Miles Teller didn’t shed blood in his preparation to play real-life boxer Vinny Pazienza in Bleed for This, but the physical training was intense, he tells STACK.
Miles Teller deserved an Oscar nod for this underdog movie about World Champion boxer, Vinny Pazienza, AKA “The Pazmanian devil”.
Perhaps it wasn’t Teller’s time, or maybe Bleed for This suffered from coming on the heels of a surfeit of boxing movies – Southpaw, Creed, Hands of Stone. Whatever the reasons, Teller gives one of the most extraordinary and overlooked performances of last year.
Every boxing movie is a redemption tale in some form, but what makes Pazienza’s story so inspirational is the fact of his triumphant return to the ring after a near-fatal car crash left him with a broken neck and the prognosis that he may never walk again.
When STACK meets with Teller in Los Angeles, he explains how his thrill at winning the role was quickly replaced by the “oh sh-t” factor.
“I knew that boxing training was going to be the toughest physical training that I’d ever done by far, and I think it’s kind of unparalleled in sports. I spent eight months working out and dieting, but once I got close to shooting, I had a fight camp of my own which was four hours boxing, two hours weights, and then two hours of accent dialect. And also some physical therapy throughout all of it, because I was hurting. It was by far the most prep that I ever did for a character,” says the actor, who trained with former Golden Gloves champion Darrell Foster, whose previous clients include Sugar Ray Leonard and Will Smith.
Interestingly, Teller refused to meet with the larger-than-life cocky Rhode Island boxer while preparing for the role. “I didn’t want to meet Vinny, ’cause he’s 25 years older now, so I didn’t want to have that somehow absorb into the character because he’s different now, and on YouTube, there’s a ton of material out there of Vinny at that age. Not just his fights, but also his interviews.”
Pazienza’s long painful road to recovery after his car accident was something Teller related to on a personal level, having been involved in a near-fatal car crash, leaving him with facial scars that threatened to derail his career.
“I could really relate to the aftermath and period of recovery,” he says. “I was getting laser treatments, and I had casting directors tell me it didn’t make sense for a character to have scars, and so I got told ‘No’ a bunch, until John Cameron Mitchell cast me in Rabbit Hole.
“You get pretty introspective, and then the fact that I should have died in a car accident, and I didn’t, and then my two best friends died in car accidents, five weeks from each other, less than a year later,” he adds. “I just like went through a lot of moments of confusion, and despair and grief, and then some kind of clarity, and I just think you learn a lot about yourself.
“And Vinny? Man, that guy knew who he was. In real life, he had broken his neck, and five days later, he was trying to bench press.”
Nearly every great boxing movie features a great trainer, whether it’s Paul Giamatti (Cinderella Man), Sly Stallone (Creed) or Burgess Meredith (Rocky). In Bleed for This, Aaron Eckhart does the honours as Kevin Rooney, who likewise sought redemption by training Paz after he was sacked by Mike Tyson.
“This movie is about dreams. It’s about saying ‘Yes’ to yourself, at the peril of your life, and saying ‘No’ to everybody else around you, because you believe in yourself,” says Eckhart.
Executive produced by Martin Scorsese, Bleed for This brings to fruition a scenario Pazienza envisioned more than twenty years ago: “Once I decided I was going to box again or die trying, I remember thinking, ‘This is gonna make for a great movie one day.’ I saw myself on the set telling Tom Cruise how to act like Vinny Paz.”