An Interview with Ezra Miller
Published: Thursday, March 8, 2012
Updated: Saturday, March 10, 2012 14:03
"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN" was one of 2011's most underrated releases, and it finally makes its way to Boston this weekend. A dark, visceral, and undeniably funny character study about a mother (Tilda Swinton) who finds herself helpless against the domineering control of her sociopathic son, the film is a truly hallucinatory trip into the human psyche at it's weakest. Three actors play the titular Kevin over the course of the film, most memorably the startling, shocking Ezra Miller.
Miller, who plays Kevin as a high school student, gives a truly revelatory performance. He somehow mixes in tics established by the previous actor (himself only a toddler) while giving Kevin an uncontrollable sexual undercurrent that was obviously missing in the previous incarnation. It's a role that could truly drive an actor mad; forcing Miller to constantly feel nothing but hate and destruction. We were lucky enough to speak to him about the challenges of the role, his relationship with filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, and all things "KEVIN".
The Voice: What was it like finally seeing the final cut of the movie?
Ezra Miller: It had a devastating effect. I sort of collapsed. It was like a take-down – I was tackled by the film. I was sitting next to my mother – my real mother, that is – and this film, it's so beautifully composed, and it's so viscerally hard hitting. You combine those elements with the fact that I put all of my energy into creating this… as I watched it, it felt more tragic than anything else. It's strange to experience someone like that through your own face.
Watching yourself on the screen, it's a strange metaphysical interaction. And that in combination with how amazingly effective this film is, and my mother was weeping – I was literally speechless. I had a very hard time forming sentences, or even words, for like 30 minutes. It blew me away.
The Voice: Lynne Ramsay is a truly singular filmmaker, there's no one out there making films like her. What was it like working with her, adapting to her process?
Ezra: Lynne is someone who has a really, really deeply entrenched understanding of film. First and foremost, she is a practicing cinephile who understands all of her tools. With someone who has that immense knowledge, that understanding of craft… it's hard to find someone with that AND the reckless abandon that Lynne has.
She draws from a myriad of sources, she cultivates a complex and studied understanding of the story she's telling, and then when it comes time to shoot or work with the performer or to do anything else – when it comes time for "action!", she derives directly from her instincts. At times you'll see her waving her hands at the monitor as if she can move the camera with her mind.
The Voice: It seems that the film takes place from the point-of-view of Eva (Swinton), everything is dictated by her memory or by the way she sees things. How does that inform your performance?
Ezra: It's a funny thing. Essentially, until that last scene, I'm not actually playing a person in the omniscient sense. I'm playing a memory. Or like a dream-figure. And sometimes the way I would play Kevin as extreme, or polarized, was in the interest of perfecting her vantage point. And I think there were constant reminders of that reality in that every moment is played through the lens of found images that directly link back to Eva's mind in the film's so-called "present day". So it's a massive factor, and a constant… strange consideration.
The Voice: Lynne Ramsay is a known cinephile; was there anything she showed you to prepare you for such an intense role?
Ezra: Yeah, there were films that she suggested I watch, both in the interest of conveying tonalities and also certain building blocks of my character that she saw as being common to other characters. The first thing was every film Alan Clarke ever made – she wanted me to watch those. Those were immensely helpful, especially in terms of understanding her tone, not just performances. It's like knowing the width and length of the stage, as a theater performer.
And also, Terrence Malick's "BADLANDS". The character there has an expiration, that can certainly be compared to the expiration of Kevin. And also some Michael Haneke films. She would never tell me exactly why I was watching them… just "elements of the character".
The Voice: I know we're running out of time, but I saw you had a role in the upcoming adaptation of "PERKS OF BEING A WALLFLOWER". Is there anything you can tell us about that project, perhaps when it's coming out?
Ezra: I don't know exactly when it's coming out but it should be sometime this year. Making that film was absolute magic. When you get together a young cast, some of these amazing actors like Paul Rudd… all of these people from various parts of the acting world, and you put them in this hotel in Pittsburgh, and you give them an immense amount of trust in finding their individual characters and the collective friendship that is the driving force of the film… art came to reflect life and then life came to even the art back out. It was an incredible amount of fun. If the film even slightly echoes the amount of fun we had then it will be an amazing, amazing teen movie.
And a teen movie at it's greatest potential. Everybody who I was able to work with, and befriend through the making of that film, is someone I really value. It was an incredible privilege to work with all of them at once. So yeah, sometime this next year – I haven't seen it yet, but I have a feeling it's going to be something.
"WE NEED TO TALK ABOUT KEVIN" opens today at Kendall Square Cinema.