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.