From Sundance to show time: Miles Teller takes on Mr Fantastic

After a string of indie dramas, 28-year-old actor takes an unlikely turn as a superhero in the reboot of Marvel Comics franchise Fantastic Four - and hopes it'll make him the new Ryan Gosling

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 10:48pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 August, 2015, 10:48pm

If your character is called Mr Fantastic, that's a lot of pressure right there. But Miles Teller, star of (yet another) comic-book extravaganza Fantastic Four, wears it rather well, at least judging by the first time I saw him in the flesh, gliding into a chic London hotspot with his model girlfriend Keleigh Sperry on his arm. Dressed in a check print brown suit and skinny tie, all eyes were on this handsome 28-year-old who could soon have Hollywood at his feet.

Already this year, he's wowed audiences as the drum-at-all-costs jazz musician in the breakout Oscar-winning indie hit Whiplash and proved his blockbuster credentials in Insurgent, the sequel to Divergent, which reunited him with his "good friend" Shailene Woodley. Insurgent took US$295 million at the global box office - a decent number - and Fantastic Four, based on the Marvel Comics tale about a team of geeks who gain superpowers after a botched experiment, is expected to outshine that.

It's not the first time these characters have been brought to the big screen. Back in 2005, Chris Evans, Jessica Alba, Ioan Gruffudd and Michael Chiklis played the quartet. But despite a sequel, and reasonable box office (together, the two films made over US$600 million worldwide), the films were generally not well received. Perhaps aware of this, Teller distances himself. "I didn't see the other ones," he says.

Taking on the role of Reed Richards - aka Mr Fantastic - who can stretch his limbs like rubber, Teller is joined by an equally up-and-coming trio of stars: House of Cards' Kate Mara (as Invisible Woman, Sue Storm); Billy Elliot's Jamie Bell (as the hulking rock-like monster The Thing) and Michael B. Jordan (as Johnny Storm, aka the flame-throwing Human Torch), who previously worked with Teller on hip male comedy That Awkward Moment.

Directed by Josh Trank, who previously made cult teen superpowers tale Chronicle, Teller says the approach from all concerned was to deliver a gritty, "realistic" tale, far removed from the cartoonish style of the predecessors. "I never went on set thinking 'I'm Mr Fantastic - the stretchy guy'. I went thinking, 'I'm Reed Richards, how do I tap into that extreme depth of intelligence?' So I saw him as a very competent character, and I think the other guys did the same thing."

Sassy on screen, Teller is savvy off it. Part of his reasoning for taking on Fantastic Four, he says, was to boost his international profile - something the low-key indie films he's best known for, such as the Sundance hit The Spectacular Now, just can't do. "A lot of the small movies here, they don't travel, they don't go overseas," he asserts. "So to play in a movie that will open in Russia, and open all over Europe and in China, that's big. Acting doesn't just live and die in America."

While indie films such as 2010's Nicole Kidman-starring Rabbit Hole gave him his start, Teller has no problem entertaining the masses.

"I think there's something to be said for making those big movies that people can look forward to at Christmas time or see in the summer, and they forget about what they're dealing with. I love indie dramas, but most of the time, they're dealing with some pretty tough themes."

Born in the US state of Pennsylvania, Teller didn't start auditioning for roles until after he'd graduated from New York University's renowned Tisch School of the Arts, even learning his craft by taking classes at the Lee Strasberg Institute. His mother and father were always behind his career choice. "My parents were nothing but supportive," he says. "Maybe because I never had to ask them for money, because I started acting professionally right after college. But they were very supportive."

Even now, it's not hard to see that Teller reeks of ambition, desperate to stretch himself beyond the early comic roles, such as 21 & Over, that shaped him.

"When you're the softer, funny guy, you're not going to get that [dramatic] stuff. My favourite actors do both - whether it's Philip Seymour Hoffman or Jeff Bridges or Tom Hanks or Dustin Hoffman. But when you do it early on, it's easier for people to see you in those roles. Hollywood does not have much of an imagination."

Still, studio executives will be forced to see Teller in another light with the release of forthcoming boxing film Bleed for This, which counts Martin Scorsese among its producers. He plays real-life fighter Vinny Pazienza, who made a remarkable title-winning comeback after a near-fatal car crash left him uncertain if he'd ever walk again, let alone box. "I wanted to take a movie that was more a masculine, challenging part," admits Teller, who spent months hitting the gym and sparred with the former trainer of boxing great Sugar Ray Leonard.

Teller is hoping the role will send his career into a new, Ryan Gosling-shaped realm.

"I want the meaty stuff," he says. "I've always wanted to be able to do it all." Maybe he really is Mr Fantastic.

Fantastic Four opens on August 6