Miles Teller explains his ‘Divergent’ diss

Miles Teller, seen here at the Los Angeles Times' Young Hollywood roundtable in 2013, says in a recent interview that he did "Divergent" for "business reasons."
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

With his playful swagger and approachable nature, Miles Teller has always come off as one of young Hollywood’s most accessible stars. He’s been, in a sense, the anti-Taylor Lautner — a regular guy who never seemed all that preoccupied with his public image.

Until this week, that is, when he sunk his teeth into — or at least took a little nip out of — the popular “Divergent” franchise in which he stars. In a W magazine interview published Tuesday, Teller said working on the Veronica Roth adaptation had made him feel “dead inside.”

“I didn’t have an interesting part, and I’d taken the film for business reasons,” he told the publication. “It was the first movie I’d done that was going to have an international audience. I called my agent and said, ‘This sucks.’”


Just hours after the interview was posted, the actor seemed to have a change of heart — perhaps motivated in part by the fact that he appears in the “Divergent” sequel “Insurgent,” due next March.

On Wednesday, his publicist issued a statement to the Hollywood Reporter saying that Teller regretted what he’d said about the young adult movie, and that “he does value his relationship with Lionsgate and his participation in the franchise.” (Lionsgate, the studio behind the YA juggernaut, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.)

When reached by The Times on Wednesday, Teller explained what happened. He said his remarks were in response to a question about why he had taken “such a small part [in ‘Divergent’] after playing the lead in several films.”

When he spoke of the “business,” he said he was referring to things like working with costar Shailene Woodley, playing a villain, and participating in a movie that would translate internationally. ”Those were the ‘business reasons’ which every actor weighs; it’s not just the size of the part.

“And if I said ‘dead inside,’” he added, “I meant just burnt out and fatigued from doing my first big-budget lengthy shoot and four months was a long time and I just wanted to relax afterwards.”

The kerfuffle comes at an important moment in the fledgling star’s career: His critically-acclaimed performance in “Whiplash” hits theaters on Oct. 10. In the film, which debuted at the Sundance Film Festival in January, Teller stars as a young drummer who is both mentally and physically abused by his music instructor (J.K. Simmons). While his breakout role came in the 2010 dramatic indie “Rabbit Hole,” Teller has since appeared in somewhat lighter fare, including a remake of “Footloose” and the romance “The Spectacular Now.”


And he’s nowhere near done with big-budget films, either: In addition to “Divergent,” he recently wrapped production on “The Fantastic Four” reboot. His “Divergent” character also has a prominent role in Roth’s third novel, “Allegiant,” which could get its own big-screen treatment if all goes as planned at the box office.

In other words, while “Whiplash” may prove that Teller has serious acting chops, he may not have a chance to show them off again for a while. Which is probably part of the reason — along with the fact that he’s going to be living with “Divergent” for a while — that he backed down so quickly.

Still, the incident kind of rubs me the wrong way. I have gotten to know Teller fairly well since first profiling him in 2010, and he’s never been one to censor himself. Last year, as a participant on a panel for The Times featuring young Hollywood stars that I moderated, he was an audience favorite — regaling everyone with a story of how his agent once told him to either “start working out” or “start doing your hair.” His sarcastic, everydude thing is part of his appeal — and so admitting he took a gig for money early in his career just seemed like more of his refreshing persona.

Teller isn’t the play-it-safe young star. He’s also not the scorched-earth kind either. A few years ago, Shia LaBeouf made headlines when he said he felt filmmakers and cast “dropped the ball” in his “Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull.” But making sensational comments is kind of LaBeouf’s thing. The middle ground between boring platitudes on one side and grenade-lobbing on the other is part of what makes Teller such a media and fan favorite, and why his future is so bright.

So was it entirely smart, in the short term, for Teller to diss “Divergent”? Maybe not. I’m sure his team jumped on him to apologize the instant his remarks hit the Web. And I can understand why he did. But there’s still a part of me that wishes he’d stuck to his guns -- not just for our sake, but for his.

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