‘Insurgent’: Miles Teller on Peter’s allegiance, ‘Fantastic Four’

March 16, 2015 | 10:49 a.m.

“Divergent” fans have less than a week to wait before the sequel as “The Divergent Series: Insurgent,” the second installment adapted from Veronica Roth’s popular YA book series, hits theaters Friday.

“Insurgent” follows Tris Prior (Shailene Woodley), a girl who learns she has an aptitude for multiple factions and thus does not quite fit into the rigid social structure valued in her dystopian world, which divides its citizens among five factions based on their dominant personality traits. Tris learns that people like her are labeled divergent and are considered dangerous.

Four (Theo James), right, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Peter (Miles Teller) travel to Amity in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

Four (Theo James), right, Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Peter (Miles Teller) travel to Amity in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

“Insurgent” picks up a little after where “Divergent” left off with Tris, Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) and Peter, played by Miles Teller, on the run after the Erudite (the faction based on knowledge) has used Dauntless (bravery) soldiers to overthrow the Abnegation (selflessness) to gain political power.

In the film, Teller, who starred as an aspiring Jazz drummer opposite J.K. Simmons in this year’s Oscar-nominated film “Whiplash,” reprises his “Divergent” role as the Peter, one of the top-ranked Dauntless initiates who constantly mocked and threatened Tris, consciously chose to aid in the Erudite uprising, and is a refugee against his will after the events in “Divergent.”

Teller spoke over the phone with Hero Complex to discuss “Insurgent,” returning as Peter and what he is working on next, including his role in Fox’s “Fantastic Four” reboot.

Hero Complex: The last we saw Peter, he was forced to flee with Tris at the end of “Divergent.” Can you set the scene for where Peter is now at the start of “Insurgent”?

Miles Teller: In the second movie, it starts out [where] he’s sort of aligned himself with Tris and Four and Caleb, and they’re living in Amity. He [then] kind of sees an opportunity to save his own butt, and by doing that he kind of rats [Tris, Four and Caleb] out and gives their hiding position away. He makes his way to Erudite because he thinks that’s where stuff’s happening. He thinks that’s where he can get in a position of leadership, which is really what he wants.

Peter’s just always looking out for himself. He doesn’t have … an allegiance to anybody.

HC: In “Divergent,” Peter was mostly relegated to the role of class bully. How was it being able to expand beyond that and be a little more proactive in the second film?

MT: That’s what you’re hoping [you’re able] to do. In the first movie I didn’t really have too many redeeming qualities. In the second one, at least for me, I got to do a little more. You’re always thankful for those opportunities because it just kind of further complicates your character and makes him more interesting.

HC: He had a lot of one-liners in this movie.

MT: Hey man, Peter is known for his one-liners, so you have to give the people what they want.

Four (Theo James), left, Peter (Miles Teller) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

Four (Theo James), left, Peter (Miles Teller) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in “The Divergent Series: Insurgent.” (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

HC: Your character gets to explore some of the other factions like Amity and Erudite in “Insurgent.” How was it to be able to expand on this world that was introduced in the first film?

MT: It was nice. The first movie was so dark and everyone’s wearing black and we’re inside all the time. [In] this one you get to open it up and we got to shoot on some really beautiful sets. I wish I was there for more of them, but I thought Erudite was really nice. I thought Amity was really beautiful.

When you’re reading about all these factions, you have an image of it in your head, [so] then when you get a movie with a good sized budget that can visually translate them on screen, I think it’s always good for the audience.

HC: A lot of your recent characters – like Peter, Andrew in “Whiplash,” and Reed Richards in the upcoming “Fantastic Four” – aren’t obviously similar but they all do share an intense drive to succeed. Is there anything specific that attracts you to these roles?

MT: I guess to me those are more interesting than somebody’s drive to fail, you know. Hopefully there’s something there [in the character] that you can really latch on to, and it’s nice when your character has a clear purpose. The ones where you get the script and you’re not really sure why they exist in the world of that story [are] harder because you have to create more stuff yourself, and I’ve been fortunate enough to work on some scripts with some really good writers to where I don’t have to do too much with it. It’s kind of all there for me.

HC: I understand that the filming of “Insurgent” and “Fantastic Four” overlapped? How was it jumping between being the unlikable antagonist in one story to the hero of another?

MT: It was difficult. It was harder than I thought it was going to be. I thought I would just be able to go to “Insurgent” and just be able to fall right back into Peter, but it was tough. I don’t walk around as Peter. I don’t carry myself in that way, so you have to kind of re-remember what you’re doing. I was pretty unsure of myself, actually, for a little bit, because you’re just not sure if what you’re doing is keeping the integrity of the character from what you were doing on the last film. And I saw it and I felt like I was pretty happy with some of the stuff I was able to do.

HC: So Peter was harder to get to the second time around?

MT: No it was just because I was jumping back and forth. It’s not so much that it was harder the second time, but when you pick something right up where you left off, that is tough, especially when it’s somebody that you don’t play all the time. Peter and Reed Richards couldn’t be more different, so that was tricky.

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Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

i d051 21792 r Insurgent: Miles Teller on Peters allegiance, Fantastic Four

Jeanine (Kate Winslet) and Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

i d008 02893 r Insurgent: Miles Teller on Peters allegiance, Fantastic Four

Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

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Jack Kang (Daniel Dae Kim), Four (Theo James) and Tris (Shailene Woodley) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Andrew Cooper / Lionsgate)

feature1 Insurgent: Miles Teller on Peters allegiance, Fantastic Four

Tris (Shailene Woodley) and Four (Theo James) in "The Divergent Series: Insurgent." (Lionsgate)

HC: Many of the antagonists in “Insurgent” have more clear motivations that drive their actions, like what they think is best for society, or a longstanding rivalry. What do you see as Peter’s motivation?

MT: I think it wavers. It wavers all the time, as it goes in life. It’s not like these people are his friends. He doesn’t know any of them, so he’s kind of figuring them out, and his biggest motivation is to survive. A lot of the people from the first movie died, so the fact that he didn’t means that he’s pretty smart and he’s cunning. He’s a pretty shifty character, but I think he’s really just looking out for himself. As the story progresses, and as Peter evolves, you find out that … he’s grown up by the end of “Allegiant.” Peter’s grown up, and he’s not happy with kind of the person he was for a while. You’re just dealing with somebody who’s [still] kind of figuring out who they are.

"Whiplash" actor Miles Teller is photographed at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

“Whiplash” actor Miles Teller is photographed at the 2014 Sundance Film Festival. (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles Times)

HC: A lot of this movie is about this sense of belonging and having a place to belong. Do you think Peter felt like he belonged anywhere? Did he belong in Dauntless?

MT: Absolutely. He knew he belonged in Dauntless because he was a tough guy and he was always one of the better fighters, at least going from the book standpoint. I think he did feel like he belonged in Dauntless. He always looked up to Eric [and] he kind of wanted to be in that regime, I think, when he carried out the attempt to kill Tris [in “Divergent”]. He was always trying to align himself with the people in power and wants them to like him and move up, [but] he’s discarded by Eric and he’s discarded by Jeanine so it’s kind of been tough on Peter. I think people need to have a little more sympathy for the guy.

HC: “Insurgent” ends in a more hopeful place than “Divergent.” Are things looking up for Peter?

MT: Things are looking good for Peter. Although [because] Peter still does not really have anybody that really cares about him too much and he doesn’t really care about any of these characters all that much I think he’s just kind of floating. He’s still in this kind of lone wolf stage but he’s OK.

HC: What’s next for you?

MT: I’m filming a movie right now. I’m filming “Arms and the Dudes” with Jonah Hill and Todd Phillips, so that’s kind of the thing I’m working on right now. Then after that this summer I do “Allegiant,” and then we’ll see what happens in the fall.

– Tracy Brown | @tracycbrown | @LATHeroComplex

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