DOWN BUT NOT OUT

Miles Teller comes out fight­ing in Bleed For This

Empire (UK) - - PREVIEW - WORDS IAN FREER

MILES TELLER HAS a let­ter from Martin Scorsese framed on his wall. An ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer on box­ing drama Bleed For This, the direc­tor of Rag­ing Bull wrote to the ac­tor just be­fore shoot­ing started.

“It was on his let­ter­head and typed on an old type­writer,” says Teller. “It said, ‘To play the part of Vinny you are go­ing to have to show hard work and per­se­ver­ance, and I know that you are the right guy for this job.’ For him to reach out to me was some­thing.” Scorsese’s note wasn’t lost on Teller.

Empire’s gala film at this year’s BFI Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val, Bleed For This tells the true story of Vinny Pazienza, a ju­nior mid­dleweight cham­pion boxer whose ca­reer ended af­ter he broke his neck in a car crash. Only it didn’t. Re­fus­ing fu­sion surgery that would have fixed his in­juries but ended his ca­reer, he wore a halo, a med­i­cal brace screwed into his skull, and be­gan re­train­ing against all med­i­cal ad­vice.

“It was by far the tough­est thing I’ve ever done,” says Teller. “If I am su­per ner­vous about do­ing some­thing, as I was with Vinny, I would rather me have the op­por­tu­nity to mess it up than some­body else.”

Part of the chal­lenge was mak­ing fight­ing weight. Fol­low­ing a no-booze, no-carbs diet, Teller got down to six per cent body fat. Equally chal­leng­ing was mas­ter­ing the art of pugilism — and in par­tic­u­lar Pazienza’s fight­ing style — in between shoot­ing Fan­tas­tic Four and Al­le­giant.

“I did a bit of kick­box­ing in high school, but box­ing is su­per hard, man,” says Teller. “The work, the tim­ing, the dis­tance con­trol. It’s all very ex­pos­ing. It’s just you. I only had maybe a month with my box­ing trainer. You don’t be­come a pro­fes­sional any­thing in a month if you’ve never done it be­fore. It was a lot of trust and prac­tice, mo­ti­vated by fear.”

The film has per­sonal par­al­lels for Teller, too. In 2007 he was in­volved in a near-fa­tal ac­ci­dent that saw him ejected out of a car win­dow go­ing 80mph as it flipped and rolled eight times. He woke up 30 feet from the ve­hi­cle.

“I needed a lot of surgery on my face,” he says. “I knew that the scars were never go­ing away. This was as all the cam­eras were go­ing to HD, so you could see ev­ery­thing. I had a lot of peo­ple tell me it was go­ing to af­fect my ca­reer... You just show them they don’t need to cast a guy that looks like a fuck­ing Aber­crom­bie model.”

Pazienza faced a sim­i­lar cho­rus of naysay­ers when he de­cided to get back in the ring. Key to his re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion was trainer Kevin Rooney, played by a vir­tu­ally un­recog­nis­able Aaron Eck­hart.

“I found the look in a whole bunch of piz­zas,” says Eck­hart. “I would send Miles pic­tures of me eat­ing dough­nuts while he was eat­ing let­tuce. It

was prob­a­bly hard­est for my girl­friend. She had to sit there and pre­tend that a fat bald guy was hot.”

De­liv­er­ing a pow­er­ful sup­port­ing turn, Eck­hart still knows his place. “This is Miles’ movie,” he says. “I just didn’t want to fuck it up.” For Teller’s part, he is promis­ing Bleed For This will de­liver emo­tional up­lift.

“I think it’s go­ing to be a bea­con of hope,” he says. “If you are not moved by it, some­thing is wrong with you.” That’s fight­ing talk.

Miles Teller, af­ter a strict diet and a month of in­tense box­ing train­ing, squares up to Aaron Eck­hart. Be­low: Teller as Vinny Pazienza.

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