Miles Teller on the Crazy True Story of ‘War Dogs’
Opening this weekend Todd Phillips fantastic new film, War Dogs, and it’s based on one of the craziest true stories of the last few years: Two twenty-something stoners won a $300 million contract with the Pentagon to supply America’s allies in Afghanistan with arms. And before you go thinking that couldn’t have happened, it did. The film is based on the Rolling Stone article by Guy Lawson (later expanded into a book) titled “The Stoner Arms Dealers: How Two American Kids Became Big-Time Weapons Traders.” In the film, Jonah Hill and Miles Teller star as Efraim Diveroli and David Packouz, and we watch how two ambitious young men become weapons traders for the U.S. government, landing multimillion-dollar arms contracts and living the high life before everything comes crashing down. It’s easily Phillips best work since the first Hangover and I definitely recommend checking it out in theaters this weekend. War Dogs also stars Bradley Cooper and Ana de Armas. For more on the film, read Matt’s review.
At the New York City press day I landed an exclusive interview with Miles Teller. He talked about how he got involved in the project, filming on location, the crazy true story, what the last few years have been like for him working on so many movies, director Joseph Kosinski’s Granite Mountain, and a lot more. Check out what he had to say below.
MILES TELLER: I’m good, man. I’m in the middle of filming Granite Mountain right now, so I’ll fly to Albuquerque tonight and then take a car to Santa Fe and get picked up tomorrow at 5am.
It has to be weird to now get into the mindset of War Dogs in the middle of that.
TELLER: As an actor if you’re working you’re usually in three places, you’re either prepping something, you’re shooting something, or you’re post on something or promoting something, So right now I have Thank You for Your Service in post, I’m shooting this, I’m promoting War Dogs, right after War Dogs I go to the festivals for Bleed for This; so it’s all kind of…I’ve done 13 films in 5 years, sometimes they just all kind of come out at the same time.
These are first world problems.
TELLER: Yeah, I know [Chuckles]. I do know that.
It’s like when I complain about traveling too much people for my job.
I really enjoyed this movie, it’s real good.
TELLER: Thanks, man.
When you first got the script were you like, “Oh, I need to do this.”?
TELLER: Yeah, kind of. I mean, honestly, how I first got it was my dad sent me an email saying that he just saw that Todd [Phillips]’s company had gotten the rights for this article Arms and the Dudes, “Here’s the article, I just read it, I think you’d be perfect for it. You gotta tell Todd to put you in the movie.” And I saw Todd at a restaurant like a couple of months after that and I said, “Hey man, what’s up with Arms and the Dudes? You gotta put me in it.” I think my dad felt I’d be perfect for it because I used to be a pretty big stoner [Laughs] and it was just a cool, edgy article, and he knew that I’d been wanting to work with Todd for a long time. So I was very excited for it.
Was Todd thinking of you or was that meeting…
TELLER: I don’t know you’d have to talk to him. I don’t think so, Todd had another cast he’s been vocal about, Shia [LaBeouf] was attached to this for a while, I’m not who the other guy was for my part. But I know James Corden auditioned for it because they showed that on Late Night the other night, Shia and James reading in New York. And my schedule didn’t match up with it at one point, maybe two months before shooting I was telling Todd, “I can’t do the movie” and then my schedule opened up and we –I was at the Oscars for Whiplash, and I flew to Romania that next day and we started shooting like the next day after that.
Who came up with Jonah [Hill]’s maniacal laugh?
When you heard it for the first time were you like, “Oh my God”?
TELLER: Yeah it was pretty funny, man. He did it I think in the –The first scene we shot was when we landed in Albania and were on the cab ride to see the ammo and that was the first time that he did it and I know he had just come up with it the day before.
I read the story as well, the story is just preposterous.
TELLER: When it just came out, or at this point?
No back when it first was in Rolling Stone, it was one of those things that everyone was talking about. What surprised you the most when you were researching and learning about the people and the story?
TELLER: I guess the sheer volume of what they were doing. To be able to work with those kind of numbers, even just to be able to put in and bid –I painted houses, my buddy had a painting company, so we used to put bids on houses and you’re dealing with such small numbers and it’s still a certain amount of craftsmanship that comes up with that. So when these guys were bidding on contracts for tanks and guns and these things and it’s just these two –well in real life it was three– guys, to be able to do that obviously for this movie we’re bumping up the entertainment factor a little bit, so these guys didn’t drive through the Triangle of Death, they didn’t do a lot of these things. But that to me and having that kind of awareness or business savvy attitudes at 23, at 23 I was the furthest thing from being able to walk into a room or have any kind of conversation with the Pentagon [Laughs].
It’s crazy. Talk a little bit about how you prepare for roles differently now or if it’s still the same. Because you’ve done a lot of movies recently.
TELLER: I think hopefully as you’re getting older you’re getting parts that require more preparation, and by that I just mean –I don’t know, usually the older you get you get characters with more responsibility. Each one is different, there are certain movies that when the guy starts you pretty much come with that character on page one and then you see their growth, whereas other guys a lot has happened before that movie starts and you have to come in with something. I enjoy the physicality a little more, with Vinnie Paz that was the most prep I’ve ever had to do for a film, that was a legit like 7 months of diet and working out. And then I was able to do like an accent, I was able to change myself physically, I was able to do a lot of the things that I’d always looked at actors and admired when they did that. So I was excited to do that.
I have to ask you to follow up on that, Now that you have been away from it a little while and now that you’re done with the prepping and all of that, is it something you would love to go do again, or are you like, “Oh I’ve done it, I’ll take a little break.”?
TELLER: I would do it again in heartbeat. I really enjoyed it, because my days for that movie were like –I remember I got cast, and then I had to shoot Fantastic 4 and Insurgent in between when I got cast and when we got to shoot it, and even after Fantastic 4 and Insurgent had ended I had to go fly to London and France to do all this Whiplash promotion. But I just really enjoyed all that kind of responsibility, I loved the fact that many people cared. I was doing 4 hours of boxing, 2 hours of weights, an hours of accent and dialect training, I just enjoyed having to do all that for this character. It’s a lot better than –I don’t know, it’s a lot better than thinking about it, it was nice that I had this full schedule of things that I had to do for it.
I can’t wait to see the film, hopefully it’s playing at TIFF.
TELLER: Yeah it’s at TIFF.
Then guess where I’ll be seeing it.
TELLER: Cool, man.
My last thing, let’s talk about Granite Mountain, because that’s what you’re in the middle of filming. It has a crazy cast, a huge story, what do you want to tell people about it?
TELLER: I’m very proud to be part of a cast that’s gonna put Hot Shots on screen for the first time, Hot Shots are the first line of defense against wildland fire and these guys are so selfless, they are guys that do what they do without wanting any kind of attention for it. If these guys were alive I think they would be extremely embarrassed that we were playing them in a movie, because they don’t want that at all. I think we’ve been able to assemble such a great cast because nobody in the cast has any kind of ego, because when you’re playing guys that are so selfless and are just real guys, I think it adds a certain integrity to the project. These guys are badasses, when they do –They’re in fire season for 5 to 7 months, they’ll go out and they’ll do a fire and they’re working 14 days straight, they’ll go home for two days, and then they’ll go back out there. They work all day, 16 hours a day, they sleep outside, and then they wake up and do it again. For me those are the guys that I really relate to, I grew up middle class, my best friends to this day are construction workers or military or whatever it is.
TELLER: Yeah real people. I grew up doing some landscaping and painting houses and that kind of thing, so those are just the guys that I gravitate towards and it’s really…It’s a lot, the families will be on set and the guy I’m playing, the lone survivor of the whole thing. It only happened 3 years ago, and when it happened he was 21, he’s only 24 now. And having dealt with some of that on my own, obviously not in the magnitude of 19 guys, but I lost two of my best friends five weeks from each other when I was 21, and so I feel like I have a lot of personal experience that I can bring to it.
What do you have coming up after that one?
TELLER: After that I don’t know what I’m filming next, honestly. It’s the first time in a long time that I haven’t picked my next project, and I don’t want to pick it because I know I’ll be thinking about it and I know I need a break because I went right from Thank You for Your Service into Granite Mountain, about six week in between Thank You for Your Service where you’re dealing with guys coming back from war, PTSD, real guys, and then this movie is obviously –It’s a lot of fun, and then the last 20 pages are gut-wrenching, so it’s been tough. But yeah Bleed for This will come out this fall, Thank You for Your Service will come out next year, and then this movie. But I don’t know, I think I might do an animated film next. I’m serious.
[Laughs] I understand, completely.
War Dogs is in theaters this weekend.