Ezra Miller is only 18, but a handful of grey hairs are mixed in among his curly dark locks. He may have gotten those playing the title character in We Need to Talk about Kevin.Kevin may be the most chilling and complex 16 year old ever depicted in a film.
Miller, who was at Cannes two years ago for Afterschool and has co-starred on TV’s Californication and Law and Order, is the character that Cannes audiences can’t stop talking about. And that’s saying something when you’re in a movie opposite such stellar actors as Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly.
He’s clearly over the moon to be in one of the most discussed–and admired– films at Cannes, directed by Lynne Ramsay (2001′s Morvern Caller), based on a novel by Lionel Shriver.
” I watched the movie for the first time and it was like I swallowed a pipe bomb or something,” he said. “I just felt totally blown to pieces. I was having a hard time even doing basic things like walking and speaking. Afterward, we got into the car and drove to the after party and I went up to Lynne (Ramsay) and I looked her in the eye and I just burst into tears.”
Tears may be the reaction of most parents as they contemplate the character of Kevin, who is the teenage incarnation of the bad seed. Kevin, in his smirking malevolence and terrifying manipulation, is light years from the kind of part that most actors under 20 land.
“This is the type of role any actor interested in serious exploration would give his life for,” Miller said. “If the contract said, ‘You may do this movie, but afterwards you will be fed to wild boars,’ I would have been like ‘Great, perfect. That sounds like a really reasonable deal and I’m ready.’ Once I’ve done something like this I feel so a part of something real and true that I could die a very happy man.”
Death and its aftermath play big parts in the film, but we won’t give too much away here. This is a film that must be seen in its complete fractured narrative state and viewers need the opportunity to piece the story together as it unfolds.
Let’s just say that Swinton plays an adventurous woman who is ambivalent about motherhood. When Kevin is born, the usual mother-child bond is not established. From an early age, Kevin seems instinctively aware of his mother’s subtle distance and preys upon it in increasingly sinister ways.
“There’s a conviction that Kevin holds which is that he is going to force his mother to do what she hasn’t done since the day he was born: be honest,” say Miller. “She was reluctant about motherhood and the fact is that babies know a whole lot more than we ever give them credit for.”
Though barely out of childhood himself, Miller cites child development expert T. Berry Brazelton. He may be the only teenage guy who has read him. And he has developed strong opinions from doing so.
“I think we’re all born screaming and I think there’s an essential stage of neurological development which is this one connection we’re entitled: the connection with the mother,” says Miller. “And if you don’t make that connection, just even on a hard scientific level, the neurological damage of not making a connection with the mother is catastrophic.”
He also read Zen and the Art of Archery to fully research his bow and arrow-loving character.
“I did research into all sorts of factors,” says Miller. “The great thing about this film is it opens a question and leaves that question unanswered.”