Sustaining the buzz from January at the Sundance Film Festival until October, ten months later, is no easy feat. Plenty of movies have floated out of Park City with oodles of press and praise, only to be forgotten by time it comes for their release. But it speaks to the quality of filmmaking, and the authenticity of feel, that James Ponsoldt's "The Spectacular Now" didn't suffer such a fate. The picture rolled into the Savannah Film Festival this week with both the director and star Miles Teller on hand to present the film, which was shot in Athens, Georgia. And we got a few moments to chat with Teller about the movie, his drumming skills and transitioning from indie pictures to full blown tentpole productions.
You might think that an actor doing a press for a single movie, over the course of a year, might be wearying, but Teller has a more philosophical outlook and simply feels blessed to be part of something that has such enduring resonance. “The fact that it has been drawn out, I’m lucky for that," he said of the rollout of "The Spectacular Now." "Because most of the time you do a movie, people talk about it a little bit but then after the premiere it’s done. It’s nice to hit a festival, have some buzz and then hit a later festival, and then we’ll see if maybe if it gets any kind of recognition from awards stuff. And that’s another nice spotlight on it. It’s good when you like the film. It would be painful if I hated it.”
Teller plays Sutter in the film: a popular, party-happy high schooler on the cusp of graduation who is hiding wells of deeper emotional pain. It's a pain that he tames with alcohol, but when Aimee (played by Shailene Woodley) comes into his life, Sutter suddenly has new priorities and something to hope for. The question is whether he can overcome his demons to do right by himself and sweet Aimee. It's a real journey that goes beyond the conventions of the stereotypical "teen movie," and it's what attracted Teller to the part. “It’s rare to get a film that really takes you on a true character arc, and that’s what I felt like in this movie. Like the kid on page one has come a long way by time the movie’s done,” he said, adding that he saw a bit of himself in Sutter.
“If Sutter had parents that were together, and he was very ambitious and he got straight As and knew he was going to go college and stuff, then I was Sutter. I used to throw parties and shit, but unlike my buddies who would not do their homework, I would do my homework,” the actor said, adding: “If you don’t have a Dad who takes the time as a father and son should, if you don’t have a Mom who tells you she loves you all the time, then you’re going to have some holes in your life, and you’re going to fill those [and it was] alcohol, for Sutter.”
But for one of his upcoming movies, Teller got to channel emotions in an entirely different way: picking up the sticks and hitting the drums in "Whiplash." The film, described as " ‘Full Metal Jacket’ at Julliard," is an expansion of a Sundance Film Festival winning short that tells the story of a novice drummer (Teller) who becomes obsessed with joining the best jazz orchestra in the country. And it's given Teller a chance to get the lead out. “Out of all the instruments I’ve played—I play like guitar, piano, saxophone—drums are probably the ones I’m most natural at. It was the first time I’ve ever gotten drum lessons. I just got a drum set one year for Christmas, and I used to play in bands," he shared. "But actually getting lessons, and playing drums in a movie, is awesome.”
Not so awesome, however, is the pace on big budget movies. Teller is part of the cast of next year's YA effort "Divergent," and as he shares, it's a whole different kind of process. “It’s slower, you actually move away for a little bit. I was in Chicago for like four months. The pace is so much slower. And for me to go from literally, ‘The Spectacular Now’ and [the upcoming] ‘Two Night Stand,’ going from films where you are that guy, and you’re in every scene, to just kinda of waiting and letting other people do stuff all the time, you wanna get in there, you want to get in the game. You don’t want to be a back up quarterback.”
That said, Teller is happy to be reunited with Woodley in the picture and, more importantly, he believes the material is very good as well. But if there is one lesson he learned from "The Spectacular Now" that he'll carry with him no matter the movie, big or small, it's that the man behind the camera is what counts. “For me, I know now I need to click with a director. Because when you’re first starting out, you’re just happy to work and you want to sign on to anything, to a certain degree," he said. "And I’ve been lucky.” He certainly has.
"The Spectacular Now" is now playing in limited release.