Ezra Miller had only been working for three years when he appeared as the title character in We Need to Talk About Kevin, a pretty staggering introduction to the broader film world. One year later he shows even more dramatic range in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. He plays Patrick, a compassionate high school senior who leads a group of benevolent outcasts. During the Toronto International Film Festival, we got to speak with Miller. He took advantage of the decadent setting in the Trump hotel, curled up in bed under the covers. When I pulled a chair up to the bed, he said I was the first to do that all day.
Crave Online: Are you feeling okay?
Ezra Miller: Yeah. This is working out for me great. I’ve been getting a lot of that, like, “Are you sick?” I’m like, “No.”
It’s easy to get something at a festival because we’re running around with no sleep.
True. True. I could imagine a scenario.
No one else has pulled a chair up?
People have been finding their own way. It’s been working out.
After We Need to Talk About Kevin, was it important to you to play a really nice kid?
No, not necessarily. I also played another kind of mean, distraught child. In between Kevin and Perks I played a drug addled kid who spits in his mother’s face and calls her a c*** at one point. So no. I think I enjoy playing human beings no matter the substance of their character. There’s something interesting about exploring human beings without a sort of dichotomous perspective of good and bad. Good guys/bad guys can be really fun for a story but I feel like there’s something really interesting that’s been happening in art more recently of exploring some of the more dimensional and complex aspects of human beings, how we all contain multitudes of both things that could be called good or things that could be called bad. I like a role that is challenging. That’s what I look for and I’m certainly always looking to move further and maybe push myself into a place that might be temporarily uncomfortable so that I might learn something.
Was it a challenge to play Patrick who is surprisingly secure for someone that age?
It was. There was a certain challenge to that. I really had to confront a bunch of sort of admirable qualities that Patrick had, or has in fiction town, in toon town, that I didn’t have. There’s something very interesting about that to acknowledge the notable differences. I feel like over the course of playing the character Patrick, I came more and more into the understanding that he was a much better person than I am, you know what I mean? Which is great. Now I feel like I was once my own teacher and I’m excited to try and be Patrick when I grow up. I have something to aspire to, his pride and his happy means of survival, I look up to Patrick.
Do you feel emotional issues are misrepresented on film, and in the two most recent examples of your films you’ve been able to explore a complex portrayal of emotional issues?
Yeah, I think the thing about any type of artistic reflection is that it can be taken in just about any direction and used through just about any means to just about whatever end the artist might desire. So in recent times we’ve used movies in particular as a way to escape from perhaps some of the less enjoyable realities of our times into worlds where things are simpler and where there’s easy resolution. The escape to an unchallenging fairy tale can be very nice and I’m all for that, but film can also challenge you to confront the realities of our world. In terms of the tides of filmmaking in the mainstream, I feel they’ve been moving in one direction for a long time, sort of to the side of escapism. I’m definitely interested in rocking back in the other direction towards the more, yeah, confrontational approach in facing the gray area, as open and unbending and scary as it might be. I see that trend popping up in film now. I think by rearing our heads back in the opposite direction, we might be able to come to some happy medium one day where we can use movies both to escape to a happier place or recognize the darker places.
What are your favorite movies?
The Wizard of Oz is my favorite movie. It was the first movie I can ever remember watching. There’s something about it that is, in terms of that particular version of the hero’s journey, when you find yourself twisted up and thrown into a dreamland and someone you vaguely trust who saved you from a terrible assault tells you to try and find this wizard, and you believe them, and you follow this path and you’re dead certain you know what you’re looking for, then you find this guy and you find out that he’s actually just a person just like you and then you’re just forced face to face with the conclusion that you have always had the things you sought. Always. Click your frickin’ heels. It’s also just that movie is super dope, in every way. The production of that film, the way they introduced color to the world, the acting, the music. That’s one of those films that in my mind transcends a simple work of art and becomes like a scriptural work of mythology. In that length of film that contains that movie, or the little microchips that contain it now, there exists an entire reality for us to always relate to. I sort of learned that as a possibility within art from The Wizard of Oz so for me it will always be the one.
How about playing Frank-N-Furter in the Rocky Horror scenes of Perks?
Yes, too good, too good. Sort of my opportunity to thank Tim Curry for all the good he’s done for me and the world.
With Kevin being such a dramatic introduction for you to most people, what has the last year been like for you? And for all the feedback you get about how creepy you were in that film, wasn’t the younger actor, Jasper Newell, even creepier?
Super creepy. That kid’s amazing. Jasper Newell deserves infinite shout outs and definitely is a boy to keep an eye on in terms of his artistic prowess. But yeah, I loved this hilarious confusion of character and actor that seems to occur despite many of the people who perpetuate such misunderstandings having worked in this industry for years on end. We all on one level understand that filmmaking is the telling of a story and the fabrication of fiction, but there’s also just a hilarious, almost helpless subconscious attachment that we draw between artists and their art, or storytellers and the stories they tell. So yeah, I had a great time earlier on this year. It almost felt like I was defending, like I became Kevin’s lawyer, Kevin’s really incompetent way too young lawyer. All of a sudden people were asking me to defend this kid which was of course ridiculous, not a very defensible person.
Also he doesn’t exist.
Right, also you can’t really defend him in a court of law because he’s fictional. That was a problem. The imaginary judge was angry about that one.
Did you agree the interpretation that Kevin was a subjective story?
Yeah, definitely. I think we were trying to create this idea of an unreliable narrator. You can’t quite be sure how this woman’s telling this story in her own head.