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Meet Miles Teller - the accidental movie star

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Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman in Whiplash!

Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman in Whiplash!

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash

Miles Teller and JK Simmons in Whiplash

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Miles Teller as Andrew Neiman in Whiplash!

If film stardom is a Monopoly board, then Miles Teller has just raced around it in double-time and set up camp on Mayfair.

Teller, a 27-year-old actor from Pennsylvania, has the lead role in Whiplash, this season's most talked about indie smash and a serious awards contender.

He gives a tremendous performance as Andrew, an ambitious young jazz drummer being put through his paces by a merciless and emotionally manipulative mentor (JK Simmons).

He also has a superhero blockbuster in the can - a reboot of The Fantastic Four, out next year, in which he plays Mr Fantastic - is in training for a boxing movie, and has a full-blown traditional musical lined up - co-starring Emma Watson - with the much-lauded young director of Whiplash, Damien Chazelle.

It's only five years since Teller made his film acting debut as a teenage driver who accidentally knocks down and kills the son of Nicole Kidman's character in Rabbit Hole, John Cameron Mitchell's study of grief.

The manner in which Teller landed that part - and nailed it - had a lot to do with his own personal history: when he was 20, he was involved in a car accident that almost killed him; two of his best friends each died in separate accidents about a year later.

The facial scars from his own crash may be fading, bit by bit, but the roles he is choosing somehow won't let him forget his near-death experience.

bleeding

His most recent characters are reckless, unreliable guys, who get high and smash stuff up. A drunk-driving scene in his 2013 drama The Spectacular Now almost results in the death of his on-screen girlfriend. Even in Whiplash, his character's helter-skelter race to a drumming assignment ends with him crawling from a wrecked car.

"It's a weird thing," says Teller, about this strangely persistent motif in his work. "My car accident is enough in the rear-view mirror that it's not something I carry with me every day. But for a couple of years, it absolutely was. Visually, the scars were worse. Over time, they get better, and there were surgeries I had to get. But it's something that's a huge part of my history and seems to reveal itself in a lot of these movies.

"Rabbit Hole, for instance, was two years after my accident, and a year after I'd given two eulogies. That's probably why I was able to deal with a lot of that subject matter in a place of more reflection than just imagination. It was pretty raw, at that point, and something that John Cameron Mitchell wanted me to use."

In the years since Rabbit Hole, Teller has built a steady resume of studio work, as the happy-go-lucky sidekick in the Footloose remake (2011), and as frat-boy heroes in Project X (2012) and 21 and Over (2013) - roles that belong in the casting box of "adolescence or academia", as he puts it. In 21 and Over, after all, his character was caught sprinting across campus wearing nothing but a strategically placed sports sock. What I wasn't expecting to hear was how many of these crowd-pleasing antics he had specifically practised as a drama student at New York University.

INSTINCTS

As a professional actor, he has found that "you use probably ten per cent of what you learn in college, and the rest is your own instincts". What about nudity on camera? Does that remain intimidating however many lessons you've had? "Yeah, unless you're Michael Fassbender!"

Whiplash was shot in New York and Los Angeles in just 19 days - and on a budget of $3m. Teller had a head start on the rehearsal front, having grown up in a family of musical prodigies, with a mother who introduced him to instruments, particularly drums, at a young age. He had played in a band in high school, sung in the chorus, and still jams with friends from time to time.

As he points out, fake-playing the drums isn't really an option on film, in the way it might be for guitar or violin. "It would look weird if you were holding back because you didn't want to make the noise, so you just actually have to play.

"It was all a seamless kind of process. My mum's saying that this will always be her favourite movie. Because it's her son, playing music."

The lion's share of Teller's time this year has been spent not making Whiplash but promoting it. He has had a slightly testy relationship with the media ever since an interview last September with W magazine in which he was quoted as saying that filming a supporting role in the young adult blockbuster Divergent had left him feeling "dead inside".

He claims this was a misrepresentation, that his comments were taken out of context, but it's easy to see that his trust in journalists has taken a knock - throughout our interview he treats my questions with a degree of caution.

"There are certain actors that hate the press," he says, citing personal idols Sean Penn and Jack Nicholson. "I get it, a lot of the time. You assume everybody has your best interests at heart, and then things get taken out of context, and you're like, I talked to you for an hour, how did you not understand that was not my tone with that? But I do enjoy doing press for a film that seems to create intelligent discussion. People want to watch Whiplash and talk about it. I love that."

Teller talks about being precious with his resume and how in college he eyed up the career curve of Shia LaBeouf, from Disturbia to Transformers to Spielberg.

He is grateful for the ensemble nature of The Fantastic Four, which means he doesn't have the mammoth task of shouldering a tentpole franchise single-handedly. "It's a pretty isolated experience, man. You just become this thing. You go from being an actor who bounces around different projects to just…Spider-Man."

He also talks about learning from film to film, and how much the "very unpretentious" JK Simmons - who last week won a Golden Globe for his performance and is the firm favourite for an Oscar - had to teach him in real life.

Rabbit Hole certainly sounds like the steepest learning curve of all his films, because of the frosty reception he felt on set from Kidman. "As I was filming it, I was like, 'Oh, she's so frigid, she's just not a warm person, she's not what you think!' But by the end of it, I'd done a complete 180.

"Nicole at the wrap party gave me a big hug and said she felt so bad," he says, explaining how Kidman told him it was essential for the characters that the actors maintain their distance on set. "At the end of the day, you're not there to make friends all the time. You're there to give the performance.

"Thank God JK was the exact opposite, though," he says, of Simmons. "Every single person would have hated going to work."

Whiplash is out in cinemas now


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