Ezra Miller is smart. Smarter than many adult actors in Hollywood, which is strange, since the kid is an 18-year-old high school dropout. With a penchant for 'honest' dark roles, Miller plays the maladjusted son in dysfunctional family flicks 'Another Happy Day' and 'We Need to Talk About Kevin' -- and boy, is he convincing. Thankfully, while on the phone from New York, Miller loses all the "psycho" vibes and comes across as a thoughtful, articulate soul out to perfect his art.
The roles he tackles aren't easy to portray (he's been haunted by nightmares, actually), but Miller plays them like a pro. Moviefone spoke with him about his response to Columbine, playing a psychopath and getting life advice from Andy Garcia.
Dude, I have to say it. Sometimes you terrify me.
I've heard that before! [Laughs] I'm thankful to say that, for the most part, it's been intentional. I haven't started incidentally scaring children or small animals quite yet.
You're only 18 years old, but you've worked with some amazing actors. Tilda Swinton, Ellen Burstyn, Ellen Barkin and Andy Garcia, just to name a few. So many other actors would kill to work with them...
Well, I have killed a bunch of people. No, but seriously, honestly... I dropped out of high school. I did that on the suspicion that I could learn everything that I wanted to learn in my craft outside of an educational institution. My suspicion was proven quite right through this unfairly fantastic education, being able to collaborate and draw from these incredible actors. It's the high-school-dropout education of a lifetime.
Is there any particular advice from any of these actors that's stayed with you?
One that sticks with me is from Andy Garcia, when I was 15 and working on 'City Island.' He was smoking a cigar and we were out by the house. He leaned over and in his Andy Garcia voice, said, "Ezra. All right. You gotta break the slate." I nodded and pretended to understand, but then I walked away and was like "What the f**k does that mean?" He explained it later on, saying that "You have a slate that you can paint on, you can draw on it, you can make it into something. Once you've done that scene and you have it on a solid slate, you have to break it and start over." He was trying to communicate with me that I can't, especially in art, try to recreate something that's already been done. You will have a truer and better result if you work from an internal place and start anew, rather than replicate or mimic something that you once did. It's like when you see an old musician playing the same hits from 40 years ago.
Which is all too often.
Right. If you work from that place over and over, you get the same uninspiring result.
While your roles have similar themes, you're not showing us the exact same role, or the exact same character. You see so many young actors doing film franchises like 'Twilight,' 'The Hunger Games' or 'Harry Potter' for 3, 4, 5 movies in a row. Are you glad you didn't get your fame via that route?
I am so extremely glad. I can't tell you. I have many friends who've walked the franchise tightrope, and I've come close to walking it myself. I only want to commit to projects of that magnitude and that length of time when it would be something really right. I need to feel the honesty in the work I do.
On the internet there's a lot of talk that you're going to be appearing in the 'Akira' remake. Is that true?
Oh. It's online everywhere.
That, I can assure you, will not be a reality. It's one of those considerations that we just discussed. It's a beautiful Japanese epic, and I think it will be a very entertaining, fun film. But it's not my next move.
I think your search for honest roles is working for you. There's an authenticity in your performances that you don't often see.
Well thank you, man. It's good to hear. Between every film, it's like 40 days in the desert; I get a million of those scripts, those tempting deals. It's tough, you know? Man cannot live on popcorn alone.
Your most recent roles ('Another Happy Day,' 'We Need to Talk About Kevin') deal with very dysfunctional families. You didn't draw on your real-life experience at all for these, I hope.
Out of the many families that I've now explored, my family is the most wonderful, and the most functional of the lot. I come from a home where you're constantly engaging in the struggle for honesty and acceptance. We truly hear and recognize one another. Being able to dive into these other families one at a time, I leave with a greater appreciation for my own.
You say things to your movie mothers [Ellen Barkin, Tilda Swinton] that I cannot believe. Was there any line that was particularly tough for you to give? Did you ever hallucinate and see your own mother's face?
[Laughs] Always. I've been through some strange astral dances with my mother in the process of making these films, especially recently on 'Kevin.' Any time I would sleep, I had the same nightmare. It was Eva [Swinton], but also my real mother, and I was Kevin, but also me, if that makes sense. We'd observe these puddles... and we'd be forced to witness this horrible human aggression, this genocide in the puddles. I couldn't see my mother during that entire shoot. I remember when the shoot was over, it seemed like I was waking up from a very long dream.
It's not surprising that you had bad dreams after 'Kevin.'
Yeah. We were all having nightmares. We would all wake up in the morning, look at each other and just be like, "Huhhhh. Whew. Rough one!" Every time. Every night. "Jesus! When is this shoot going to be over?" The constant barrage of the most horrible thoughts. The most horrible thoughts a person can think – I'm confident that they've run through my head. And sometimes, when I'm too tired to know the difference, I still think I've killed people. But that's the magic, that's the ultimate aim. Acting is a quest for the happiest insanity – the "real" of life is actually quite unreal, and the unreal, the imagined, the projected, is very real.
You were only six years old when Columbine happened. Did you try to wrap your head around the event, and if so, how did you do it?
I was a very engaged youngster, and I made attempts to wrap my head around anything that came my way. I vaguely remembered Columbine. I recall all the time afterwards more vividly, the response to Columbine. Right after it happened, there was this sentiment that swept the country where we felt the need to control our kids. To make sure it didn't happen again, we needed to lengthen our arm of control to protect our teenage children. What that meant was metal detectors, cameras in bathrooms, security screenings, 'Are You Going to Shoot People?' questionnaires ... to me, it always struck me as such an error – to make no effort to speak to or listen to the core place where this came from. I saw it as kids feeling that their lives were unrealistic, that there was a falsehood to it all and they were being demeaned in their environment. Their response was to create a very real event which would simultaneously destroy their environment. Talking psychologically, that's understandable. It's f**ked up, unbelievable, unforgiveable, all this, yes, but we also need to make an effort to understand why people do this, or else they'll keep doing it. To further distrust kids in response to an event like that only makes them less trustworthy.
It was a very antiseptic response, almost like a distancing...
Yes! Antiseptic is a very good word. We spend so much time in this day and age wiping the little bits of dirt off of our hands, that we are so susceptible to the horrific big germs. We don't build immunity anymore. And in keeping with this metaphor, immunity can be seen as an understanding or a system of response.
Regardless of his motivation, I wanted to kill Kevin. Like drive a car with him in it off a bridge.
That's a fantastic idea. [Laughs] Honestly, that would have been the best thing for everyone. I've gotten that from a few people, even my close friends. I'm half-expecting to be shot with an arrow preemptively any day now.
The next film we'll see you in is 'The Perks of Being a Wallflower.' Glad to be a part of that project?
It'll come out in spring. I can't wait for it. It has a lightness that my other dark fare doesn't have. I feel like there's a lot for people in their mid-teens in the film. More than anything, when I was in that age range, I sought art that spoke to me. I'm thrilled to be involved in a piece of art that speaks directly to kids. It's also going to be a movie that kids can actually see without parental approval or some such nonsense. It strikes that balance. It maintains the honesty and the spirit of the book, I think.
After 'Wallflower,' do you have any particular goals or ambitions?
My band, Sons of an Illustrious Father, just released their second album. I hope to find roads of promotion, and get back into our crazed micro school bus and start roaming the lands again.
The best times happen in microbuses.
Some of the finest hours of my life -- as of yet -- have occurred in one micro school bus.
[Photo: BBC Films]
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