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Like many, I first spotted Miles Teller in 2011's totally unnecessary but likable "Footloose" remake. Reboots don't generally create a breakout star, so I didn't think his take on Willard made him destined for greatness or future blockbusters. But I like awkward underdogs with sarcastic tendencies, which is his "Footloose" role in a nutshell. Predictably, the young cast of the '80s remake wandered back into obscurity after the film... except for Teller.
My next glimpse of him was in 2013's "The Spectacular Now," which one critic set up for a record breaking fall from grace when they called it "this generation's 'Say Anything.'" The movie was fine, but Teller's character was a tangled mess of addiction and self-loathing, and I am still offended he was compared to John Cusack's Lloyd Dobler. After an appearance in the worst Marvel movie ever, "The Fantastic Four," the actor chose to take a step back from big budget movies and focus on character and substance.
Between 2014 and 2017, he added four critically acclaimed films to his resume, including, "Whiplash," "Bleed for This," "Thank You for Your Service," and "Only the Brave," but he's shied away from major blockbusters. In an interview with Men's Health, Teller revealed he was so wary of starring in a mega hit that he almost turned down "Top Gun: Maverick."
Driven by suffering and failure
After his ill-fated stint as a superhero, Teller chose to focus on realistic characters and plots. He told Men's Health that he's "attracted to roles that are close to real life." This attraction to realism led him to boot camp and firefighter training in order to realistically portray a traumatized war veteran and a brave firefighter. Instead of pretending to be a character, Teller connects with a role from a place of shared experience, putting himself through the same hardships and training of the person. He believes this preparation makes his performances more dramatic and authentic:
"I don't want to play a character. If I'm going to do something dramatic, I want it to be inspired. I want it to be passionate. It gives you a lot to work off of, and I like the challenges of doing an accent or learning a skill, really putting yourself out there ... I think in movies, I'm very nervous that I'm not going to be able to do it, but I just trust that the fear of failure will drive me."
He expanded on this in further, adding, "[Nothing] bonds people like collective suffering." In spite of his determination and tendency to mock failure right to its face, the actor hesitated to accept a role in a Tom Cruise blockbuster sequel:
"I don't want this to come out the wrong way, but there was a part of me that didn't know if I wanted to be a part of something that could bring that much attention and success to me."
It's a fair point. We've all seen paparazzi chase celebrities down the street and read those nasty hit piece headlines about their personal lives. As I write this, millions of people are watching live coverage of a certain celebrity court case that really shouldn't be anybody's business. I don't blame Teller for wanting to avoid all that nonsense by sticking to smaller movies, but when Tom Cruise showed up on his doorstep, he couldn't help but reconsider.
Cruise was convinced from the start that the young actor was perfect for the role of Rooster. According to Men's Health, he had the script couriered all the way to Kauai, where Teller was vacationing with his wife, so that he could read it. When Cruise learned the actor was considering declining the part, he flew to Florida and personally convinced him to accept the role. Fame certainly has its downsides, but it has to be nice to wield star power like that.
Teller claims the sudden arrival of one of Hollywood's biggest action stars wasn't the only reason he reconsidered. His uncle and grandfather both served in the military and he feels that the country is losing its bond with the armed forces and its veterans:
"You wanna give a voice to these guys ... In the wars that we fight now, our military comes from very specific parts of the country and socioeconomic classes. We're losing that connection between civilians and military and our veterans."
While he doesn't elaborate on what this voice is, I think there is a lot of potential there for the role of Rooster. There have been several films over the years that explore the evils of war and the trauma it causes, but few about the children left behind by those killed in action.
Rooster was a young child when his father, Goose (Anthony Edwards), was killed in the original "Top Gun," and the trailer highlights the anger he feels towards Maverick for this loss. If done well, that could be an interesting and fresh viewpoint for the actor to explore.
Along with an authentic character, the role offered Teller some more of that collective suffering he's so fond of.
Here comes some G-force
In typical Tom Cruise fashion, nothing about "Top Gun: Maverick" was going to be done halfway, not even the dangerous flying scenes. Those shots of the actors in those fighter jets? They're real and they're being flown by real pilots, but the navy wasn't about to put the actors in F-18s without proper experience.
Before filming started, the navy required the cast learn how to free themselves from jet seats in case they ever had to eject. They were all dunked underwater, upside down, where they had to release themselves from lap and shoulder belts. But that's not all, because Cruise developed his own three-month training program to prepare them for jet flight. The cast flew upside down at 7 Gs (154 MPH) and launched off of an aircraft carrier, where jet speeds can climb from 0 MPH to 170 MPH in two seconds.
On top of all that, the actors also doubled as cinematographers and camera operators while in the air. There was only room for a navy pilot and the actor in the jets, so the cast also had to learn to film themselves during the flying scenes, meaning they had to act and make the shots look blockbuster worthy. It sounds impossible to pull off, but they were being trained by the best of the best: Tom Cruise ... and the US Navy.
When Men's Health asked Teller about the training, he proudly said, "I never puked." But I wonder if, while hanging upside down, under the force of 7 Gs, he secretly cursed the day Tom Cruise showed up on his doorstep.
"Top Gun: Maverick" opens in theaters on May 27, 2022.
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