The up-and-coming American star reveals how he got to grips with We Need to Talk About Kevin.
Wednesday, October 19 2011 10:3910 BST
It’s been two years since Ezra Miller first turned heads in Antonio Campos’ sparse lo-fi drama Afterschool. Now he’s appearing alongside Tilda Swinton and John C Reilly in British director Lynne Ramsay’s lucid adaptation of Lionel Shriver’s best-selling novel ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin’. LWLies spoke with Miller recently about playing the bad guy and putting his mother through hell.
LWLies: How’s life treating you?
Miller: Not too bad, man. I’m in my apartment right now; it’s very messy inside… I’ve been doing this thing where I look at a bunch of photo books and I’ll turn all of their pages at the same time and then just look at them all, at all the images as they naturally fall. So I’m kind of standing in a swamp of images. It’s good. It’s nice.
Is that for inspiration for something or just out of boredom?
[Laughs] How often those two meet! Yeah, inspiration for, well, I guess everything. Like aesthetic instigation, just to look at a picture of the burning Reichstag and a picture of Katherine Hepburn at the same time. It’s not anything in particular but it’s something in particular.
Let’s talk about Kevin. We saw the film for the first time in Cannes, how was that whole experience?
Man, it was just a tornado, just amazing, so beautiful and so wild and wonderful and definitely properly whelming. I wouldn’t say overwhelming but it walked that line in a good way… At times it was overwhelming, I’m not gonna lie. You know, to see the film was overwhelming, to be there at the festival, the great omni-belief system celebration of film, that was very nice. To see that movie sitting next to my mother and sitting next to John [C Reilly] and Lynne [Ramsay] and Tilda [Swinton], that was overwhelming in the best of ways, in the way that I just couldn’t believe that I would ever be apart of something like that. I couldn’t speak or walk properly for a little bit after that.
You caught LWLies’ eye in Afterschool a couple of years ago. Has time flown by since then?
It’s been a chasm for me, yeah, I mean, it’s been four years since I made Afterschool but it came out a year later. It doesn’t really compute, but when does time compute? Nobody seems these days to be saying ‘time computes’.
Are you happy taking things at the rate they’re coming at you?
Oh, rate must accelerate, my friend! Yeah, no, no, no, no, no, this is slow-rate beginning times. Humanity has a shit load of work to do in a very short time and I feel like that comes down to every individual; to take things as they come. It can’t work any other way otherwise it won’t happen.
You mentioned watching the film for the first time with your mother. What was that like?
Ugh, wow, brutal, as I’m sure you can imagine. No, I have an unbelievably wonderful relationship with my mother, and I guess that’s sort of exhibited in the fact that I was comfortable having her there for that first screening. It was immense, man, on many levels, most of which I won’t be able to truly describe. But I can’t tell you that in what I always felt was the moment of the film, certainly in the context of having imagined, not having seen the film, what the moment would be that would hit my mother – this of course being the last scene. And in that moment, in my prediction but really beyond anything I could ever have imagined, my mother started crying in this way I’d never heard or seen. Like, this violent sob, it was fucked up, man. Watching this movie with my mother was seriously fucked up. The thing is that my mother and I both really like to take on large amounts of darkness in the effort to bring them into light. And so to watch the film together was essentially, in the end, a catalyst for more of the exploration of good in our relationship.
How much did you have a sense of Lynne’s vision while making the film?
From the second I read the script there was this small burning ember in my gut by the end of page one. The description of shock in that script… like, every little piece of visceral imagery that was in the film was written… she could see it all along. But what came to light when I read the script, and even while we were making the film, is that I couldn’t actually know the fucked up shit she was going to do. I couldn’t know the things that she would create, the spells she would cast on the final product. But I had this feeling. I couldn’t know it but I could feel it, so it was just pure faith. Some films you unfortunately need to step out of your character and confirm with yourself whether or not you’re doing what’s proper based on whether or not everyone else is doing what’s proper.
With Lynne you don’t have to do that, you don’t have to do that at all. In fact all she’ll ever really make you do is step further in, but she’ll do it without saying a word, she’ll just look you in the eye. In the end I guess my perception, in this way that it never has been before was aligned with how the film turned out because I really believed in it when I first read it, more than I’d ever believed in anything. I still feel that way about the film; I’m just incredibly thankful and proud to be close to it at all. I’m just proud to be on the same planet as the film was made, you know.
There’s a nature versus nurture dynamic that underpins your characters relationship with his mother. From the audience’s point of view Kevin is pure evil, but there’s a question mark over where that evil comes from. Was it hard to hold back just enough to maintain that sense of ambivalence?
The goal was never to have it be just inherent evilness. I didn’t want to, Lynne didn’t want to fall into these Omen traps, which I think audiences in this modern world are set up to fall into. I think the focus of my performance and also really the performances of the other two kids, Rocky and Jasper, my miniatures, was going back to the roots of the notions of really why he was like this. Why is he like this? Why is he acting out in this way where it looks like inherent evil? Because a part of the whole thing to keep in mind is that Kevin knows what that looks like.
There’s a lot of emphasis on his awareness of that…
Hyper aware… That’s the entire reasoning behind the whole thing, because tones of mothers are ambivalent to motherhood in a way that is against he general standards of human behaviour of how mothers are supposed to act. But, you know, this is an extreme story. I always thought that this kid is born hyper aware, you know what I mean? Kevin’s awareness, for me, is the key to the whole thing.
What was the biggest challenge for you?
Not losing my mind.
Not getting too into the character?
Yeah. That might make someone who hears that think it’s terrible that I could so easily slip into this terrible character, but I would ask that person to take another look at themselves and just take another look at the history of humanity and just really approach the basic notions of aggressive nature. It’s basic; it’s very basic…
There’s a reason actors enjoy playing villains, right?
Oh yeah, dude! Especially because there’s such a deficit of darkness in the modern protagonist, there’s an unrealistic image that actors are having to step into time and time again. You know, I imagine that if I played a series of good guys that I’d get very frustrated and that a good villain part would be like a cool, tall glass of water.
You’re 18, what are your career ambitions?
I have tones of schemes, most of which I can’t really talk about, but there are others that are more immediate that I’m trying to talk about as much as possible. I’m starting an artists’ collective with a bunch of friends, other awesome, rocking young artists of this time, we’re gonna buy a big compound and try to get all of our resources in a singular spot. And my band masters our second album on Thursday.
What’s the band called?
Sons of An Illustrious Father. So we’re finishing mixing now, just making sure it’s all proper.
You can never be totally finished with mixing…
Yeah, this is the God-awful truth, isn’t it? This is Chinese democracy right here.
What do you love about movies?
Movies are the furthest heightening we have come to as a species thus far of creating mirrored reflections of the unreal realities every individual lives in relation to the universe. It is the ultimate catharsis, to see it played out in the reflection. It is the ultimate joy. It can be the ultimate terror. It can be anything. It is the empty puddle of reflection that can harbour any image. That’s why I love movies.