Ezra Miller is the 19-year-old star of We Need to Talk About Kevin, Lynne Ramsay’s film adaptation of the book by Lionel Shriver. Miller plays Kevin, a sociopathic child who grows up to commit mass homicide at his high school. The film shows his mother, Eva Khatchadourian, played by Tilda Swinton, reliving the past and visiting him in prison, trying to piece together the story of how her son became a murderer.
Have you always wanted to be an actor?
When I was very little, I was sort of consumed by a love for Opera. Weirdly enough I went from being really enthusiastic about construction vehicles at the age of seven to being really passionate about La Traviata by the time I was eight.
Then I also maintained the thing which every child has; which is that as kids we all run around and play make believe. My mother took me to a lot of operas and when I was eight I got the opportunity to be in one and I realised that transformation into these make-believe situations was possible. I decided that was essentially what I wanted to with my life.
Then I read this film when I was 14 [Afterschool] and it hit so many nerves at the same time and I’d discovered this ultimate form of make-believe; no singing, you just simply had to pretend to be someone else. It was kind of like love at first sight.
You’ve also played a gay teen and a weird boarding school kid. Do you think you are drawn to ‘troubled’ roles?
I’d say I’m drawn to characters that ring true to me. Adolescence which is a troubled time for everyone, so a lot of those characters have been a lot of troubled tortured people. It’s been a great way to navigate my adolescence by having these more troubled kids as an outlet.
Did you read the book?
I read the book like a mystic reads the Bible. I’d open a random page and read a little bit and maybe I’d open to a piece with Eva talking and I’d move pat that to a description of Kevin — something about how he moved or looked — and then incorporate that with the churning process of his history. It was my intention to read it when the film was through, but I’d really had enough of Kevin by that point. After I saw the movie at Cannes I did The Perks of Being a Wallflower – a film with truly happy moments. It was much cheerier.
Do people suspect you of being evil after playing Kevin?
I’ve had a bunch of crazy reactions, sometimes this movie makes people so upset they storm out the theatre or shout “you evil son of gun”, that kind of thing. In Cannes I met someone working on selling the film and I was trying to have a conversation with this person and they were flinching when I tried to shake their hand I just thought, “this is a weird interection” but then about 20 minutes after, it dawned on me that the person had seen the film. Another time, I went dancing with a friend and he was like “Uh. I’m gonna go home.I love you man, but I just can’t look at your face anymore”. It made me feel a little sad but it was also gratifying – like the performance was so effective he couldn’t look at me.
Did it make you consider your relationship with your own parents?
I didn’t speak to my mother while we were filming. It because me and my mother have a happy, good relationship and it might have interfered with the preparation.
What other preparation did you do for the role?
The preparation we had to do was series of archery lessons that we took in the back of a archery and hunting store in Connecticut. This guy named Paul taught me how to shoot a bow and arrow there. It was important from a technical perspective but it was also the physical activity that best informed the mental state of the character . He comes into this state of mind of precision and focus and hitting the target. The psyche of his mother is the target and he hits it in the bulls-eye.
You’ve spoken quite openly about smoking marjuuana. Are you still a strong advocate?
[Ezra was arrested last year while filming The Perks of Being a Wallflower, he said in an interview after “I don’t feel like there’s any need to hide the fact that I smoke pot. It’s a harmless herbal substance that increases sensory appreciation.”]
I never intended to be a strong advocate of smoking pot.I certainly don’t condemn it -it’s something that in its nature is different for each individual its something that grows out of the ground and when you smoke it all sorts of things happen. Its something everyone has to decide whether it makes sense for them but I don’t think we should fill jail cells with people for smoking the equivalent of rosemary.
I heard you dropped out of the Hudson School because you had a dream about Beethoven…?
I love how this stuff works. Did you play that game as a kid broken telephone? Where you whisper something in a circle and it sounds completely different at the end? There were a million reasons high school didn’t make sense for me. I found the classroom forum restrictive and condescending. I was finding really fulfilling and wonderful experiences out of school, in my work. I wanted to come back after going to the Berlin Film Festival, but I felt that some of the teachers and students rejected that.
Also, I did have that dream. It’s true. I dreamt I was on the subway where Beethoven was crying and I knew he was Beethoven somehow and he spoke English and he said he’s only written 4 synphonies and I told him to keep going, it was going to be OK and I was trying to push away these amorphous grey blob people surrounding us. I woke up and I knew I had to make a decision about going to school.
It disturbs me when Obama says in the State of the Union address that he wants to make dropping out of school at 18 illegal, because people learn differently and before there are forms of learning for every type of person in the world we shouldn’t be condemned for leaving.
We Need to Talk About Kevin is released on DVD on Monday 27 February.