Could Miles Teller become the next Leonardo DiCaprio?

First off, if you don’t know who “Miles Teller” is, here’s his IMDB. (Cue Troy McClure voice) You probably know him from movies like The Spectacular Now (trailer embedded above), 21 and OverProject X, and That Awkward Moment (out right now with Zac Efron and Michael B. Jordan, formerly of Fruitvale Station and The Wire). He’s got a couple of other big pops coming up — he’s in Divergent this spring, which is kind of going to be a less-money-making version of Hunger Games, and he’s rumored to be in 2015’s The Fantastic Four. He’s also jumping into a boxing movie with Aaron Eckhart, and purportedly got offered the Dan Akroyd role in the John Belushi biopic in development.

On top of this, he’s the primary star — or one of two — of Whiplash, the movie that just stole Sundance. (It won both jury and audience awards there, and is far more dramatic than some of the stuff above.) This was essentially the second straight year that a Teller-led movie did really well at Sundance, because The Spectacular Now got solid reviews at the 2013 festival. Here’s a quick summary of Whiplash:

In “Whiplash,” Teller plays a jazz drummer determined to succeed. He foregoes friends and romantic relationships, opting instead to practice until his hands bleed. As a student at the nation’s leading music conservatory, he fights for a spot in the competition band, led by an unforgiving, intimidating and often abusive instructor (played by J.K. Simmons at his scariest).

Here’s what Entertainment Weekly said about Whiplash and Teller:

It stars Miles Teller, who had his breakthrough role in last year’s Sundance favorite The Spectacular Now (and will soon be seen in Divergent), and Whiplash confirms that he’s truly a spectacular actor, with a slightly damaged glamour and a face you can’t stop watching because of all the feelings it registers. Last year, I said that Teller reminded me of Elvis Presley. In Whiplash, he’s more like the young John Cusack, but with a cockiness that never hardens into attitude; it’s open and shifting.

Part of the whole deal with celebrity worship — which American culture loves — is always looking for comparison reference points, i.e. “______ is the next ______.” You saw this all the time when Twilight was all the financial rage, and I feel like I read 10K headlines that told me Robert Pattinson was the next Johnny Depp. (False, so far.) Miles Teller has been compared to John Cusack in a couple of different things I’ve seen, and here’s MTV saying he’s the next Robert De Niro (damn), but aside from hoping he’s simply the first Miles Teller (because wouldn’t that be great?), a more apt comparison might be Leo.

I don’t mean in terms of the supermodel stuff — he has a girlfriend, but she’s a normal person; he “doesn’t date actresses” — but in terms of the early career roles. Leo was on Growing Pains, but some of his other roles around that time were Poison IvyCritters 3Parenthood (the TV series), and The Quick and the Dead. He got two pretty significant dramatic roles in What’s Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boy’s Life, a big counter-culture role in The Basketball Diaries, and then Titanic came along (give or take 1 or 2 other roles). Teller has done more swarmy-type leading men who really mean well even when they come off like a d-bag — which is the role Leo seems to try and play in real life sometimes — but both seem capable of strong acting, quick one-liners (even in dramatic roles), and strong, defined good looks that aren’t too pretty (it’s seriously awkward, even for swooning tween girls, when guys are too pretty; go ahead, ask a girl).

For Teller to become as big a star as Leo is perceived as — and rack up the multiple Oscar nods — would require strong career development and a lot of luck, to be sure. But it seems like he’s doing a good job mixing up roles between buddy comedies (That Awkward Moment), big-ticket items (Divergent), star drama turns (Whiplash), quirky independent dramedies (The Spectacular Now) and (potentially) huge comic book movies (Fantastic Four). Throw in two biopics and that’s a really diverse career for someone born in 1987. I can’t actually think of someone with a wider breadth of roles across their first 8-10 films, with the potential exception of Leo or maybe Matt Damon. Teller seems like the real deal. 

I used to play this game with people at bars — it’s not a fun game per se, FYI — where I asked them, if Catcher in the Rye were adapted into a movie, who could play Holden? Obviously the person needs to be (a) a guy and (b) look about 17-24 and (c) have some dramatic and comedic chops at the same time. In any given 10-year cycle of entertainment, there’s maybe 2-3 dudes that could do a role like that. (I’m not even saying, necessarily, that it would be a challenging role or make any money; it’s just an interesting cultural barometer to see what the state of young male Hollywood is.) For example, I’d give that role to both Phoenix brothers in a heartbeat when they were around that age. I feel like right now, Miles Teller could do it. He might not look exactly how you envision Holden Caulfield, but he could do it. That seems big.

So is he the next Leo? Probably not. But could he be a major star of his generation, criss-crossing genres, and rack up a few awards here and there? Unquestionably.

For a little more on Teller, check here, here and here.

Ted Bauer

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