is still being talked about with a “promising” tag, rather than in line for the Oscar he is capable of winning. With the right role – he would excel as a troubled genius or an anti-hero – Teller could live up to the hype.

As for being a dick, does it really matter? Teller definitely has some growing up to do, both personally and professionally, but if he does, the end result will be great.