A year after terrifying us with his chilling performance in Lynne Ramsay’s “We Need To Talk About Kevin,” Ezra Miller makes his range very clear with his work in Stephen Chbosky’s “The Perks of Being a Wallfower.” The film — which debuted in Toronto Saturday night ahead of its theatrical release September 21st — is an adaptation of Chbosky’s own 1999 novel, which quickly became a modern classic for a generation of misfits, including Miller himself.
Miller plays Patrick, the openly gay stepbrother of Sam (Emma Watson). Together, the two high school seniors take on Charlie (Logan Lerman), the eponymous wallflower. An awkward freshman facing on-and-off struggles with mental illness, Charlie is given his first sense of social belonging through Patrick, Sam and their circle of friends. And while it’s Sam that Charlie ends up pining for, Patrick is the one Charlie idolizes.
Hilarious, intelligent and at least seemingly confident, Patrick marks a rare new addition to the history of LGBT characters in mainstream American cinema. His place in the world of “Perks” is not simply the gay second banana. He’s the life of the film’s party, and despite his struggles (he’s sleeping with one of the school’s star football players, who refuses to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality), he is never really portrayed as a victim.
Miller brings Patrick to life with electrifying energy, stealing essentially every scene he’s in. It’s a performance that continues to suggest the 19 year-old is one of the best young actors working, and one that’s contextually quite timely. Last month, Miller came out as “queer” in Out Magazine, which gave the actor media attention that even playing a psychotic mass murderer in “Kevin” couldn’t match.
“I’m queer,” he said in the article. “I have a lot of really wonderful friends who are of very different sexes and genders. I am very much in love with no one in particular.”A month later, the declaration is something Miller is clearly proud of when he talked to Indiewire at his Toronto hotel room, the afternoon after “Perks” had its world premiere.
When did you first read this book?
I was fourteen years old. I was like Charlie, a freshman in high school, and two friends kind of forced me to read the book — they were like, ‘this is essential reading material and if you fail to read it, you can no longer be our friend. Take action now, or suffer the consequences.’
I heeded their warning, then read the book, and the book immediately became somewhat of an incredible mini-scripture to me, and remained that throughout my teenage years. I’ve heard Steve describe it as a “blueprint” and I sometimes think of it as a treasure map, like, you’re gonna have to walk through this crazy, dangerous land of the adolescent experience so you might as well have a story of someone else, navigating that experience, that shows you where a bunch of fun is to be had along the rocky course.
So, yeah, it was really helpful to me as a kid and I remember friends of mine quite seriously saying “This book saved my life.”
How did you find out they were turning it into a movie?
When I saw a script [of the movie] — I was at one of my friend’s houses and saw a script that said “Perks of Being a Wallflower” — I felt outraged, like this was a terrible idea; they shouldn’t be making this into a movie. Then I was sent the script personally and read the name of the writer of the script — like, “alright, what asshole thinks he could adapt this sort of material?” — and it was Stephen Chbosky, the author of the novel. And so, at that moment… I read the script in an hour, rapid-fire consumed it, and I was completely drawn in.
Then I just started thinking about how to possibly impress the man in an audition — and I put something down on tape, and it was worthy enough that I got called back to do a Skype session — and that’s what I was cast off of. Towards the end of their casting process, I had this Skype with Steve and then, five hours later, I got a call.
Did you immediately think to audition as Patrick? You seemed to suggest Charlie was the character you related to more when you first read the book.
I was 14 and just entering high school, so I related to Charlie. It was sort of a funny thing to become aware when I read the script, that, through the process of growing a bit older, those four years had put me in much more of a ‘Patrick’ position. For me, the goal was always Patrick. There was never a thought of another character.
It must have been really intense to be part of an adaptation of a book that was clearly so pivotal to you. To be — all of the sudden — in the world of that novel, at least in a sense. How did you find Patrick in the midst of that?
It was the easiest process ever for me because my imagination had been working on Patrick for four years. To me, Patrick is like a person; we all get to know one or two of the people who, very effortlessly, demonstrate how to maintain your dignity and how to keep yourself afloat despite all of the sinking weights that can potentially fall on you.
Well that’s the one thing that I love, because everybody does know a couple “Patricks” but you never see Patrick on screen, certainly not in mainstream American cinema. And I loved his representation so much because there’s no coming out narrative. Instead, he’s just someone you really want to be. It wasn’t all “it gets better.” Patrick is like “I’m gonna be better now.” You don’t see that often, sadly. I loved that about the book, and the movie didn’t compromise that at all.
Yeah, I really value the existence — more so now than even yesterday, because I saw the movie for the first time.
I value the existence of these characters in a work of mainstream art more than I can possibly say. It feels like an incredible privilege to be a part of this because it’s also a movie that I really wanted when I was a little younger and searching contemporary art and media for some sort of confirmation or validation that there were options that were, you know, accepted and loved in the world outside of this normative standard. That very notion of having characters who are not success stories — and are not sad, victim tales; they’re human beings who are figuring out how to get through all of the incredibly mind-boggling and heartbreaking and soul-wrenching situations that life will inevitably put us in.
It’s a sort of realistic version of optimism.
Yeah, it might not be optimism; it might be a real hope that if we can find each other and sort of recognize that none of us are alone… I think even the most horrible of circumstances and events carry an undertone of the vast goodness possible in the space between human beings.
So finally, I wanted to ask you about the interview you gave in Out Magazine last month where you spoke candidly about identifying as queer. That interview got a lot of attention. Were you surprised by the reaction?
Yeah, I definitely wasn’t planning on that. But then again — I guess we are still working on that, as a human society, and…
It seemed mostly positive… The reaction.
It was good. I feel glad to be one of the people who are working in media who don’t feel a need — or are ignoring a superficial need and are feeling another calling: to be honest, to be upfront, and to try to encourage the people around us to be inclusive in their views.