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“I know that there’s nothing handsome about me,” Miles Teller told Italian Vogue in 2015.
And in the decade or so that Teller has been a movie star, people have generally agreed.
“He’s a surprisingly ordinary-looking baby-faced guy who charmed his way out of the manatee-infested Confederate backwater of Citrus County, Florida,” a Vulture profile reported in 2014. The Guardian described him as “sleepy” looking. To rogerebert.com, he is simply “not conventionally glamorous.”
Teller’s appearance has been dissected—by the media and by himself—with a ruthlessness that is usually reserved for famous women. Teller has played leading men in two to four movies a year since 2013. He has been a Marvel hero, a firefighter, and a staggering number of douche bros—all archetypes associated with good looks. He’s currently starring in The Offer on Paramount Plus in a role that originally went to Armie Hammer. And still, even Miles Teller isn’t sure if Miles Teller is really hot.
“This dude is so ugly! How does he get fucking parts?” Teller said, parroting his haters in an Esquire profile in 2015. “Well, he's not, like, traditionally handsome, but…” Later he told Playboy that he is used to reading tweets comparing his face to “a foot” or to Ted Cruz. At any point in Teller’s decade-plus of stardom, social media images of him have usually been garlanded with inches and feet of comments that add up, essentially, to “...him?”
That’s changing now. The Miles Teller fandom—people who have had a deep affection and inexplicable animal attraction to Miles Teller for years—are being overwhelmed by panting, mouth-frothing band wagoners. It is a tale of muscles, mustache, and and angst.
The shift happened this month, with Teller’s role as Lieutenant Bradley Bradshaw, call sign Rooster, in Top Gun: Maverick. Picking up more than 30 years after Top Gun, the movie has been a box office sensation and a triumph of military propagandism with a near-perfect score on Rotten Tomatoes.
Alongside the iron cheekbones and jawlines of Tom Cruise, Glen Powell, and John Hamm, Teller has emerged as the movie’s major sex symbol. His gigantic face has taken over timelines and feeds. His mustache, which is the type that would provoke mockery if it were on another man's face, is inspiring odes in video form. Everyone onscreen looks stellar, with their shining aviator glasses, blockbuster grooming routines, and flattering backdrop of blue sky. But they’re models—perfect, untouchable. Teller, with his ability to crumple in distress or swell with bravado, is the heartthrob.
In a scene that alludes to the original’s iconic volleyball sequence, fighter pilots play football on the beach, nimbly treading the surf glazed in sweat and California sun. It’s a buffet of (mostly) male bodies. Countless fan-made videos feature Teller's moment in the football scene, his torso ripping in a half-erotic, half-goofy dance. Montages of Teller in Top Gun have gone viral on TikTok, set to the Oscar winning ballad “Take My Breath Away” from the original movie. Even Teller’s wife, Keleigh Teller, got in on it, making a fan-style video of Teller footage with the caption “We’re all Team Rooster here…thirst on.”
There isn’t a lot of glory to be found in being a longtime Miles Teller supporter. Even A24 girlies don’t tend to talk about The Spectacular Now. The Footloose remake flopped, fandom circles seldom focus on Divergent, and no one is rushing to rewatch 21 and Over, which one critic described as “one of many recent films that could serve as a recruiting advertisement for al- Qaida.” In Top Gun: Maverick, the world is finally seeing the person fans saw all along. Not just a talented actor. Not just a swaggering white man. A genuine hot person.
It’s worth noting that people of color were given short shrift in Maverick. Bashir Salahuddin and Charles Parnell played characters who served as emotional support and encouragement for the white men. Jay Ellis, Greg Tarzan Davis, and Danny Ramirez as fighter pilots were given little differentiation or character development in the script. Manny Jacinto, a bona fide sex symbol if there ever was one, was reduced to playing an extra, a crime against humanity and reason.
Instead, the movie focused almost entirely on Cruz, Hamm, Powell, and Teller. “I had to be escorted out of the theater for barking every time he was on screen,” one fan wrote of Teller.
There’s a lot of talk of “the female gaze” in the age of online standom. The female gaze, of course, is a generalization of what billions of people of various sexualities find attractive. But it’s a generalization worth trying out, considering how useful the notion of male gaze has been. Many say that the female gaze is Tom Holland doing the “Umbrella” lip sync or a Regency-era man in breaches, or a baby-skinned BTS boy. All of those are indeed good instances of the female gaze. But so is Miles Teller. And here is why, I think.
A lot of being a heterosexual woman is trying to evade murder, but the second biggest part is trying to evade boredom. Miles Teller just isn’t boring. He’s emotional. He gives the appearance of being complicated. He cries a lot onscreen, and cries well. In Top Gun, his character is a fighter pilot with daddy issues and the ability to play piano while experiencing a bout of psychic pain. One of the central tensions in the movie is his desire to fly slowly and cautiously through enemy territory. He’s constantly on the brink of tears.
In his breakout role in the 2010 indie Rabbit Hole, Teller famously let loose a single tear, despite being a first-time movie actor and having Nicole Kidman as a scene partner. In Whiplash, the movie that put him on the map, he crumples, cries, and breaks. He cries in Only the Brave. He cries in The Spectacular Now. His profile picture on Twitter is of him crying.
Cookie-cutter hotness is not enough to sustain a crush. You cannot build an emotional narrative on a person who looks generic. A longtime one-sided affair is better developed with a man who you want to crawl into the screen to fix.
It’s not that Teller plays sweet or kind characters, or that he has necessarily developed that relationship offscreen. The 2015 Esquire profile went mega viral for making the case that Teller is “a dick.” Last year he refuted ongoing claims that he is an anti-vaxxer. A teenage Maude Apatow described a 2013 interview with him for Teen Vogue as “uniquely uncomfortable.” (She blamed herself.)
But adding to Teller’s appeal is that he grew up with two older sisters, one of the truest predictors of hotness. “I think if you’re the only boy and you have two older sisters, you just have a lot of, like, love,” he told Vulture, explaining how they used to beat him up and also sing show tunes with him. In Cosmopolitan he added, “I have two older sisters who are very affectionate.” He has also spoken regularly about living through tragedies: the car accident that gave him lifelong facial scarring, followed quickly by losing two of his best friends to unrelated car accidents. It's not that the horrific experiences are appealing. But the honesty might be.
We’re likely to keep talking about Teller—as Maverick press marches along, he’s simultaneously starring in The Offer, and he’s weeks from the Netflix premiere of Spiderhead, a dystopian sci-fi movie with Chris Hemsworth. He keeps up a close friendship with Shailene Woodley, and he appeared in a Taylor Swift music video last year. He's a megastar, whether the internet thinks hot or not.
Mostly, we do. We'll watch this man strut, smolder, and weep again. And we’ll like it.
Jenny Singer is a staff writer for Glamour. You can follow her on Twitter.
Originally Appeared on Glamour