Jake Gyllenhaal played one in “Southpaw,” Michael B. Jordan portrayed another in “Creed,” and now Miles Teller gets to put on his own set of gloves to play a boxer in “Bleed for This.” The biographical drama, directed by Ben Younger, focuses on Vinny Paz, a champion boxer from Rhode Island who became Super Middleweight champion of the world after defeating Gilbert Dele in the ring. Paz’s victory, however, is short-lived when he gets seriously injured in a nasty car accident. With his neck broken, his boxing career is assumed to be over by everyone, but he became determined to regain his title through a brutal rehabilitation regimen, and this led to one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
Teller recently sat down for an interview and talked at length about how he trained and prepared to play Paz in “Bleed for This.” He also discussed what it was like to wear the halo Paz opted to wear in an effort to repair his neck. The boxer’s doctors initially encouraged him to undergo spinal fusion which would have ensured his ability to walk again but also would have erased any chance of him getting back into the ring. Paz chose the halo instead, and it involved having a number of screws drilled into his head in order to ensure this apparatus would keep it in one place for months.
Question: Did growing up in South Jersey help you with your accent?
Miles Teller: The Jersey accent is different. It’s just impossible to sound intelligent honestly, especially in South Jersey. The Northwest is just a specific kind of energy and people, and even though Rhode Island is totally different from New Jersey… I’ve just been around those guys, so I think it probably added something to the kind of relation that I found to Vinny.
Q: What was the most difficult thing that Vinny had as a person for you to get for the movie?
MT: The physicality was very tough. To get that look for me to just be able to have the conditioning to be able to shoot a boxing fight for a 16-hour day. The last two fights were back-to-back days. Each fight took one day which is unheard of. We shot the movie in 24 days. To even just look like a boxer… I had to shoot two movies in between, but that was eight months of just a very strict diet and working out. I lost 20 pounds and got down to 6% body fat for the first fight, but Vinny also moved up in weight and won the title of Lightweight and Super Middleweight, and we showed that. That’s also something very unique and special to Vinny’s legacy. He and Roberto Durán were the only two guys to win titles in those two weight classes specifically. So, I started at 160 and then I had to gain 15 pounds to get to 183 in like 2 ½ weeks. But once I had to gain weight, that was fun. It was just like Dunkin Donuts in Federal Hill. I don’t know if you’ve ever been to Providence, but Federal Hill has amazing Italian food.
Q: But while you were eating a lot, you still had to be boxing.
MT: I got cast two and a half years ago. We filmed it two years ago. This was pre- “Whiplash.” I had never done anything like this where I just got to play like a man or a world champion boxer. Even when I was on set, if I had any time in between I was always doing something like push-ups or sit-ups because I knew I didn’t walk into this movie with this God-given talent of being in shape. They tell you just get a workout and diet, but I think I went anti that early in my career because I was just like, I don’t want to be that guy with the six pack and a tan who’s worried about his makeup and stuff.
Q: Did doing this movie help you to appreciate the nuances of boxing, or is that something you already had as a sports fan?
MT: I was a big MMA fan and I still am, but I started watching it when it was the WCE when I was in high school; I was 16 years old. And then with boxing, I always played the video games and I always watch certain guys like Tyson and Holyfield and Lennox Lewis; the heavyweights back then were the big draws. But once you start training in it, you realize it is very highly nuanced. I don’t see it as two guys in a blood sport. I see it as technique.
Q: The mind is very important to being a champion boxer? Strategy?
MT: Yeah, for sure, but that’s what they say: you have a game plan until you get hit in the face, and then it all goes away. We didn’t have a ton of time. I only had about five weeks in Los Angeles with my boxing trainer, and he was Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer for 18 years. He was just a very high-level guy. The first fight in the movie against Roger Mayweather, I had five days to work with that boxer. The second boxer, we had a day and a half. And the third boxer, this dude Edmund Rodriguez, got in a fight, professionally, that he wasn’t supposed to. He told Ben (Younger, the director) he wasn’t going to fight, got in a fight, luckily knocked the dude out, didn’t get messed up, flew down, and I honestly only had maybe like a day with him.
Q: You also had to wear the halo in this movie. What was it like reading about that in the script and then wearing it for however long?
MT: For the beginning physical transformation, it was eight months of all that stuff that you hear. You can’t eat any bread or drink for that time. You’re just eating like a rabbit and hoping it all pays off. This guy dedicated like everything in his life to this, so it would’ve been very immature of me to slack off and mess with that. As far as the halo goes, that was highly uncomfortable. Again, you don’t like to complain because, for Vinny, it was screwed in his head. But for me, it wasn’t actually screwed in my head so we really had to make it as tight as possible because if the thing moves at all, then it doesn’t matter what you just did in that take. You only get so many takes, but it’s not usable because when it moves, people understand it’s not real. If this was like a big-budget studio film, I would have had a ton of fittings with it. I just did a firefighter movie and I had more fittings with my boots than I did for this thing. The girl just went to a hospital in Providence and got one from them, and then we put little rubber pieces on the end and just put it so far up my head that I could tell when it was in the right spot because I just had indentations on my head.
“Bleed for This” opens in theaters on Friday, November 18th.