So what’s Willard like without Chris Penn under the straw hat? I got the chance to sit down with Miles Teller a few weeks ago at the Hotel Monaco in downtown Seattle. We talked about his role of Willard in Craig Brewer’s new version of Footloose (my review for the film right here) a role originally played by Chris Penn. We talked what life is like for a new actor in Hollywood and where Miles is heading to next with his career. But more importantly, we didn’t discuss the reasons – or lack thereof – for even doing a Footloose remake in the first place.
Because… well… there just aren’t any.
The conversation went something like this:
JR: Ok Miles, I wanted to ask you first, what’s the one question you’re sick of answering?
Miles Teller: Ummmmm… why would you guys remake this movie? What exactly makes it contemporary?
Miles Teller: Do you want me to answer that?
JR: Nope. I did some research on you, and you did Footloose as a high school musical?
Miles Teller: Yeah. First play I ever did was Footloose. I played the part of Willard when I was 16. I think I wore my drama teacher’s jeans and her belt – that’s how small I was. I know a lot of Willard’s back story from the musical that’s not explored in the film. Like he’s got this whole relationship with his mama, and he sings this song “Mama Says“. So I know the world of Footloose even though I’ve never seen the original movie – I’ve just seen clips of it. So I was very excited to revisit this character.
JR: I can honestly tell you, we saw the film last week and you’re the best thing in it.
Miles Teller: Thank you.
JR: So lets talk about what you’re going to do now. What’s your game plan for being a young actor in Hollywood – how do you want to navigate that territory?
Miles Teller: I mean it’s tough for any actor my age to… first of all it’s tough to be a working actor. So I think that in the beginning of your career you’re just looking to work. Luckily for me my first movie was Rabbit Hole and I got to work with incredible people, a Pulitzer prize winning writer, John Cameron Mitchell, and all the actors involved. So it’s tough man because you want to have credibility. You walk into a room you are your resume. So I think, at least for me, I’ve always just wanted to be respected and comfortable around my peers. Right now I’m working on a movie called 21 And Over. It’s a comedy. It’s written by the guys who wrote The Hangover. We’re filming that right now and that’s going great.
JR: Local right?
Miles Teller: Yeah. Local in Seattle. It’s their first time directing which is very exciting for me. Honestly, every movie I’ve been lucky enough to work on it’s been a project I’m excited about. I’ve gotten to work with Todd Phillips and Craig Brewer now…
JR: You’re starting your career off pretty hot. I mean, Craig Brewer is a great film director.
Miles Teller: He was actually the first choice to direct Project X, but he couldn’t do it because he was doing Footloose.
JR: I didn’t know that. He was one of the reasons that I wanted to see Footloose – I like Craig Brewer’s movies. What was that like working with him?
Miles Teller: Craig’s awesome. He’s a very intelligent guy. Didn’t go to college for film making. He was working at a Barnes & Noble when he wrote Hustle & Flow. Hustle & Flow’s pretty much based off his own struggles as he tried to hustle and get into Hollywood writing on a sh*tty typewriter in a run-down apartment. But Craig is very confident in what he’s doing. He’s very comfortable in that world. And other than that he’s just one of the coolest dudes I’ve ever met. He’s been to Prince’s house for Halloween and that kind of stuff. He’s awesome. He wears a cowboy hat, and tinted glasses, and a Rocawear shirt, and baggy cargo shorts, and Skecher’s Shape-ups, and he’s just like cool – comfortably cool. And as a dirctor he gives you what you need as well.
JR: He’s one of the few director’s who gets the South – understands it. He doesn’t make a parody out of the South.
Miles Teller: He’s Memphis man. I grew up, and spent most of my life in a really small hick town in Florida so me and him…
JR: Understand that flavor.
Miles Teller: It’s a lot of hanging around outside places. Outside the gas station. Outside the grocery store. A lot of parking lots and the back of pick-up trucks.
JR: It seemed to me like he brought some of his cast from previous movies. I think there was one guy I recognized…
Miles Teller: Claude?
JR: Yeah. The old dude running the drive-in…?
Miles Teller: That’s Claude Phillips. He used to be a legit pimp in… I think it was Memphis.
JR: Nice guy?
Miles Teller: Awesome guy. Great guy.
JR: It seemed like some of the people he rounded up for Footloose didn’t seem like actors – and this is what I like about Craig Brewer – he populates the background of his movies with authentic looking… I don’t want to say “hicks” but…
Miles Teller: I’m actually friends with those people. Anessa plays the one girl who’s driving the bus during the figure-eight race scene. She’s a little blond-haired firecracker. And then Corey Flaspoehler… those are all pure Atlanta hires. They are actors. Even Ziah, who plays Willard’s girlfriend in the film, she’s a local actor. Craig just couldn’t find anyone in LA that was authentic enough.
JR: Let’s talk about dancing…
Miles Teller: Let’s talk about dancing.
JR: You’re a good dancer?
Miles Teller: What did you think?
JR: You’re better than Chris Penn. And I really liked Chris Penn.
Miles Teller: Well the character can’t dance. And in the original Chris goes from not being able to dance to being an adequate dancer. I’ve always felt like I can dance. It was actually harder for me to pretend that I couldn’t dance. I knew that I’d be able to get to the finish. I knew that I’d be able to do that stuff. But the dancing off rhythm is hard when you have rhythm.
JR: What was that like during the training montage working with the girls – the little kids?
Miles Teller: That one girl Maggie… she’s working. While we were on Footloose she’s like: “I’m doing this movie with Matt Damon after this and blah, blah, blah…” She’s in Cameron Crowe’s We Bought a Zoo. I don’t really ummm… I don’t really like kids in general.
JR: (chuckles) Yeah, you’re 23 years old dude.
Miles Teller: It depends on what age they are. But it feeds the scene when you have these two adorable girls on this karaoke machine, and you’re learning to dance with your buddies outside on this ranch… everything felt natural, and authentic, and organic to me.
JR: I read an interview with you recently where you said that it’s weird working with people that you’re a fan of.
Miles Teller: Right.
JR: Anyone in this Footloose that you’re a fan of?
Miles Teller: Ahhhhh…. I used to have a big crush on Andie MacDowell.
JR: So are you worried that after Footloose you’re going to get a ton of scripts to play the dancing sh*tkicker?
Miles Teller: No man. I did Footloose – and we wrapped that last November. And then I didn’t work again until 21 And Over. This is a movie that I’m getting to do comedy, and it’s a completely different character from Willard. So I think you start getting type cast when you start delivering the same performance in every movie. So I feel like that’s in my hands. Once I start trying to duplicate what worked for Willard in these new movies I’m doing then I’m in trouble.
JR: So… last question. Seen anything good this year?
Miles Teller: I don’t see too many movies. Ummm…. honestly, the last movie I saw in theaters was Rango with my buddy and I thought it was awesome.