It was three years ago that Miles Teller played the tormented musical genius in Whiplash, and he's had plenty of hits since then (like last year's War Dogs with Jonah Hill), but he's arguably most notorious for his time behind that drum set. After all, the film won J.K. Simmons an Oscar and ensured that no one would ever think of the phrase "rushing or dragging?" the same way again.
The role also seemed ripe to put him in a very specific acting box—he had starred in Footloose early in his career and was up for the lead role in La La Land (which was also directed by Whiplash boss Damien Chazelle). But this fall Teller is out to make sure that the world sees him in a very different light.
The 30-year-old actor has two blockbusters hitting theaters within a single week this fall, and they both signal a turn towards heavier, more action-packed biopics.
The first is Only the Brave, the true story of a team of firefighters sent in to defend a devastating forest fire in Arizona. Teller plays Brendan McDonough, the only surviving member of a local unit called the Granite Mountain Hotshots, which was sent in to be the last line of defense against a catastrophic fire.
He stars along an A-list cast, including Josh Brolin as the crew's leader, as well as the likes of Jeff Bridgesand Jennifer Connelly. The flick follows the firefighter's real lives outside of their jobs, as fathers and husbands and brothers, before reenacting the tragic day that made headlines back in 2013.
For those scenes, Teller and his fellow actors had quite the demanding task, as hotshots are known as one of the most physical careers in existence. "These guys are putting in 16 hours a day with 50-pound backs, they eat [military rations] and they sleep outside," said Teller of the firefighters he portrays. "They're just badasses, man."
To create these terrifying scenes, the team behind Only the Brave knew they would need to be authentic—they didn't want to fake firefighting. That meant long, rigorous days for Teller, wearing heavy gear and braving the elements.
All of that training served as great preparations for Teller's other movie, a dramatic movie about the soldiers battling PTSD after returning from the war. Thank You For Your Service, which is out October 27, comes from the filmmakers behind American Sniper and is based on a nonfiction book about the effects of war. Teller takes on the real-life role of Adam Schumann, who served in Iraq.
He was chosen for the part for the exact opposite qualities that made him so memorable in films like Whiplash; the director wanted an "everyman quality," and someone who had really experienced life—Teller's infamous near-death car crash and the scars that are still visible today helped make his case. Since he was playing a very real (and flawed) person, Teller knew that the stakes were high.
"I was very sensitive to re-creating Adam's life onscreen," he has said of the film. "And I had some nerves when I was flying to first meet him. But those feelings quickly dissolved as we all got to sit in Adam's apartment, hang out and share stories."
In fact, Miles and the real-life Adam got along so well that they ended up going hunting together the next day, and the actor used his family history (he has had uncles and grandparents serve in the Army) to bond with the soldiers he was about to portray.
The one thing that is different about Thank You For Your Service than the typical war movie is that very little of this flick actually takes place on the battlefield—it's all about what happens among each of the character's families as they return. It also boasts a different Hollywood first—Amy Schumer stars alongside Miles (and Haley Bennett, who garnered fame for her starring role in The Girl on the Train) in her debut dramatic role. She plays the wife of a soldier who was killed, and everyone involved promises that audiences are going to be blown away by her transformation.
So come October, have your tissues at the ready.