Whiplash star Miles Teller on Wednesday shared the challenges of taking on another physically demanding role, this time playing a boxing champion in the biopic Bleed for This.
"I was the furthest guy away from the physique of a boxer as you could get. I had about eight months to prepare and needed every minute of it to be anywhere close to imitating this man," the actor said about portraying five-time boxing champion Vinny Pazienza, addressing a group of mostly South Korean press during the 21st Busan International Film Festival.
It's a rare occasion for a Hollywood title to receive a gala presentation at BIFF, and the actor drew much buzz as Whiplash was immensely popular in South Korea. The Asian country was the second-largest market for the multiple Oscar-winning film, with box-office earnings here totaling over $11.4 million.
Directed by Ben Younger, Bleed for This captures the true story of how the 1980s sports star returned to the ring after being nearly paralyzed in a car crash.
"Vinny breaks his neck and does a lot of soul searching, and I learned a lot about myself from portraying the role," said the 29-year-old Teller. "I never went into a movie where I respected and admired, and very much in a way, idolized someone more than when I was going in to play Vinny."
The actor said he was greatly driven by Pazienza's "determination and passion," but also found him "unrelatable" in some ways. "He was risking never being able to walk again or hug someone he loves for boxing. There is a certain kind of person who, when the bullets are flying or the punches are being thrown, goes towards them."
Aaron Eckhart, who plays the role of the boxer's infamous trainer Kevin Rooney, spoke about how boxing provides the stuff of great drama. "Boxing is a truly primal way to pit ourselves against each other - it's the ultimate test for man," said Eckhart, who is an avid boxer in real life. "But this movie is more than that, it's about family and how that affects the community. Vinny breaks his neck and comes back. It's a story about a man making the impossible possible."
Younger said that Pazienza's incredible story made it perfectly tailored for the big screen but also different from other boxing films. "There is a rich history of boxing films. But you can't compete with film like Raging Bull," the helmer said about the 1980 classic directed by Martin Scorsese, who exec produced Bleed for This. "But Vinny's story is so unique, and we were very careful to portray his story with honesty."
Added Younger: "This film was meant to inspire. [Boxing can be] an allegory about the challenges we face in life. I would love it if people saw this film and then said to themselves, 'You know, I am going to give this thing another shot. I can do this. I can pass this test.'"
Bleed for This is set to hit U.S. theaters in November
The Busan Film Festival continues through Saturday.