To do justice to the true story of Vinny Paz — the American boxer who made a stunning comeback after a car crash broke his neck and nearly paralysed him — Miles Teller knew he would have to work harder than he ever had for a movie. The actor, who plays Paz in the biopic Bleed For This, says his initial delight at winning the role soon curdled into dread when he thought about the drastic physical transformation required of him.
“When I got the call that I’d won the part, I was excited. And then the ‘Oh, s**t’ factor set in pretty quick. I got on the scales — I was 188 pounds (85kg) and 19 per cent body fat,” the 29-year-old tells reporters in Los Angeles.
On top of that, Teller knew next to nothing about boxing and that he was not the obvious choice to play the “masculine and macho” Paz in the movie co-produced by Martin Scorsese. “If this were a studio film, I wouldn’t have been in the top 10 actors they wanted to see for the part. (Director) Ben Younger cast me based on The Spectacular Now (2013), and without Ben saying, ‘Miles is my guy’, this wouldn’t have happened,” says the actor.
“I’ve got buddies who work out twice a week and who don’t eat well — and they’re just jacked. I didn't have that. A lot of how you look is genetic and so I knew I was going to have to work extremely hard.” Not wanting to disrespect Paz, now 53, Teller set aside eight months to get ready.
“I had to film two movies during that time, but it was eight months of me thinking about it, working out and dieting, and by the end, I had a kind of fight camp of my own — it was four hours boxing, two hours weights, and sometimes I'd do another two hours of something else. “I also had to go to physical therapy because I was hurting. It was by far the most preparation that I’d had to do for a character.”
By the time the cameras were rolling, he was clocking in at 76kg and six per cent body fat — something he achieved by forsaking even small sweets and pieces of chewing gum.
“I knew I would have to really try and give everything to it,” says Teller, who is dating model Keleigh Sperry, 24.
He also got a chance to hang out with Paz himself, a colourful figure who went from rags to riches to rags again years after his comeback, gaining and then losing the fortune amassed by his wins. At first, he felt too self-conscious to meet Paz before production wrapped.
“I was, like, ‘Please don’t have him on set, man’ — I’m embarrassed because I’m just an actor. And I’d only had a couple of weeks to learn boxing then… I didn’t want him to feel like his legacy was getting tarnished.”
Teller was also able to identify with Paz’s state of mind after his 1991 car accident because the actor himself had been in a near-fatal crash in 2007, which left scars on his face.
“You do get pretty introspective after such an accident, just from the fact that I should’ve died in that car accident and I didn’t, and my two best friends died in car accidents within five weeks of each other less than a year later,” says the star.
In fact, Paz’s determination was so incredible the director actually decided to downplay it, Teller further reveals.
He says: “In real life, Vinny broke his neck and five days later was trying to bench-press. But Ben didn’t think that was believable so the film makes it seem like it’s a month later or something.
“But to me that just speaks of Vinny’s sense of self. Everybody’s telling him no. But he says, ‘This is the kind of man I am’, and it’s such an inspiring story.”
(the straits times/ann )