LOS ANGELES — In “Bleed For This,” Miles Teller portrays former world champion boxer Vinny Paz (Pazienza until he legally changed his last name), who accomplished one of the greatest sports comeback stories in history. Following a serious car crash in 1991, it was thought he might never walk again — let alone re-enter the ring in a professional fight.
Against doctors’ orders — and with a metal halobrace screwed into his head in four places — Paz continued to train and went on to not only box, but win a series of major fights until he retired in 2004.
For Teller, it is “pretty incredible to have a movie made about your life while you’re still alive. And Vinny today is still only 54. We’re portraying a part of his life that just happened 25 years ago. That just goes to show how compelling a story that it is.”
Teller admitted playing a person who is still living was daunting, and “when I got cast I honestly was very, very nervous.”
Asked for Paz’s reaction when he learned Teller was playing him, the actor said, “I don’t know if he was all that impressed. You have to remember, this was before [Teller’s star-making role in] ‘Whiplash’ had come out. This was before I had done anything where people could perhaps see a certain tenacity or intensity in me as an actor. It really was all about Ben [Younger, the director] believing in me.”
That said, the actor smiled as he recalled something that did happen following his being cast in the film.
“Once Vinny knew I was playing him, he sent me a signed photo of himself in the mail. He wrote, ‘Miles: Stuff a banana in your undies if you have to make it look bigger. Seriously, kid, don’t ruin my reputation. Much love, Paz.’ ”
Not surprisingly, Teller admitted, “I found it like a weird compliment. Obviously, it was something of a joke. But also, I took it that this was a guy who took his reputation and legacy very seriously.”
In the process of doingsuch a physically and psychologically demanding role, Teller said, he thought about what it takes to succeed against all kinds of odds.
“Growing up, my parents told me at a young age, ‘Great men overcome great obstacles.’ That taught me to have a strong work ethic. When I was around 19, my buddy opened up a painting company. He was a former Marine. Every morning he’d pick us up at 5:30 and we’d go paint all summer. We never missed a day.
“Also I grew up playing sports. If you play sports, there’s certain ethics that you must have. You do it for the guy on the team next to you. You just don’t quit, and you push forward, no matter what. That’s a lesson that’s served me well — and I know will continue to serve me well the rest of my life.”
When filming the difficult scenes with the halo brace, the actor was able to tap into a personal, family story.“An uncle of mine is a quadriplegic. He had that halo on for quite a while. He broke his neck when he was 17, and he’s still around today, many years later. He draws with his mouth, because he used to draw before his accident. He’s an amazing person.”
In addition, the concept “that Vinny could wear that halo and push through working out — risking permanent paralysis — was unbelievable. That’s the reason I made a movie about it. It’s just such an inspiring story.”