Young actor stretches sociopathic muscles in ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’
by Lawrence Ferber
Ezra Miller plays a bad, bad boy in We Need to Talk About Kevin, director Lynne Ramsay’s adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s chilling novel about Kevin, a sociopathic teen, and his tormented mother, Eva. As Kevin, Miller exudes undiluted malice—with assist from his exotic, sculpted features—while Tilda Swinton, who helped develop the project with Ramsay (and is credited as an executive producer), turns in another devastating, awards-worthy performance.
Miller’s own mother was moved to tears when she saw Kevin with him at its Cannes Film Festival world premiere last May. “I never heard her cry this particular way before,” Miller recalls, “and it was the first testament to the possibility that the performance and film had been a success.”
Mind you, the 18-year-old Miller has played his share of provocative young characters whose antics would inspire premature gray hairs in most parents, including a prep-school kid with a taste for violent Internet porn in 2008’s Afterschool, a chubby-chasing horndog in 2009’s City Island, and a gay teen in 2010’s Every Day.
Via telephone, the New Jersey-born actor, who also plays drums in the band Sons of an Illustrious Father (which recently released their second album, One Body), dished about how Swinton measures up as a mom, his June 2011 bust for marijuana possession, and being gay (again) in the upcoming The Perks of Being a Wallflower…as well as off-screen.
Lawrence Ferber: You make poor Tilda Swinton’s life a misery in Kevin. What would it be like to actually have Tilda as your mother?
Ezra Miller: It would be amazing. Honestly, having Tilda as a mother would be a beautiful, lovely, wonderful experience. She has two children and they’re absolute angels, really wonderful people, and it seems like they’re being raised so right. They stay away from technology, they have vivid imaginations, they play all the time. It would be very dreamy and quite the polar opposite from the relationship our characters had in the film.
Have you had any bad-seed moments in real life?
I remember I put chewing gum in my friend Devon’s hair when I was in, I dunno, second grade. I did it for no reason. It was one of those things where you’re holding chewing gum in your hand and see the hair and do it. I remember my parents were very horrified. In the exploration of life and your own capacity as human beings, kids naturally discover how to lie and hurt and deceive and manipulate, and have to do it—flex their muscles.
Tilda played another mother in crisis in The Deep End, in which her gay son gets caught up with dangerous characters. Did you watch that prior to working with her?
I had seen that film before I was considering this one, but didn’t refer to it in the work. One of the most important things about working with an actor whose work you know is to forget about that work, to the best of your ability. Those characters and situations are irrelevant. You’re creating a story with someone who, in my mind, is a real person to my character. That was just my mother, Eva. [It’s natural and easy] to actually detach all associations of other characters she’s played, because she carves a lot of distinction into each of the characters she plays.
I read in an interview with Lynne that you were underage and lied about it to get cast in the film.
That is a bold-faced lie! They made a mistake. They just assumed I was of age. There was a sheet in the casting director’s office that said, “Write down your birthday if you’re under 18,” and I wrote down my birthday. I admitted it. They’ve been trying to blame me for it since. You can’t believe everything Lynne Ramsay tells you.
Was that a big problem?
I think they did have to make some accommodations and get a general verbal agreement from me that I would be willing to work any and all hours to make this film possible. I think the initial concern was trying to accommodate the hours [since minors have limited working hours on a low-budget shoot]. But I voiced great determination to be part of this film, and I think that commitment comforted them enough.
You play gay in Wallflower as Patrick, older brother to Emma Watson’s character and friend to the protagonist, Charlie. What can you tell us about that character?
I can tell you he’s an outstanding, charismatic, prideful young lad who has a beautiful ability to transform his circumstance into one of levity. He can make light of any situation, which I came to admire. He almost has this internal mechanism to bring the light out of any given situation.
Does Patrick have a boyfriend?
Yes! He has a boyfriend whom he keeps secret, because the boyfriend’s closeted and ashamed. He’s the high school quarterback. One of those.
It was nice to see you play a well-adjusted, kind, straight-edge gay kid in Every Day.
Right! He was a good, friendly character. People keep telling me I’m always playing one character. There’s a range.
When Tom Hardy was asked about whether he had had any gay sexual experiences, he famously said, “Of course, I’m an actor, for f–k’s sake.” Have you ever had a gay moment in real life?
Of course! Many! I’ve had many, you know, “happy ending sleepovers” in my early youth. My period of exploration. I think that’s essential. Anyone who hasn’t had a gay moment is probably trying to avoid some confrontation with a reality in their life.
Do you have some gay moments still to come? Is there any hope for the guys crushing on you?
I’m not sure. Perhaps. I keep my options open. My spectrum remains broad. I’ve been in love with a lot of girls lately, but that doesn’t necessarily suggest anything definite about the future.
In June you were arrested for marijuana possession—about 20 grams of it—and ultimately let off. I was shocked to read about the arrest, mostly because I keep forgetting they actually prosecute people for marijuana possession.
Right! They shouldn’t. It’s a ridiculous law based on ridiculous things. But I think people are coming around. Medicalization of marijuana is happening in more and more states. Of course, nonviolent drug convictions constitute a lot of what puts people in jail in this country, and the prison-industrial complex is one of our last booming industries. Pot also stands to take a lot of money away from the pharmaceutical industry. It’s a painkiller and dopamine inhibitor. It serves all of these functions [that many] harmful, extreme drugs are prescribed to serve. So there’s money to be made in the continued illegality of that plant. But I feel no shame. It’s a plant. Everybody knows what pot is. And I don’t care. It was a very enlightening experience to see the way the chief of police called the media, and it all results in me handing money to a judge in the form of a fine. Yeah—my journey in the legal system.
There’s a website dedicated to hotties’ mugshots, Hot and Busted[hotandbusted.tumblr.com], so perhaps we can at least make sure your mugshot gets up there.
Yeah, I hope so. I hope I make that cut.
Lawrence Ferber is a frequent contributor to OutSmart magazine.