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M&F: What did you think when you first read the script to play Vinny Paz in Bleed For This?
Miles Teller: I was like, “this part is going to be really great for someone else.” I really wasn’t thinking that a director would see me and think that here’s a guy who’s been in some independent films where he’s played a high schooler and then he’s done some post-college comedies or romantic comedies. I really didn’t think that director Ben [Younger] would see me and think I could play Vinny Paz.
What went through your mind after you got the part?
Obviously, I was super excited and pumped about it, but then that holy shit factor set in. I got the part in March  and I was not in good shape – 188 pounds, 18% or 19% body fat. I knew that physically I would have to really transform and then I knew I would have to at least fake that I could be a five-time world champion boxer. If you’re going to portray Vinny Paz, even just to imitate playing a boxer – because I don’t think there’s any conditioning that parallels fighters – I knew it was going to be a big challenge, but I was just excited for the opportunity.
Can you take us through your transformation process?
First, I was like, “man, I need to get with a nutritionist trainer.” I got a guy- Gary. He took me in and he’s like, “the first thing you got to do, let’s get your blood work in, let’s make sure you’re getting all the right vitamins and this and that.” I got the blood work back and realized certain things were a little low, so we got on the right vitamins and just started working out.
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Were there any challenges?
Almost immediately after I got cast, I was going back and forth between Baton Rouge and Atlanta, filming Fantastic Four and Insurgent from March until end of August. When I was in Atlanta, I was working with a boxer who was a pro for a little bit. I didn’t really find any boxing coaches, so I was just dieting and working out and trying to get lean because Vinny was a lightweight and then he went up to junior welter. That’s a part of Vinny’s story, that he jumped three weight classes and won a title at lightweight and junior welter. He and Duran were only guys to do it in those divisions.
It wasn’t until I got back to LA that I started working with Darrell Foster, Sugar Ray Leonard’s trainer for 18 years. I only had three weeks with Darrell, so it was like “shit, man, how do you get as much in as you can in three weeks.” Once I was boxing, day-to-day was four hours boxing, two hours of weights, maybe another hour of cardio. Then I was doing an hour to two hours of accent dialect work. Then every other day I would go to physical therapy because I had an old knee injury that I just kept having to try and loosen up. It was intense, but I felt very fortunate because there’s a lot of movies you do where nobody gives a shit. It was about seven months of prep and then another two months of shooting it.
What was it like meeting Vinny?
Meeting Vinny was so cool. He’s just everything you want him to be and more. He was just so gracious. Vinny has been such a supporter and a fan of this process and this movie. For him to be behind it was really important for me. I would hate to make a movie about somebody with a guy feeling that some of his most personal moments were tarnished or that we were misrepresenting him. He kept telling me, “Miles, you’ve got to be tough as nails. Eat nails for breakfast. Tough as nails, kid.
What were Vinny’s thoughts on you portraying him?
I don’t think Vinny knew who I was. At one point during filming he saw Whiplash and he called me and was like, “Miles, I just saw Whiplash. Once I saw that movie I know that you’re going to crush this part. I know that you’re going to be able to do this.”
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How was filming the boxing scenes?
It was insane. We had about a week to prep that first fight in the movie. Then we shot the other fights each in one day. There’s not a single boxer that could say they’ve done that. It’s so hard, technically, cinematically. All of our fighters in the movie were real fighters, so it’s not like they really knew how to pull a punch. Let alone, we had to teach them new number system for their punches and new choreography.
What was it like to film in Rhode Island?
We filmed the movie in Providence, which was important. Vinny never lost in Providence. He never lost at the Civic Center. When we did that first fight—we were actually shooting at Twin Rivers—a lot of people in the stands were at the fight with Roger [Mayweather] or they had seen Vinny fight before. People in the audience were telling me that they thought they were watching Vinny. To me, that was the highest compliment. There were certain things that Vinny did in the ring that just nobody else did.
Did you like having to grow a mustache?
Well shit, man. I don’t fucking grow facial hair that well so it took me a long time. I think I got away with what I could grow. I was pumped to try and replicate the Vinny Paz ‘stache.
Did you have any prior boxing experience?
Not really. I did maybe a year and a half of kickboxing in high school. Some backyard boxing.
Did you take any actual blows while filming the boxing scenes?
I didn’t get knocked out, but I got hit a couple of times. When you’re filming with boxers who aren’t actors and you’ve only worked with them for a day, you’re going to get mistakes. In boxing, even when you’re blocking, if the guy you’re boxing with throws a good punch, or let alone, maybe a power puncher, I get hurt. I didn’t have a body dummy, I didn’t have a stunt double. Vinny took a lot of punishment. That was his thing. He broke his nose every fight. You’re going to take some hits.
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What was it like having to wear the halo?
That was the worst part. You’re in that thing for 12 hours a day. This was an independent film. We did it in 25 days. If this was a big studio film, I’m sure we could have a halo that was padded and you get to take it off and get a couple hours break, but that was just not this. It sucked. Just imagine somebody putting their palm on the top of your head and pushing down for fucking hours. I’m a pretty relaxed person, but it’s hard to be relaxed and super chill. Your body’s just all tense. But at the same time, it gives it such an authenticity because you realize how much you are limited to when you have this halo on.
Then you get to the part where you’ve got to try and bench, which Vinny did five days after his accident. You’re at the point where you’ve got to try and bench press with this thing on. I wanted Vinny on set for that. I was like, “dude, how the hell do you do this?” He was like, “well, you kind of sit up here and then you lay down and then you just kind of shimmy back.”
What are your thoughts on Vinny trying to train just five days after his accident?
It’s unreal. If you bump this halo at all, you’re going to be paralyzed for the rest of your life. That’s a really scary alternative that Vinny just went right through. He just went right through that barrier. The guy literally has no fear. He knew that if he couldn’t box, then he didn’t care to do anything. That was all that guy wanted to do. That’s why they’re making a movie about his life. Even if he just came back and had a few fights, that’s a story, but the fact that he came back and won a few more world championships- guys aren’t built like that.
If you want to put a microscope on just the human condition or the human will or perseverance or overcoming an obstacle, I think Vinny is the greatest example of that. Just the fact that he knew he was meant for something, even with every professional doctor, every person in the world saying this is never going to happen. That comes from just your own sense of self, to be able to overcome that. It’s just really incredible. It’s not even a sports movie. There’s going to be a ton of people that are going to watch it and are going to be inspired by his journey and what he was able to overcome.