- By Atissa Manshouri
- October 14, 2011
Up-and-coming actor accepted MVFF’s Spotlight Award Thursday night for his chilling performance in ‘We Need To Talk About Kevin.’
The coveted and elusive 18-to-25 age group was out in force for Thursday night’s Mill Valley Film Festival Spotlight on actor Ezra Miller, following a screening of Lynne Ramsay‘s new film, We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which Miller plays the titular character.
At just 18 years old, Miller is already a veteran of the indie film scene, having appeared in five independent features over the last three years in addition to Kevin. He had a supporting role in Another Happy Day, which screened at MVFF on Wednesday night. Teenage fans, clearly familiar with his work, dotted the sold-out audience, some with their parents but many in groups of two and three.
And Miller looked every bit the part, from his long, wavy black hair to his slightly eccentric get-up of waistcoat, bowtie, pin-striped pants and vintage-looking ankle boots. Introducing the film, Miller was equal parts Jeff Spicoli and Daniel Day-Lewis, an intriguing combination of youth and complexity that would intensify as the film unspooled moments later.
His performance as a disturbed teenager in Ramsay’s film is perhaps the darkest part of a very, very dark film, which, for anyone who saw it last night, is saying quite a lot. When the film premiered at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, it became the talk of the festival, not only for Tilda Swinton‘s mesmerizing portrayal of his mother Eva, but also for Miller’s seemingly-effortless inhabiting of a character as chilling as any seen on screen in recent years.
Ramsay’s film deals in the psychology of a dysfunctional mother-son relationship in the harsh framework of tragedy: the son perpetrates a horrific crime; the mother must confront her own role in how he became who he is. In the hands of lesser artists, the film might easily have strayed into genre territory, or cut too close to the real-life massacres that occured at Columbine High School and Virginia Tech.
But mercifully, Kevin’s darkness is balanced by Ramsay’s artful approach to the material, which lets the story unfold like a three-dimensional M.C. Escher puzzle, creating ambiguity, questions of reliability and moments when even the audience doubts what they are seeing. With Swinton’s powerhouse performance at its center, We Need to Talk About Kevin is a film that demands attention.
Miller himself is an actor who commands it as well. During the post-screening Q&A with MVFF Executive Director Mark Fishkin, he exuded confidence and intelligence, with just enough deadpan humor and teenage cockiness to keep the audience laughing.
He spoke thoughtfully about finding “a real artistic common ground” with Ramsay during the casting process, and of his excitement at working with Swinton (“It’s a gift that I don’t quite know how I’m worthy of”). Though it’s hard to imagine after seeing the chilling finished product, he also called the lightning-fast Kevin shoot “a lot of fun… Twisted, wild, balls-to-the-wall, must-make-movie kind of fun.”
It was hard at times to remember that he is still just 18 years old, but when Fishkin was joined onstage by Zoe Elton at the evening’s conclusion to present Miller with MVFF Spotlight Award, he became suddenly bashful, telling audience members who called out for a speech, “This is actually the first award I’ve ever received.”
For an actor at the very beginning of a very interesting career, it is sure to be the first of many.