In Lynne Ramsay’s latest film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, 18-year-old American actor Ezra Miller plays Kevin. When Kevin shoots students and teachers dead at his school, his mother Eva, played by Tilda Swinton, struggles to come to terms with his actions. Glasgow Film caught up with Miller shortly after the film’s Scottish premiere at GFT.
Glasgow Film: You told press at Cannes this year that you feel ‘a little connected’ to Kevin. What is it about him that you’ve connected to?
Ezra Miller: I think there’s something within Kevin that’s just common to the adolescent experience: the feeling of being distrusted, discredited, unloved, unattended to, unappreciated. I feel like it’s almost pandemic among adolescents, and in our culture there’s some validity in that feeling. I mean we are sort of like a disregarded age-range, and I think there’s a lot of empathy to be found for a character like Kevin. The beautiful thing within the intention of this film, in terms of my role, was to come to understand Kevin, to come to understand a person who on the offset seems like a monster or a demon, and to actually realise him as a human being. It sort of brought to the forefront, for me, a lot of questions about the way we view antagonistic figures worldwide – like how we view anyone who might have committed an atrocity, or done something that we deem intolerable. Our modes of vilifying seem like perhaps an easy way out – a quick fix – and not a real solution.
GF: The casting process for the part of Kevin reportedly took two years and six auditions. What do you think you brought to the table that finally got you the part?
EM: I think filmmakers, more than they would even occasionally like to admit to themselves, want to find in some regard the real character. Especially in a filmmaker like Lynne – who desires social realism and a biting feeling of reality within her work (even though her work is somehow magical and unreal, like social unrealism). I certainly feel like she seeks a spirit of truth in the things that she does. So I cultivated the physical, emotional and energetic qualities of the character before I walked into the audition room so that when she met me she had some feeling like she was meeting the character. I think that makes a filmmaker feel comfortable casting someone because they feel like, no matter what angle you shoot them from or what direction you give them, they are in some basic way that character so that will hold.
I think I almost do it subconsciously and then I hear the validation of it after we’ve made the film. We’ll be on the press tour and the director will say ‘you walked in the room and I felt like I’d met the character’. Recently a director said to me he didn’t know I wasn’t the character until after we’d stopped filming. I think that’s more effective than filmmakers would like to think.
GF: Three words – ‘Tilda Swinton: awesome?’
EM: In the original definition of the word awesome. I know you guys are aware over here that my culture has sort of diluted the word awesome. We say it all the time. The original definition of the word awesome is something that strikes the fear of God in your heart. So in that sense, Tilda Swinton: AWESOME!
GF: Soon we’ll be watching you play Patrick in The Perks of Being a Wallflower with Emma Watson.
EM: I hope you’ll be watching it!
GF: Of course! What can we expect to see from your character and how much of a detour will Patrick be from characters like Kevin?
EM: You couldn’t arrange a more extreme detour. Patrick is someone who, like every teenager, experiences internal struggle, but he manifests that internal struggle in his positivity: he’s constantly telling a joke, or making a statement, or just crafting an outlook for himself and his friends where they can see their rough adolescence as something beautiful, something of ‘epicism’, something gorgeous (as life really is if you look at it right). Patrick, for me, epitomises that quality. Some of the best people I’ve ever met have had this ability to manipulate situations into fun, and that’s the Patrick gift in my mind.
GF: Very different then.
EM: Yeah, the recovery process was a lot easier from that one.
GF: This last question is from an idea from Laura Norkett Lui on Facebook.
EM: Cool! Social media in action!
GF: In the book, Kevin appears to have many features and traits common in children with Autistic Spectrum Disorder. What approach did you take to portraying the character and did ASD feature in that approach?
EM: My belief, and this is purely a belief, is that the human complex cannot be covered in pragmatic psychology. So while I see where that question comes from, and certainly I identify with the notion that Kevin could have, in some version of a diagnosis, some kind of social disorder, a psychological condition will never play a role in how I create a character. Human beings are far more than a diagnosis and a pill for a cure. In America the diagnosis of autism is spiking, and there’s some ridiculous statistic about the rate at which kids are being diagnosed with some form of ASD, so at what point can we incorporate what we’re now viewing as a disorder as just some aspect of the human condition?
I know some people who are autistic, and they’re brilliant. They have space in their head that we use for words and ridiculous social interactions, factoids and little trivial things that they use for something they truly feel passionate about on an intellectual level. Sometimes I just don’t know what the difference is apart from the fact they’ve been diagnosed. So as an actor I certainly don’t feel that a human being can be summarised by a disorder.