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‘Ready Player One’: T.J. Miller Is Still in Steven Spielberg’s Blockbuster, And Technology May Be to Blame

When the actor was hit with sexual assault and transphobia allegations last year, he lost some of his most high-profile gigs, though not his role in Spielberg's latest.

“Ready Player One”

Warner Bros.

Last December, when former “Silicon Valley” star T.J. Miller was accused of sexual assault by an anonymous woman and transphobic behavior by a film critic in the space of just two days, the actor and comedian was swiftly snipped from two big projects. First, Miller’s Comedy Central series “The Gorburger Show” was cancelled, then the mucus medication Mucinex dropped the comedian as its animated spokesperson. (He had previously left “Silicon Valley” in its fourth season, and the actor made it clear that he didn’t have any interest in returning to the HBO comedy; the newest season of the show has already nodded at killing his character off-screen.)

But one huge project didn’t abandon Miller: Steven Spielberg’s splashy new blockbuster, “Ready Player One,” which cast Miller as a bad guy in June of 2016, just one month before production was slated to begin on a production that Spielberg had spent three years fleshing out. (Miller has also reportedly not been cut from this summer’s “Deadpool 2,” where he will reprise his role as bar owner Weasel.) Miller’s name and likeness was mostly left out of marketing materials for the adaption of the Ernest Cline’s best-selling book of the same name and the actor did not appear at any official press events in support of the film (Miller, who is still performing comedy, has still been chatting about the project during interviews in support of his standup work, however).

The film opened last Friday, where it topped the box office with a total worldwide take of $181 million, Spielberg’s best opening weekend in a decade. And despite the allegations waged against Miller late last year, the actor remains a big part of the movie. (Warner Bros. declined to comment on this story.)

Miller’s presence in the adventure film — which mostly takes place inside a world-scale virtual reality world called the OASIS and sees him playing a mercenary named i-R0k hired to take down leading man Wade Watts (Tye Sheridan) — has proven to be distracting to some audience members, who wonder why he wasn’t replaced wholesale after the allegations against him hit late last year. Some movie-goers took to Twitter after viewing the Spielberg film to ask why his voice wasn’t simply replaced by another actor:

For “Ready Player One,” however, the question of cutting Miller did not boil down to something as simple as swapping his voice for another one, because beneath all that CGI, Miller actually gives a physical performance in the movie.

Most readers likely recall the last time a situation like this came up: When actor Kevin Spacey was accused of sexual misconduct last year, “All the Money in the World” director Ridley Scott took the most ambitious approach to recasting Spacey’s role of J. Paul Getty, opting to totally swap in veteran actor Christopher Plummer just weeks before the film was slated to hit theaters. Production reconvened over Thanksgiving weekend in order to get all of the appropriate scenes reshot and ready for a Christmas release. It worked, too: the film was delivered on time and Plummer received an Oscar nod for his work.

Other accused talents have also been cut from various projects in the wake of allegations leveled against them, including “Transparent” star Jeffrey Tambor (who was axed from the Amazon show after an internal investigation), “The Ranch” actor Danny Masterson (fired from the Netflix series after rape charges resurfaced), actor and filmmaker Louis C.K. (who actually bought back his still-unreleased film “I Love You, Daddy” from The Orchard following a New York Times expose of his own alleged crimes), and actor Ed Westwick, who was dropped from BBC drama “Ordeal by Innocence” after being accused of rape.

When Scott and his crew came together to reshoot the J. Paul Getty scenes with Plummer, it took just nine days to (mostly) replace their original actor (there is reportedly a single shot of Spacey still in the film, a wide shot of his back arriving at a ritzy location). As the #MeToo era continues to grow and evolve, Scott’s decision to cut Spacey because of the allegations made against him still remains the sole example of such a drastic move, and one that showed what was possible when a filmmaker decides it’s necessary. But that was all live-action.

“Ready Player One”

Warner Bros.

Much of Spielberg’s movie was made using motion capture performance from his actors, meaning it’s not just their voices or their likenesses represented on screen, it’s them, a “real” performance, one that requires even more technical input and significantly more shooting time than standard live-action. Last year, co-star Sheridan spoke to Collider about the production’s beefy mo-cap schedule, telling the outlet, “We shot for the first seven, eight weeks in mo-cap. Everything that happens in the OASIS is all shot in motion capture.”

As “War for the Planet of the Apes” director Matt Reeves explained on IndieWire’s Filmmaker Toolkit podcast, despite the technical demands of mo-cap, the performances they capture aren’t very far off from any other performance an actor might give on a production. “I’m directing the actors. It’s a lot more similar to [a] conventional sort-of moviemaking situation than you would think,” he said. “When we are doing the scenes, I’m looking for the emotional content of the scene…the actors, that’s what they’re doing. My interaction with them is not that different than if I were directing all human characters.”

Perhaps the biggest reason why Miller was not removed from the film and swapped out for another actor, a la “All the Money in the World”: it’s just not that easy, at least not yet. “There’s so much work that goes into these effects,” Reeves said on that same podcast. “It’s not only a cost thing, of course it is a cost thing, but it’s also a labor thing … It takes like six months to get one ape shot.”

In “Ready Player One,” Miller’s character only appears within the OASIS (other characters get both live-action and mo-cap appearances), a hulking soldier type with robotic hands and a giant hole in his middle. And, still, it’s jarring. His character doesn’t just sound like the actor, but moves and behaves much like any of his other trademark loud-mouth roles, just as mo-cap intends (and, when utilized by someone like Steven Spielberg to make a multi-million-dollar adaptation of a bestselling book, just as what’s demanded). Removing just his voice would not remove Miller from the film, no matter how much some viewers wish that it would.

IndieWire has reached out to Miller’s representatives for comment and will update this story if they respond.

Additional reporting by Chris O’Falt.

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