Ezra Miller’s cred as a young actor to-be-reckoned- with has been growing over the last few years.
On cable TV, he’s had semi-regular stints as Damien, boyfriend of David Duchovny’s daughter on Californication, and Tucker Bryant, a teenager with hemophilia on Royal Pains. Miller’s impressive feature film resume includes attention-getting parts as an Internet-obsessed high schooler making a memorial video for a late fellow student in Afterschool (2008), a crusading college journalist in Beware the Gonzo (2010) and as Andy Garcia’s son, a kid obsessed with web porn featuring overweight women, in City Island (2010).
But the nineteen-year-old Hoboken, NJ native’s most buzzed-about part so far is in the new film We Need to Talk About Kevin. Here, Miller plays the titular character, a discontent teenager imprisoned for murdering fellow high school students, teachers and others with a high-tech bow and arrow.
Miller desperately wanted this difficult role which cast him opposite Tilda Swinton’s troubled travel writer mother Eva and John C. Reilly’s ineffectual father Franklin. It’s an adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s praised novel from Scottish director Lynne Ramsay (Ratcatcher, Morvern Callar), who had the actor go through six auditions before he was chosen.
“I had a wrathful, thirsting pursuit for this role,” he said recently. “I pursued it like a stalker.”
Miller had to do some homework to prepare for the part of Kevin Khatchadourian, a teen who shuns his mother’s affection and care when he’s younger, while being excused for his disturbing, often violent actions by his father.
“I spent time looking into mass murderers of the past,” said Miller recently by phone. “But Kevin’s motives are so deeply personal that it wasn’t appropriate to take anything from Derek Harris and Dylan Klebold from Columbine.”
But Miller insists that script, co-written by Ramsay and husband Rory Stewart Kinnear, had enough in it for him to fashion his chilling performance without getting too deep into the research.
“I gathered that most people who come to a place to kill for their purposes experience sexuality in a particular way,” explained Miller. “But in this case, Kevin’s motivation was mostly his memories. So all I really needed was the script.”
The 2003 novel unfolded in linear fashion, as a series of letters between Eva and Franklin, as Eva attempts to come to terms with the horrible deeds her son has done. The film depicts the events, and how Kevin’s distraught mother deals with the situation, by moving forward and backward in time in what often appears a stream-of-consciousness style.
Miller–who will next be seen playing a gay college student in The Perks of Being a Wallflower, a coming-of-age story about a teen growing up in 1990s Pittsburgh–read the script two years before filming had begun, and claimed it was “quite overwhelming and shocking and brilliant and new.”
“It was overflowing with symbols,” the actor, who also plays drums in the band Sons of an Illustrious Father, related “There was a visceral emotion in scenes. There would be dialogue, then a beat and a symbol to match the reaction of particular characters.
“When you know Lynne’s work, you can see it in your mind. It was all so delicately realized.”
Miller said that while We Need to Talk About Kevin delves deeply into a tragic situation, it was not necessarily a dreary working experience.
“We didn’t have to share dark material to make this work,” Miller said. “And Lynne booked actors who were insistent of the notion that we understand the material internally.
“Tilda certainly understands the intricacies of making a film moment to moment, so we had laughs and a social experience along the way.”
Still, there were some tough times tackling such a dark character.
“The toughest thing was from the perspective of just me as a human being, firing arrow after arrow, thinking I was killing people,” said Miller.
Since much of the film involved the dysfunctional relationship between mother and son, one wonders if Miller’s own mother has seen the picture?
“I brought my mother to (the) Cannes (Film Festival) and watched it for the first time,” Miller recalled. “She cried in a way I’ve never heard her cry before. She was able to suspend the state of disbelief and was able to experience it quite directly in an emotional way.”