There are roughly 20 minutes in the middle of Matt Sobel’s feature debut”Take Me to the River” that are so nerve-shredding, it’s almost impossible to imagine how the film can keep going past that. But Sobel’s tense, shocking and often oddly funny new film never holds back. Miller stars in “Take Me to the River” as 17-year-old Ryder, a California teen who has recently come out to his parents, the complicated Cindy (an exceptional Robin Weigert) and the laidback Don (Richard Schiff). Although his parents are loving and accepting of Ryder’s sexuality, the same can’t be said for the rest of his family. And did we mention that the film takes place at a family reunion on an idyllic farm in the middle of Nebraska?
The politics and emotions of “Take Me to the River” are complicated, and Sobel uses his film as a vehicle to address issues like shame, sexuality, acceptance, family bonds and the limits of understanding. As Ryder, Miller is tasked with grounding the whole film, and as circumstances spiral wildly out of control and things get ever more complicated, he acts as both our protagonist and our emotional surrogate. You’ll be hard-pressed to find another film this year that features a lead character whose facial expressions so acutely mirror the feelings of the audience (Ryder’s confusion is wonderfully acted by Miller). As the film unfolds, Miller’s performance only gets more layered and nuanced.
Miller caught the acting bug early and, at age 24, he’s already more than a decade into his career. Although there’s a definite path to his work — from toy commercials to a Disney series (“I’m in the Band”) to a series of indie films (you can also catch Miller in “The Stanford Prison Experiment” and the recent SXSW premiere “The Waiting”) — and even a stopover in the superhero realm (he voices Nova on “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated series), Miller wants to do more, and he seems poised to do just that.
After debuting at Sundance back in 2015, the film is finally bound for a theatrical release this week. Indiewire sat down with Miller the morning after the film’s New York City premiere to talk about how he navigated such fraught material, the trajectory of his career and what it’s like to voice a superhero (no, really). Read Miller’s own words below.
A lot of people who do play younger, it’s like, “Well, we’re playing it because we’ve had those experiences.” I think getting a teenager sometimes might not always be the best move, just in terms of, “I’m living this experience right now,” opposed to someone a little bit older who have had these experiences.
Comedy is my true passion. I told Matt he could write a comedy, because [scenes in the film] are so uncomfortable and yet so great.
This film just dives into so many things. Childhood sexuality and shame and all that, kind of wrapped up into these 88 minutes. Of course, it’s going to be a little bit of a whirlwind. It’s like coming of age, but also facing your fears and feeling the shame and also not being afraid to be who you are.
Matt really throws you into what is happening in the film. When I first met Matt, he threw me into the shit immediately, too. We had this audition that wasn’t your conventional audition, he made me half this probably 45-minute improv with him, where I had to confront my mother and basically tell [her] I did something horrible to someone younger.
This whole film is through my eyes. We tried to make that very specific when it came to the cinematography. Me, Matt and our cinematographer Thomas Scott Stanton, we would have meetings and make sure that everything was specifically attuned to Ryder’s voice and his perspective. I feel that really shows in the film.
We went to Loop City, Nebraska [to film]. It was a city of 1,000 people. The farm itself was actually where Matt’s mother grew up. It was close to home. Lots of family involved. It was great, getting to have all these local Nebraskans come and be a part of the family reunion scene. Some of those first takes and stuff, that was the first time that all of these people had ever been on a film set. When you see their uncomfortable reactions, that’s just real.
We had a very, very small group, like a 20-person crew. We were very tight-knit, very small, but a great dynamic. We had a great time, just going out there and being immersed in Nebraska.
The whole experience felt almost not real. And that’s kind of how this film feels too, you kind of feel like you’re in this dream state. Going out to Loop City and living that experience almost felt a little surreal. The whole thing was just awesome.
Right now, I am trying write stuff within the Adult Swim sphere. I’m developing a series right now called “Discount Television Network,” it’s loosely the title. I am just trying to have my own voice in the comedy world. I am doing performance pieces in LA, here and there, some comedy shows, just trying to write and create.
I got the chance four years ago to be a part of the “Ultimate Spider-Man” animated series on DisneyXD. I’ve been voicing Nova for about four years now. It’s always a great experience to be able to work with all these veteran voiceover actors. The way we shoot it is, we do it kind of like an old radio show, so everybody is in the same room. To work with Tom Kenny, Tara Strong, John DiMaggio, all these amazing voiceover veterans, is really breathtaking.
I just saw “Deadpool” like a week ago, and I thought it was so, so amazing. You could definitely tell this is Ryan Reynolds’ passion project. He just invested so much in it, made fun of himself so much in it. Finally, the R-rated Marvel movie that everyone’s been wanting!
“Take Me to the River” opens today, March 18, in limited release.