CHICAGO – In the new film, “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” there is a breakout performance that is simply mind-blowing. Playing opposite the conflicted mother – portrayed by the great Tilda Swinton – is Ezra Miller, as her son Kevin. The character is a teenager in crisis, motivated by forces beyond his control.
“We Need to Talk About Kevin” is remarkable because it casts no judgment as it presents the members of a typical American middle class family. In this circumstance, the son is born to be bad, and increases his erratic behavior in crossing over to adolescence. How Tilda Swinton reacts as his mother and John C. Reilly as his father is the consequence of a bad dream-like situation. The film is as real as it is exaggerated, and adds insight to the modern expectations of the “perfect” nuclear family.
Photo credit: Oscilloscope Pictures
Anchoring the film as the title character is actor Ezra Miller. The 18-year-old prodigy is the veteran of seven feature films and two television series. His portrayal of Elliot in the 2011 independent feature “Another Happy Day,” had him opposite Ellen Barkin in a similar, yet slyly different take on the mother and son relationship. He is unforgettable as Kevin when experienced on screen, and is preparing for what most likely will be a sensational career. And, by the way, he plays drums in the indie band “Sons of an Illustrious Father.”
HollywoodChicago.com talked to Ezra Miller via a phone interview in anticipation of the Chicago opening this week of “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” The brilliantly insightful actor spoke of his latest film role, the general role of the teenager in society and the attempt to define himself in the show business publicity game.
HollywoodChicago.com: What is the origin of your interest in being an actor and how did it come about? And when did the art of acting start to click for you in regard to actually embracing a character such as Kevin?
Ezra Miller: To be perfectly honest, and I know this is not the most civilized or mature answer, but I was four years old I would do dress-up in silly costumes and play imagination games with my sister. We would go to the ‘deep west’ as we called it, and would have adventures and misadventures. I would defend my sister, who would be some type of royalty or aristocracy. [laughs] It was in playing those games of make believe that I found the true passion. And that in the scope of possibilities – even though I was four years old and it was pretty broad and endless – it would only get wider and wider.
HollywoodChicago.com: Which role in your whirlwind career felt like a crossover to the type of work you wanted to do and why?
Miller: It all happened fairly naturally. My interest in make believe found an outlet in kindergarten, when our music teacher told us about opera, and I was entranced. I started going to the opera at a young age, and when I was eight years old my mother heard about an open call for a movement and dance piece in an actual opera. She asked me if I wanted to try out, I was very into the idea, and got the role. So seamlessly, my passion for playtime transitioned into something I was able to do on a large scale, and even at eight years old was able to get payment for. That part of it still bewilders and beguiles me to this day. [laughs]
HollywoodChicago.com: You were asked to do many difficult personality quirks in your role as Kevin. Was it difficult to leave the feelings behind that you generated within the character after a day on the set?
Miller: Certainly. The way Kevin’s emotions hold him in their grasp, kind of physically, was impossible to shake until production was done. That month was very intense, and I did at times feel that I was going completely mad. Which I was willing to do for the sake of the film, for I believed in the story and Lynn [Ramsay, the writer/director] as a filmmaker so strongly, that even though I was saying to myself, yes I’m going mad, I was doing it in the service of something I believed in.
HollywoodChicago.com: Tilda Swinton made some unique choices in the role as your mother. How were you able to play off of those choices in formulating Kevin?
Photo credit: Bernadette Higgins for SonsofanIllustriousFather.com
Miller: Tilda Swinton is an artist so powerful, it makes the job of the persons working within and around her that much easier. The way that she allows the nature of a moment in the story to ultimately guide her performance, on a second-by-second basis, leaves a fellow actor no choice but to be happily pulled along.
In the character of Kevin, it was very simple to continue to engage in a moment-to-moment struggle in what was essentially a fencing match between those two characters. Because everything that I would do would be immediately responded to, it was continually renewing the reality of the moment in every scene. It was an amazing and inspiring experience to work with her.
HollywoodChicago.com: Given the Oedipal nature of your persona in the film, did you think about the relationship with your mother any differently after doing the character of Kevin?
Miller: Ultimately, it left me swimming in a sea of gratitude, that I have a mother who is very caring and very wise, in the way she conducts herself in the parent/child relationship, in the interest of what I see now as the mending of a very basic primordial wound. It naturally exists between parents and their children, for in the creation of a child there is sacrifice, bloodshed and nourishment, and that is how you can be whole in that relationship. The parent and the child are so close in nature, and so bonded in things outside of love – which are a little trickier to navigate. It is truly a very difficult, fastidious process.
My mother did a brilliant job. I love her and I feel we can talk about anything. We can connect again and again on a very simple, basic level. I feel comforted and happy when I’m with her, and also I feel happy and strong when I’m without her. Which I think is ultimately the goal of that relationship.
HollywoodChicago.com: Given your current status as a teenager in this post millennium age, do you run across or observe the traits of Kevin in people within your peer group?
Miller: Yeah, I think you can find and observe traits of Kevin in many people across all generations. There is a certain quality to someone who is essentially clamoring for attention in their lives, which is common across the board and very dangerous in all sorts of situations. If someone doesn’t find a true, constructive relationship with the people they are around in their early life, it can be immensely damaging down the road.
There are also aspects of Kevin’s detachment, his apathy and his resentment towards the superficial well-being of his surroundings, which is certainly identifiable in my peer group. The reality of disaffected youth who feel within themselves a lot of extreme emotions and see around themselves a lot of monotony and blandness. They observe the building blocks of what is purported to be a happy existence, with none of the true spirit of that happiness. This characteristic exists to me within middle and upper class America.
HollywoodChicago.com: You are a very thoughtful individual. Let me throw out a question about the business you are in. What has been the strangest or most surreal experience of your other job besides being an actor, that of marketing yourself as a brand or a type within the show business landscape?
Miller: It’s been a succession of surreal experiences. I’m still very unsure when it comes to trying to figure out a way to communicate myself as a person without falling victim to the harsh criticism and judgment of people trying to find a category or subtitle for me. [laughs] More than anything I’ve been trying to speak to the benefit of the work of art that I’ve worked on and what I believe in, and then to the best of my ability to be honest in answering these various questions that I’m asked. I’m not sure, at this point, if that is enough for this second aspect of this career choice, I’m sort of struggling to figure that out.