Hometown: Hoboken, NJ
Why He’s On Our Radar: After a string of well received performances in indies like “Afterschool,” “City Island” and “Another Happy Day,” Ezra Miller has been given the greatest showcase for his talents yet in Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin.” In his portrayal of the titular character – a sociopathic teen who goes on a school shooting rampage – Miller goes head to head with his on screen mother Tilda Swinton in one of the year’s most impressive acting duels.
Indiewire sat down with Miller a few months back at the Toronto International Film Festival, where the film made its North American debut.
How did you end up becoming a part of “We Need To Talk About Kevin”?
My agent sent me the script and I went into sort of a wrathful, thirsting pursuit. I immediately became ravenous for this movie. And I just started pursuing it like a stalker. I went in the first time and walked in in character. Lynne caught this instinct that maybe I could do it.
Then funding dropped. A bunch of half-hearted hooligans had promised this film money, but then they were all, ‘My stock assets are crashing into the ground, so perhaps I won’t be giving this film money because it’s a dark subject matter and not a sure sell.’ So it disappeared for a while and that was heartbreaking. And I yearned.
Had you more or less secured the role before the funding dropped out?
No, not at all. I just met Lynne once. I had no idea, but she had privately thought that she might have found Kevin. But even though Lynne is dominated by this spot-on instinct, she also puts in the time for deep assurance. So after the film resurfaced and we got funding back, she called me in like six more times. I did four readings, and I did a chemistry read with Tilda…
Then finally I waited for like a month chewing off my forearm and scratching out all of my hair. Just like generally having constant panic attacks about how desperately I wanted this. It’s really hard to be attached to something in this industry. It’s sort of like being a suitor. You’re throwing your entire heart and all of your ability at the feet of your project. In all likelihood at the end of the day they will just pick someone else. You know what I mean?
It seems like would be especially hard given how much time you invested in pursuing it.
Yeah, it’s like being in love in middle school. There’s no hope!
But then occasionally you can actually get the project that you want. Lynne called me just to come to the house where she and Rory [Kinnear, her co-writer and husband] stay at when they’re in New York. She told me to come on Saturday so we could shoot a test of the last scene. She knew that I could play Kevin’s masks and Kevin’s performance and Kevin’s rational justifications and his cruel intentions. But those are all proliferal layers of Kevin. And she needed to see the root and the truth. And that’s a big part of that last scene.
I came in and realized she’d told me the wrong day. I was waiting in the lobby and she already had gone out to a pub with Rory because those UK folks will find pubs wherever they go. And she happened to run back because she had forgotten her cell phone. She found me and I went and talked with her and Rory for hours. We just had drinks and talked. And I think at that point it was sort of a sealed deal. I came back the next day and we shot that test and I guess it was satisfactory. Because finally after another three weeks of sheer anxiety and alternating between wishfulness and hopelessness, she offered me the role. And I danced for joy.
How was the shoot itself? Considering the subject matter, it must have been tough to keep up morale.
Actually… I’ve been on a few dark movie shoots, and you think that because the material is dark that the experience would be dark. But actually, the act of creating a film with dark subject matter is a practice in shedding light. Because in order to depict something dark, you have to shed light on it. That’s how images work. So we were just balling out. It was a blast.
Every night we’d go to this spot where Lynne and Rory and a bunch of the other core creative people lived. We called it the “wee commune” because they’re all from the UK and they all greatly value the word “wee” to describe anything cute or small. So we would just sing songs and tell jokes and stay up until way past dawn. And then at some point [cinematographer] Seamus McGarvey in his thick Northern Scottish accent would say, ‘oohkay, we have a major motion picture to shoot in the morning.’ We’d climb into bed and wake up 4 minutes later to hit the 16 hour, 25 page day. This was the most hardcore film shoot I’ve ever been on. I’ve never witnessed such an elite crew of ninja filmmakers doing their thing before.
What’s been like now that the film has been screening?
At this point, it’s just this point of happy, blissful pride. We all know what we did. And it’s basically just winks and nods and the excitement of dropping a bomb you’ve made on a bunch of unsuspecting civillians.