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The Gossip Reading Club: Issue Fifteen – Esquire Doesn’t Like Miles Teller

What happens when the celebrity profile writer really doesn't like their subject?

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Kayleigh Donaldson

Oct 22 2021

14 mins read

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Welcome to the newest edition of the Gossip Reading Club. Hello to new subscribers, thanks for sticking around to the old ones, and I hope you're all ready for Halloween. Next issue, I have a really fun topic coming up (and a collaboration with a friend who is an excellent writer!) so stay tuned for that. Until then, let's focus on today's topic.

I’ve complained a lot about how the celebrity profile has become increasingly homogenous. With publicists micromanaging every aspect and celebrities no longer needing the media ecosystem of a glossy interview to fulfil their promotional obligations, we’ve ended up with a lot of puff pieces that have the creative and journalistic substance of school dinner rice pudding. I’m sure it must be fun for, say, Jennifer Lawrence and Emma Stone to chat up a storm in lieu of a more significant interview but it’s seldom interesting to read unless you’re a hardcore stan of either actress. It’s still very common to read a story and quickly realize that the writer in question got at most half an hour with their subject and couldn’t ask anything more pressing than ‘how are you?’ It must suck for the authors and even some of the most talented figures can’t do much about it (see Lili Anolik going haywire with her Vanity Fair cover piece on Kate McKinnon, mostly because what the hell else could she try?) There are some exceptional writers out there who are able to command access and possess the most enviable storytelling skills: Taffy Brodesser-Akner, Allison P. Davis, Alex Jung, and Caity Weaver, to name but four of my favorites. I’ll definitely dedicate an issue to some of their works in the near future (let me know your favourite works by them!) For now, however, I want to turn my focus to a more unique phenomenon in celebrity profiles. What happens when you have a highly juicy subject and the writer clearly effing hates them?

Esquire. "Miles Teller Is Young, Talented, and Doesn't Give a Rat's Ass What You Think." August 5, 2015. Anna Peele.


Image via Esquire.


It doesn't tend to be within your best interests as a major monthly magazine to directly call your newest cover star a d*ck. Generally speaking, you don't want to endanger access to said person, their team, or the many big names they share agents and publicists with. PR teams really aren't in the business of sending their rising stars, d*cks or otherwise, into the lion's den. So, when all of those safety nets fail and the magazine in question decides to lean in hard with their subject's failings, the end result cannot help but be fascinating. And Anna Peele, a long-time profile writer who has taken on the likes of Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, and Stephen Colbert, doesn’t screw around with establishing the tone of her Esquire piece. The opening line is:

"You're sitting across from Miles Teller at the Luminary restaurant in Atlanta and trying to figure out if he's a d**k."

In 2015, Miles Teller was thoroughly established as a future superstar on the verge of his inevitable breakthrough. In 2010, Nicole Kidman had hand-picked him for a pivotal role in the drama Rabbit Hole. 2014’s Whiplash had pushed him into the critical spotlight the year before, alongside the romantic drama The Spectacular Now, and he had a leading role in the then-upcoming reboot of Fantastic Four just around the corner. A former student of The Method and Tisch graduate, he was earning a reputation for his intensity, especially after he learned how to drum from scratch for the Oscar-winning Whiplash. J.K. Simmons may have taken home all the silverware, but that film doesn't work without Teller as the young gun who buys into the abusive lie that to suffer is to make great art. You feel the pain of him being poisoned by this traumatic experience. You watch that film and you believe the hype of Miles Teller. So, where does he go next? Because it’s the 2010s, he signs up for a YA franchise, a superhero movie, and some intense awards bait (the boxer biography Bleed for This and that Todd Phillips film War Dogs.)

By the time the Esquire piece was out, everyone knew that Fant4stic was an unmitigated disaster. It gets a mere two mentions in the profile, which may be one of the writer’s kinder acts. Instead, the focus is on Teller as a product, the actor with a future who you have to, or are forced to, notice. Peele writes the piece in second person, which is typically a profile no-no because it’s easy to screw up, but it’s clearly a specific tool here to show her subject being, well, kind of a tool. Can you imagine having to sit across from this guy, it quietly asks. Even in moments where Teller seems fine, if not particularly self-aware, the writer has some feelings she wants you to experience along with her. In fairness, the introductory anecdote does involve him saying that "the highball glass is modeled after his c*ck." A joke he then repeats to the waitress serving them.

She says it's "a little defensive" for Teller to bring up how nice his hair is and seems kind of confused by his self-confidence in his appearance, even after reading forum posts describing how ugly they think he is. There’s a mocking tone when he asks her to cut a tough piece of pork belly, "a man who ten minutes earlier showed you an iPhone photo of his back muscles to prove how strong he is." She even writes “oh, for f*ck’s sake” when he refers to one of his acting idols, Joaquin Phoenix, by the nickname “Joaq” (pronounced “wok”) their mutual publicist uses. Honestly, it seems like a bit much on Peele’s part. If she’s trying to fully convey how arrogant or bone-headed she found Teller, it doesn’t fully come through in these moments, especially given that they’re preceded by him sharing pretty dark stories about an accident in his youth and the loss of several friends. Then again, there are moments where she’s clearly giving him enough rope to hang himself, especially with the highball comment.


I genuinely don


Teller's biggest crime, apart from a couple of creepy jokes that don't land at all, seems to be insecurity. "I don't give a sh*t", he declares when discussing a viral TMZ clip of himself dancing at a local music festival. He doesn't care what people think about him, he says more than once, but Peele doesn't buy it. "You wonder how much he really doesn't give a shit. Because it kind of seems like no one gives more of a shit about what he does. Enough that, yeah, he has to be kind of a d*ck about it. How can you not like that?"

He's a d*ck, Peele declares, but one you can’t help but like. Well, if that was her aim, I’m not sure it shone through in the work, at least not on her end. Teller seems full of himself but not cruel, a dope more than a demon (of course, your own mileage may vary with such bros because, let’s be honest, we’re all very familiar with this kind of guy.) He’s certainly easy to laugh at in this context. I was reminded of the recent GQ profile on Megan Fox and Machine Gun Kelly (“I am weed”) and the furor that inspired. The general response seemed to be that the lovebirds were insufferable or not in on their own joke when, to me, it felt like they clearly were. Granted, that piece also benefitted from an interviewer who could fully convey things like MGK’s earnestness and Fox’s bone-dry sense of humour. With the Esquire piece, the balance is all off. Maybe Peele truly was charmed by Teller in the end, but it doesn't feel authentic to how she's describing the conversation, especially when she's doing so in the second person.

In the final line, she writes, "He gives you a hug and goes off to contribute to the cache or catalog or canon or whatever the fuck you call it and charm the world with his d**kishness." I wonder if this is intended to be a two-pronged conclusion, one that reveals his charisma while quietly implying the way that such personalities (especially with cishet white men) are designed to succeed in Hollywood. Maybe that’s too generous of me.

I felt weird revisiting this piece. I remember it at the time as being deliciously scathing, but now, it just feels sort of wrong-headed. It was a reminder of how truly difficult the art of the celebrity profile is, how high the odds are stacked against you, the writer, in executing your vision. Of course, it’s not as though one can’t write a compelling and fairly balanced profile of a jerk. Most of the truly iconic pieces in this field are smothered in disdain. You could argue that it was "Frank Sinatra Has a Cold," Gay Talese's ground-breaking Esquire profile of the singer, that birthed the genre thanks to its detailed and often harsh dissection of an egotistical celebrity on the wane. David Foster Wallace's blatant sh*t-talking of Balthazar Getty in his piece on Lost Highway is legendary. Those targets, however, were far loftier than the guy from the Footloose remake. Granted, we all enjoy seeing a privileged white guy get taken down a peg or two, so why did this leave me feeling oddly hollow? It’s certainly not that I’m a Teller stan or anything. I really don’t think about him much as an actor. I’m always far too curious about why I think the things I do about celebrities and this piece sent me into a weird tizzy. Maybe it's because I wish such a probing and obviously pointed approach could have been applied to someone who really needed it (hi, every glowing profile of Scott Rudin that pretends his violence is part of the charm.)

After the piece was released, Teller took to Twitter to respond to the d**k overload, saying, "@esquire couldn’t be more wrong. I don’t think there’s anything cool or entertaining about being a dick or an asshole. Very misrepresenting." The following year, he told the Guardian he felt “frickin’ helpless, I felt extremely misrepresented, I felt a little angry." He even admitted that he wanted "to feel people think I’m a man of the people." That's not easy for any actor, even ones who pick roles to strengthen that image, and at that point, Teller was not that kind of actor. The year after that, he admitted to Vulture that "I absolutely do care what people think about me" and that "if how that story made me look was how I really was, I’d think I was the biggest douchebag too." You can understand why Teller keeps coming back to this piece, and why journalists keep asking him about it. It's come to define him arguably as much as his performances.


It genuinely delights me that Miles and Shailene Woodley are still best friends and go on cheesy couples holidays with their partners. More of this, please. (Image via Instagram.)


Teller never broke through like he was expected to, but he seems more chill about that than he may have done in 2015. He did an Amazon series with Nicolas Winding Refn that was quickly swallowed up by the content avalanche. He'll soon star in the much-delayed Top Gun: Maverick and the Paramount+ series The Offer, which will focus on the production of The Godfather. Teller is playing the producer Albert S. Ruddy, a role initially cast with Armie Hammer. Reports swirled that Teller was responsible for the shoot's recent shutdown due to a positive COVID-19 test but I've never seen any hard evidence that he was the culprit behind that. The Daily Mail said it was him, his publicists denied it, DeuxMoi went wild. He keeps a low profile and occasionally posts pictures of his wife and dog on Twitter. He’s also invested in a booze brand because all celebrities must do so nowadays. He seems happy.

Whenever Miles Teller comes up in conversation, at least one person I know will say something about how he “just seems like a d**k.” It’s that weird feeling you get without explanation, your b*tch eating crackers response that’s pure instinct and often unrooted in reality. Maybe it’s just his face, handsome but kind of smarmy, like Robin Thicke or Ben Affleck when he was at his least endearing. It’s a hard image to shake, regardless of how apt it may be, and it’s tough to sell as a winning quality. Being a loveable a-hole is an image that only a select few can pull off, like Bill Murray in Ghostbusters. Earlier this year, Teller spoke out over being attacked by two men while holidaying in Maui, and I saw way too many people oddly delighted by this. He’s one of those figures who doesn’t seem to get the benefit of the doubt. It’s because he’s got one of those faces.

Sometimes, a celebrity is defined more potently by actions outside of their control. Consider the overwhelming tabloid barrage that shaped the images of people like Britney Spears. You can read years’ worth of coverage of Lana Turner in Photoplay, a magazine happily in the pockets of the studios and their whims, and be shocked by how openly she’s mocked as a woman about town with terrible taste in men. It’s rare and admittedly intriguing, however, to see how one celebrity has been so thoroughly imagined in the public eye thanks to one mere article. You never see other profiles of Teller be discussed with this kind of detail (honestly, do any other notable ones come to mind?) Is it a narrative that can change once Teller’s back on the promotional cycle? Is there a hunger for that? Or do we crave more profiles like the Esquire one? 


Is this the greatest Mean Tweet of all time? Yes. Except for the Gerard Butler one (Image via Kimmel // ABC // YouTube.)

Please share your thoughts on this article in the comments below, or feel free to hit me up on Twitter at @Ceilidhann for a chat about books, gossip, and my panting efforts to return to regular exercise. If you like this newsletter, please share it online and recommend it to everyone who you think would enjoy some vintage gossip analysis. If you have any feedback or recommendations for future issues, please get in touch through email at hello@kayleighdonaldson.com.

You can find my work on Pajiba.com as well as sites like SYFY, IGN, Uproxx, Slashfilm, RogerEbert.com, and many other places. This past fortnight, I talked about a recent YA community scandal involving NFTs (because they truly are bloody everywhere), the endless second chances of Mel Gibson, and the long-delayed megastar breakthrough of Ana de Armas. I also reviewed The Last Duel (it's great!), The Rescue (it's good), and What Happened, Brittany Murphy? (it's repugnant trash.)

The Gossip Reading Club is free to read and shall remain so. However, if you would like to donate a couple of dollars towards its upkeep, you can do so on my Ko-Fi page. It takes a lot of work to put these together and now I have to pay for the newsletter service (and write this stuff on a laptop that has crashed twice during the posting of this dang issue.) Thanks so much to everyone who has been so generous in recent weeks. I seriously appreciate it!

I'm really eager to hear from you, dear gossip readers, about topics you'd like to see covered in this newsletter. Is there a famous story or scandal or particular profile you'd like to see me look into? I am open to any and all ideas as long as the article is easily accessible. Enjoy your weekend!

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