updated 03/12/2014 AT 4:15 PM ET
•originally published 03/13/2014 AT 4:05 PM ET
Moviegoers have watched Miles Teller get rowdy in Footloose, lovey-dovey in The Spectacular Now and buddy-buddy with Zac Efron in That Awkward Moment. Now, the versatile actor is taking on his biggest project yet: Divergent.
The 27-year-old will appear as Peter in the first movie made from Veronica Roth’s hit young adult series. Based on a dystopian Earth, Divergent is the story of a postapocalyptic society that sorts the world’s people into one of five factions determined by an aptitude test taken at age 16.
Teller is tasked with playing the book’s resident bully. But the actor promises there is more to Divergent’s tough guy than his surly shell and knife-throwing skills – although those things are totally on point, too.
PEOPLE caught up with Teller to hear Peter’s side of the story, what’s going on with Shailene Woodley and the strangely addictive world of survival TV shows.
First off, happy belated birthday! (It was Feb. 20.) How did you celebrate turning 27?
I went to Vegas and had a bit of a party. It was a good time. I heard the hangovers get worse once you hit 25 … and maybe there’s some truth to that. I’ve also heard 27 is the first true year of adulthood. I’m enjoying it so far.
I’m living in L.A., so I see lots of billboards. Actually, as I said that I just passed an advertisement. Out of all the movies I’ve done, this one feels like the biggest one. And it is. Budget-wise, following-wise, it is the biggest thing I’ve been a part of. It’s cool, because I’ve done a lot of small movies where you don’t get that kind of exposure. When Hunger Games came out, there were life-size posters of character in the subway, so I’m waiting for Peter to be in the subway.
There are some similarities. They are both based off of young adult books and aimed towards a certain audience. They are both big budget movies, and they have a female heroine and a love story. Hopefully, Divergent is a movie that kids can see, but also one, as a 27-year-old guy, you can go to and not feel like you are at a McDonald’s playground.
Tell us about your Divergent character, Peter.
He speaks his mind and is very unfiltered. He’s all about truth and honesty. He is a complicated character, and I knew that from the first book. You never take anybody at face value. He is a bit of a bully, but there is something else. No one is what they appear on the surface. He realizes that the stakes are high and that this is not a position to make excuses. While everyone else is trying to make friends and pair up, Peter is looking out for himself. That’s a smart survival tactic.
Putting Peter aside for a minute, what faction do you think would be the best fit for you and why?
I wouldn’t want to be in the Divergent world! That’s what’s tough; it forces you to pick one. I like Dauntless, because I liked playing sports growing up. I also like Amity, because I am a big Grateful Dead fan. I would hope that I wouldn’t have to choose.
You said Peter has smart survival skills. After making Divergent, are you ready for a post-apocalyptic world?
The amount of survival shows I watch on Discovery, that is what is preparing me the most for doomsday. I am watching this show Dude, You’re Screwed. I also watch Survivor Man, Dual Survival, Gold Rush, and Bering Sea Gold. I envy the people who can fix everything or making something out of just about anything. They can go into the woods with just their knowledge of the surroundings and be able to make a shelter or a trap. That is something I would love to spend some time doing, if I could take a serious break.
Did you pick up any skills during Divergent that can help you with that goal?
I can throw a pretty good knife. I was the best knife thrower on set. Though, I don’t know how much that is going to help me.
Divergent is your second movie with Shailene Woodley. What was is it like to work with her again?
Shailene and I have a good friendship at this point. When we filmed Divergent, it was just a couple months after we did The Spectacular Now. When we first showed up for training, she was still calling me Sutter.
It was good in terms of doing the scenes, because there was already a familiarity there. We don’t have to BS each other. If we are doing a scene and something’s not working, we can talk honestly. There’s no ego.
Was it hard to go from trying to woo her in The Spectacular Now to tormenting her in Divergent?
Falling in love is the hard part! Doing a choreographed fight scene, that’s easy. With love, there’s a lot more depth of emotions than just ‘right foot block, right hand punch.’ The Spectacular Now was a beautiful story. I am always going to cherish that movie. It was so well done and it was a labor of love for all of us.
What are some other movies we can expect to see from you this year?
There’s Whiplash. It was just at Sundance, and it won the audience award and the grand jury award. I am pumped up about that. It’s about this young jazz drummer who is in this very prestigious program, and his teacher is J.K. Simmons. He sees something in me, and really pushes me to become the greatest jazz drummer of all time. It’s kind of like Black Swan meets Full Metal Jacket, but at Juilliard.
I play the drums, and music has always been a passion of mine, so to be able to marry those two worlds was a lot of fun. I am also leaving pretty soon to start filming Fantastic Four.
It’s great, but I would not want his powers. To be his character and have no control of your body’s movement, that’s a weird feeling. To have that elasticity and no firmness would make me very uncomfortable. There is some cool stuff you could do, too, but I wouldn’t want to be that Gumby-like.
I would want the superpower to be incredibly ripped without having to work out. I would also like to wake up with perfect hair everyday.
We’ve seen you dance, romance, drum and make us laugh. Do you have any talents or hobbies you are hiding? Juggling, perhaps?
I am a magician, and I am a dog whisperer. I can break any wild dog. No, not really.
I do know how to cook. My mom told me at a young age, ‘I’m going to teach you how to cook and clean, so a woman doesn’t come and woo you just because she can cook and clean for you.’ I feel like I am pretty well-rounded in that sense.
Last question: Do you have anything you want Divergent fans to know about Peter before going into the movie?
I just hope the people who come into this movie really wanting to hate Peter leave enjoying him. And that they want to see more of him. We should actually start a petition for more Peter in the second movie. We’ll do it together. #TeamPeter
Divergent hits theaters on March 21.
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