PHOTOS BY FRANK SUN.
"Did you see all of those sweat stains? It's so awesome—it's real," Shailene Woodley told the audience at the Sundance premiere of The Spectacular Now. James Ponsdolt's new, high school-set film is filled with painfully uncomfortable teenage moments: the uninhibited, all-consuming, and uneven nature of first love; selfish self-destruction; alcohol abuse; and yes, sweat stains. Breathe a sigh of relief that you are no longer 18.
Starring a trio of rapidly rising talent—Miles Teller as the gregarious protagonist, Sutter, Brie Larson as his popular but practical ex-girlfriend, Cassidy, and Woodley as the reserved and intelligent Aimee—the understated performances are what make the film. We'd expect nothing less: Woodley is still hot off of The Descendants, Larson brought a slice of reality to the consciously silly 21 Jump Street, and Teller stole the show as Willard, the tractor-racing, line-dancing yokel in Footloose. The actors clearly have a lot of respect for one another; at the film's premiere, Woodley told Teller that she'd "never worked with an actor that's been as emotionally available."
While at Sundance, Interview sat down with Larson and Teller to discuss personal insecurities, auditions, and alcohol.
EMMA BROWN: How was seeing the film with an audience on Friday? Was it your first time?
BRIE LARSON: Yeah, it was my first time.
MILES TELLER: It was my first time. I saw it at James (Ponsdolt)'s house before, on a 32-inch TV that was on the floor. There was no sound, and I didn't really know if it was good—it was uncomfortable to watch. I went into this thing so nervous, because when Jimmy and I watched it I thought I was really bad, but I was able to sit back and watch the story unfold and it played very honestly.
There's one moment in the script where something happens to the Aimee character and the whole audience jumped. That lets you know right there that everyone was so invested in those characters. It was awesome.
LARSON: I'm excited to see it at least two more times so that I can actually see the film. I just had that gutteral reaction of "Why am I in any movie ever?" It's just the worst! I realized that night that the first time I see it shouldn't be with a group of people because you see yourself, and at least for me, my reaction was so negative about myself—that I stuck out like a sore thumb, I'm so ugly, all of those things.
TELLER: [interjecting] Oh, you're wrong. [Both laugh]
LARSON: It's true! It's what I thought! The reality is, the movie is great, and people were moved and came up to me after. It was bad, anytime anyone said anything nice, I went, "Oh, well you're a liar, I'm never gonna speak to you again!"
TELLER: "You're an idiot, you're a liar, I'm ugly, I'm going home." The sex scene was uncomfortable to watch next to my mom.
LARSON: Even doing ADR makes me uncomfortable, I'm usually in such a terrible mood afterwards. Everybody can relate to that, I imagine. Everybody has that whole "I can't hear my voicemail" thing. It's really hard to see yourself and to recognize that you are a human being like everybody else. You just think everybody's judging you.
BROWN: Would now be a good time to tell you that the movie was great?
TELLER: Thank you.
BROWN: Sutter drinks a lot, and it made me think of what a silly drunk I was as a teenager. Do you remember the first time you got drunk?
LARSON: I do. I was at a Halloween party. I had just turned 15, and the alcohol was so masked, and it was in a punch. I didn't even know how much I had. I think it was called jungle juice.
TELLER: Jungle juice, yeah man.
LARSON: You just couldn't taste it. I was like, "Fantastic, [alcohol] just tastes like juice!" I didn't get that bad. It was at a friend's house, and he had a dance floor. I remember dancing, and thinking, "How am I getting so wet?" My glass was just splashing everywhere—I was completely not in control of myself in any way. It was the first time I realized it makes you feel...
TELLER: [interjects] Great.
TELLER: I think I was 12. Where I grew up, in this small country town, people started drinking in middle school. By the time I was 13, 14, I had a tolerance. Me and my buddies used to go across the street, steal a case of his grandpa's Old Milwaukee, put it in the woods on Tuesday, and let it sit there until Friday. Then go out, drink a bunch of it and ride our bikes out to these girls' house.
LARSON: You sound like a Shia Labeouf movie.
TELLER: Oh, Lawless? [laughs] Ok. Yeah, by middle school everybody was pretty much drinking and partying.
BROWN: Miles, in the Q & A after the premiere, you mentioned that your first audition went terribly. What happened?
TELLER: Yeah, it was just not good. It was right after Footloose got done, like the day after it wrapped. I tried to play a character, as opposed to make it more mine. It wasn't very good, it wasn't honest, and I was acting. I asked for a second one, and the second one went a little better but they were still like, "We've moved on with somebody else." There were a lot of other actors attached to this before I was. And then James got involved, and I never had to audition, we just met for beers and by the end of that, he was like, "You're my guy and I'm gonna try and convince everybody else, hopefully we have this done in about a week." That's how I came on board. Maybe it's good I didn't have to audition for James, because I probably would've sucked. Good job, James.
BROWN: Did you email James about the role when you heard he was involved?
TELLER: No, I think at that point they had seen Footloose or Rabbit Hole, and they had maybe compiled a list of actors they wanted or had an eye for, but really, Nicholas Hoult was supposed to be in this movie, and he dropped out to do Mad Max. It opened up, James met with me.
LARSON: It was certainly one of those scripts that I felt like everybody wanted. It had gone through another director as well. I auditioned for Shailene's part.
TELLER: Marc Webb I think was attached to it at one point, even before [director] Lee [Toland Krieger].
LARSON: Yeah, I was talking to Marc Webb about it. I auditioned for Lee for the Aimee part, and they were like, "You're great, but you're not either one of these characters. You're not quirky enough to play Aimee and you're not pretty enough to be Cassidy, so thanks for coming in." And I was like, "Wow."
TELLER: And the way that Cassidy was written in the early stages was very much like the Southern belle.
LARSON: Yeah, I didn't take it personally at all. Her main thing in the script was that when she talked, you couldn't hear what she was saying because she was so pretty.
TELLER: In the script she was supposed to be "beautifully fat."
LARSON: I remember that! She was supposed to beautifully fat, it was amazing! The descriptions of characters are so funny. But then James came along and he's so interested in making real people that are not clichéd, that are contradictions. I was hesitant to come in for casting, because on the page, I didn't feel like I was the right person for it. I just didn't think I could embrace the beauty that Cassidy embraces. It was one of those weird things where I went in and said, "I'm just going to have to do this in the most real way that I can relate to it. " I came as much as myself as possible, and it ended up being probably the best audition I've ever given. And since then, James has said that it was the best audition he had seen, which is amazing, because I was such a fan of his before it. I didn't necessarily care about being in this movie, I just wanted to create with him at some point.
BROWN: What was Sutter's character description?
TELLER: Sutter is the feel-good party guy. Whenever he's around, everybody's having a good time. He'll be the guy to get everybody to jump into the pool, and he's the life of the party. He always has a drink in his hand, and a smile on his face.
BROWN: I think it took me a good half an hour to realize that he was always drinking.
LARSON: I think that's awesome.
TELLER: It's very subtle.
LARSON: In the script, you know it. It's very black and white. But seeing it for the first time, I was so impressed and so excited about it, because that's the way it is in real life. You're not going to be sitting there going, "Hey everybody, I've got this Big Gulp of alcohol!" [laughs]
TELLER: [earnestly] "There's whiskey in there!"
LARSON: I loved it. There are also scenes that Shai is drunk in, but you don't really allude to it. But you can just tell slightly. She's a little bit more relaxed.
TELLER: In the playground. "You didn't mean what you said about the prom" or "you know." [drags out words] We're not trying to fix it.
LARSON: I think it's great. She's unbiased.
BROWN: Do you find it hard to get out of character when you audition the day after another movie? Were you still in Footloose mode, Miles?
TELLER: Yeah, because that was a three-month thing. I was playing a redneck, but with a studio system, so a little bigger. I didn't have the time to prepare for it, so it was not the best time. But a lot of times in this business, I've gotten a call and they'll say, "Here's the pages, can you be there in three hours." And you just say, "Whatever, screw it," and you do it, and you feel better that you at least tried. I would feel bad if I let my own fear of failure get in the way of putting something out there. You've got to throw something out there. Maybe at least it'll get you a callback, and you take more time with the callback, and by the time of the director's session, you feel like you're in a pretty good place.
LARSON: It's like a muscle, too.
TELLER: And I have big muscles. The biggest muscles.
LARSON: You do. There was a movie I did right afterwards where I was playing a really dark character, and I thought that the whole time I was doing a really good job of keeping myself separate, but you can't help but take on—my character has this thing where she scratches her thumb all the time, and I still do it. If you're in somebody's head for 12 hours a day for four weeks, it's like your brain actually wires itself to start thinking that way. It makes it so much easier as you're playing this character more and being on set more, and it becomes fun because it's less about getting in this mindset and just existing within it. You have to go on a trip or make sure your family is close by. Take something like that, a smelling salt sort of thing, to get you back.
TELLER: I want go to Ibiza.
LARSON: That sounds good. Let's go to Germany.
TELLER: Let's go wherever. I went to China.
LARSON: Oh, I know you went to China. [laughs]
BROWN: Do people ever try to make you super uncomfortable at auditions, to see how you react?
LARSON: Yeah, there's one person. I'm not gonna say who it is.
TELLER: Scare tactics, or something?
LARSON: Yeah. There's one person who thinks it's fun to mess with actors.
TELLER: I haven't been manipulated all that much.
BROWN: Apart from during photo shoots?
TELLER: Oh yeah, photo shoots are so weird. I hate them.
BROWN: Parts of the movie were very painful, because they remind you of your first boyfriend, girlfriend, etc., and how vulnerable you can be the first time you really like someone, before you realize it's such a bad idea.
LARSON: The hardest part [about] playing someone who is four years younger than myself, I have all this knowledge now. But at that period of time I was probably thinking in a very similar way. The hardest thing as the kind of puppet master of this character, is not influencing what you want this character to do, but doing what they would do, which is sometimes painful as the vessel. Like the scene in the attic, ended up getting way darker and way more upsetting than I had ever anticipated.
TELLER: For me, I still have feelings for all of my ex-girlfriends. In different parts of my life, I would miss that person. There's something that drew me to that person, and I shared something with them. It was tough knowing that this character was falling in love with me, and knowing that I was going to let her down. I've had certain moments in my life where I've felt really, really bad about shit I've done to an ex-girlfriend. I've written long letters, and you almost want them to say it's okay, and sometimes they don't say it. Sometimes they say, "I never want to talk you again." That's tough to deal with.
BROWN: What would you do if you were Aimee?
TELLER: Eat bugs.
LARSON: [laughs] I don't know. One of the first meetings after I was cast, I sat down with James, and we discussed the parts of the script that interested us and the themes we liked. One of the questions we always kept going back to is: Can people change? When is that moment for them? I think that everybody goes out on a limb at some point in this film hoping. [to Teller] You hope that your father can change. I hope that you can change.
TELLER: [laughs] But they just don't.
LARSON: At the end of the film, whether or not you guys end up together, you do become more of a man. Maybe you're not perfect, but you're willing to actually look at yourself and take some kind of accountability. That's a change. It might not mean that you can turn everything around, but I think there's something incredibly hopeful about that.
TELLER: If I was Aimee, I don't know. All Sutter needs is a crack, and he can charm his way in there.
THE SPECTACULAR NOW IS CURRENTLY SCREENING AT SUNDANCE. FOR MORE SUNDANCE 2013 COVERAGE, CLICK HERE.