We interview Miles Teller about War Dogs, Fantastic Four & Granite Mountain!
Miles Teller's new film, WAR DOGS, tells the so-crazy-its-true story of two dudes in their 20s who bid on military contracts during the Iraq war - and won them. Efraim Diveroli (played by Jonah Hill) and David Packouz (Teller) were exploiting a little-known government initiative that made them millionaires. But, eventually, they got sloppy, made some illegal moves, and ultimately got caught for selling the wrong things to the wrong people. The film, energetically directed by Todd Phillips, tells Diveroli and Packouz's wild story through the latter's eyes, as a young man with no prospects suddenly becomes an arms dealer who's directly impacting the war on terror in the Middle East.
Teller's had a pretty up and down career; you could say more up than down, thanks to titles like WHIPLASH, THE SPECTACULAR NOW, DIVERGENT (and its subsequent sequels), but then there are flicks like FANTASTIC FOUR, 21 & OVER and THAT AWKWARD MOMENT that might cause one to raise a skeptical eyebrow at the actor's choices. Don't worry, WAR DOGS is a good one, and it would indeed seem as though Teller has more of them coming up, such as November's boxing drama BLEED FOR THIS and the in-production GRANITE MOUNTAIN, in which he plays a firefighter battling a raging wildfire. Incidentally, both of those films are based on true stories as well.
I spoke to Teller last week about playing David Packouz in WAR DOGS, working with Jonah Hill, his favorite actors, indies vs studio movies, Granite Mountain and, naturally, the experience of Fantastic Four and his thoughts on a sequel.
Hey man, how's everything?
Good, man. I fly back tonight. I'm in the middle of filming a movie in Santa Fe right now. Granite Mountain.
How's that going?
Are you doing your own stunts and that kind of thing?
I guess the biggest stunt with these guys... because these guys are hotshots, firefighters, it's primitive in terms of what they're doing. They're not smokejumpers, they're not jumping out of helicopters, they're cutting down trees, trying to get rid of fuel and anything that's going to burn, and that's just a lot of physical labor. But when I get back we're going to be getting into the stuff with the really big flames, these guys are up against 60 foot flames, usually at a pretty safe distance, but it's hot. That's probably the biggest stunt, is the pure heat.
And in August.
Yeah, exactly, in Santa Fe. It's hot.
On to War Dogs. It's such a crazy story. When you first get the script and read it, do you sign on immediately, or do you do a little research on the actual events first?
There's a lot of factors you want to take in when you're working on a movie. Script, director, other actors, producers, other things like that. This one was pretty easy. I've always wanted to work with Todd, Jonah's an incredible actor, Bradley Cooper involved and producing the film. This one was pretty straightforward, but I also liked the fact that these were characters in their 20s who were dealing with real responsibilities and real world problems. It wasn't just about, "Oh there's this guy who likes a girl, here's a couple of dick jokes." It was cool, man. The fact that it was a true story. I've gotten the chance to play a couple of real people at this point, and I've always been fascinated about it.
I know the real David Packouz was involved; did you have any conversations with him?
You know, I didn't have a ton. I know Todd had a lot of in-depth conversations with David when he was crafting the script, and obviously the story's told through David's eyes so I think that was important. I wasn't going to be necessarily imitating David, I had a pretty good idea of what this guy was doing. For me, I guess it was more about how I was going to interact with Efraim, because those guys work in such tandem. Just spending a little time with Jonah and talking about what that friendship would have been like, we had those conversations. But David, I met him on set after we had already been shooting for a week or so, I got to talk to him a little bit. I was more interested in what's going on now. I wasn't so interested in, "Hey man, what's going on with this?" because I understood that from the article and the script. I was more interested in what's happening now, because it's still ongoing with those guys.
These guys - David in particular - aren't necessarily bad people. They weren't selling guns to terrorists; they just went about things in the wrong way.
Yeah, the ammo and these things were being used to arm the Afghani soldiers, so they could combat against the Taliban. This movie isn't taking a political stance, and even Jonah's character is saying, "We're not pro-war, we're pro-money." In any area, where they thought the profits were big enough, I think that was something they wanted to get involved in. They were young enough to have this bravado and brashness that they didn't think... they were just like, "Let's make some money."
It's going to happen anyway, so...
Let's get in on it. I did like the fact that David had a pretty good moral compass. I think he could have stood his ground a little more, but he does bring up issues if he feels like something isn't the right choice, or if things are lacking a bit of integrity, he does get bothered by it. Whether or not he acted strongly enough... I don't think he's the kind of character who could have overpowered Efraim anyway.
Considering Todd's background, and you and Jonah having worked in comedy before, was there a lot of ad-lib on set?
A little bit. More so in Efraim's case; David, I don't think comedically is bringing too much. There's always a bit of ad-libbing because you're trying to personalize it. A lot of the humor is situational, it's not these guys doing bits. But yeah, Todd is extremely funny, Jonah is extremely funny, so a lot of times there'd be alternate versions of jokes.
Jonah seems like a force of nature when he's playing a character like this. What's he like as a collaborator on set?
He's great. Obviously people know him from the comedic stuff he's done, and even some of the serious stuff he's done like Moneyball, Wolf of Wall Street and Cyrus. It's just nice, coming into it and working with somebody that you know has put a lot of thought into it, there's not anything that's lacking on their end, so you don't feel the need to do anything more than just play the part.
And that laugh of his. How did you put up with that?
Yeah, it's pretty funny. He came up with it last minute, honestly, just a day or two before. I thought it was pretty funny. [Imitates Jonah's laugh from the film]
That's pretty excellent. This is a more general question, but who are some actors, either working today or not, that you still really look up to?
There are plenty of actors I still enjoy watching. It's such a different market, such a different world now, that a lot of the actors I really dig, whether it's Sean Penn or Gary Oldman, Ed Harris... On the other side, you have dudes who are doing slightly different work, like Dustin Hoffman, Tom Hanks, Philip Seymour Hoffman. Right now I'm working with Jeff Bridges, Josh Brolin, Jennifer Connelly; I think all of their stuff is pretty amazing. It's such different footing now, it seems like there's a big gap between independent films and these huge studio blowout films. Studios aren't really making dramas. To make an independent film, you're not getting paid anything; literally, single digit, couple thousand dollars. Every independent film I've ever done, you make less than ten grand. It's not much, so that'll put a little financial burden on you, but you're doing it because it's the best script. And there's no guarantee it gets out; it needs to go to a festival, it needs to make a pretty big splash, and someone needs to buy it and distribute it. But I'm fortunate, I've been able to work with a couple of actors on several films that are only going to make your performance better. I don't mean that in a selfish way, I just mean that I love scene work and it's just you and this other actor, and I enjoy that, it's my favorite part of this business.
Talking about the indie vs big budget studio thing, Fantastic Four - which we talked about last year - had so much press surrounding it, a lot of it negative. Does that sour you on doing a movie like that?
Obviously you learn more as you go on; for me I've really enjoyed the fact that I've been able to work in pretty much every genre. There's a lot of different factors you're going to take into account. I think script is super important, and director. The director is going to be the most powerful person in terms of what that final product is. But shit, Whiplash was Damian's first feature, who would have known? I did that because of the script. I think certain things you can get sort of disenfranchised with a little bit. But I wouldn't change anything. I can honestly say I've never just done something for money; I'd be really embarrassed for something like that to come out, that I had no attachment to the character, no attachment to the script. It takes a while before you're only working with the best directors, nobody's career is flawless.
Would you do another Fantastic Four if the opportunity came up?
Yeah, for sure. I loved the cast, I loved the characters. I think it's such an interesting dynamic. I love how much they really need to rely on each other. This Avengers thing, they've kind of created their own Fantastic Four in a way, Marvel's first family. Their powers can't just exist on their own, you need Thor to do this, the Hulk to do his thing. So yeah, absolutely, I would do another one.
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