A promising young actor with musical ability scores in several indie movies, gets cast as a key character in two big franchises, and starts getting into trouble with the law. They get hit with abuse, assault, and harassment allegations, is arrested twice for disorderly conduct, and a frightened couple takes out a restraining order against them.
Miller, 29, scored rave reviews in “We Need to Talk About Kevin” and “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” before landing the role of Credence Barebone in JK Rowling’s “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” and two sequels, as well as Barry Allen/The Scarlet Speedster/The Flash, which they (Miller uses “they/them” pronouns) portrayed in four DCEU films leading up to the 14th DC feature film, time-travel multiverse adventure “The Flash,” which features two alternate Batmans (Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck) and is now in post-production.
Warners Bros. announced the project as part of the extended DCEU on October 2014, with a March 23, 2018 release date. From there, it faced delay upon delay: Multiple director departures, multiple scripts (including one by Miller), and then the pandemic, which pushed the shoot to 2021. The film wrapped production in November 2021 under the direction of “It” series filmmaker Andy Muschietti, with a June 23, 2023 release date.
A not-funny thing happened on their way to becoming a superhero: Ezra Miller is now a toxic asset. There’s the ongoing run-ins with the law; videos of them attacking fans; and this week’s protective order from the Standing Rock Sioux Tribal Court involving Tokata Iron Eyes, who is now 18 but has been close to Miller since she was 12. When Miller flew her to the “Fantastic Beasts” set in 2017 when she was 14, her parents say the actor tried to sleep with her. They are trying to get their daughter away from their influence, stating: “Ezra uses violence, intimidation, threat of violence, fear, paranoia, delusions, and drugs to hold sway over a young adolescent Tokata.”
Remember when Warners had to replace Depp with Mads Mikkelsen on “Fantastic Beasts”? Those were the good old days. Today, the studio must contend with an unrepentant and potentially criminal movie star, one that has a protective order filed against them but the court has been unable to serve because their location is unknown. So far they’re sticking with their 2023 release date: They figure time is on their side.
In June 2020, when then-26-year-old “West Side Story” star Ansel Elgort got hit with a sexual harassment accusation (she was 17 he was 20), Disney and Steven Spielberg simply cited the pandemic in pushing back the release date. The hope was the story would lose its potency and it did. Disney focused its publicity campaign on Elgort’s Latina costars, and Ariana DeBose won the Oscar. Similarly, with the luxury of an ensemble, Disney shifted focus from Armie Hammer in “Death on the Nile.”
However, neither of those movies could have been titled “Tony” or “Simon Doyle.” Warners has “The Flash,” which stars Miller as The Flash in two different roles: in one the character is 18, the other is the speedster at age 28. It also take place in a multiverse, with multiple versions of superheroes (which is why both Michael Keaton and Ben Affleck are playing Batman).
Back in our universe, Miller’s Instagram account was deactivated this week and another parent was granted a temporary harassment prevention order against the actor June 15. A mother in Greenfield, Massachusetts charged that the actor confronted her and her 11-year-old nonbinary child while Miller wore a bulletproof vest and flashed a gun. According to The Daily Beast, Miller (who also identifies as nonbinary) told the mother of her child: “They’re an elevated being, and they would be lucky to have someone like me guide them.”
Elgort’s transgressions dated back to 2014; between the time passed and deprecating his promotion in “West Side Story,” Elgort went on to Michael Mann’s “Tokyo Vice,” which HBO Max picked up for a second season earlier this week. Likewise, Armie Hammer’s accusations were more recent, with claims of cannibal kink and violent rape. He dropped out/was dropped from multiple projects, including Paramount+ miniseries “The Offer,” Starz miniseries “Gaslit,” and a Broadway play, and his career has yet to recover.
However, neither of these actors is an analog for Miller. Depp isn’t, either. No one is. Hollywood has never had to deal with a star of a nearly $200 million franchise — one who’s received upbeat buzz in early previews and is meant to be a long-term asset — who’s also engaging in ongoing, real-time criminal behavior and can’t be located by anyone because they’re currently dodging the law. (It’s worth noting that neither Elgort nor Hammer ever faced criminal charges.)
In the analog era, Warner Bros. would dump the movie and do its best to hide the leading man from publicity. Today, the studio has several expensive options if it wants to replace Miller.
When Paul Walker unexpectedly died in 2013 in the midst of shooting “Furious 7,” the filmmakers rewrote the ensemble piece and added a poignant farewell, using the late actor’s two brothers to create 350 shots that allowed his character to remain on screen.
It cost $10 million for Ridley Scott to remove Kevin Spacey from the 2018 release “All the Money in the World.” The director rebuilt sets, re-edited, and re-shot the supporting role with Christopher Plummer.
Similarly, Zack Snyder removed comedian Chris D’Elia from “Army of the Dead” in 2020 after multiple women accused him of pursuing them as teenagers, replacing him with Tig Notaro. (He denies the allegations.)
“The Flash” boasts some 2500 VFX shots and digital replacement has become easier than ever, but it’s one thing to replace faces; live-action close-ups are another matter.
“There is much that can be done with using multiple types of techniques,” wrote one VFX master in an email. “But with LED wall technology, [they] can be erased in many cases and the new actor replace [them] and it would look pretty authentic without rebuilding sets or re-staging the sequences. That works in some or perhaps many cases. Full-on face replacement, but using their body, would work for other scenes. Once [they are] in the suit I imagine it would be hard to tell the difference. The full CG Flash of course is simple. The last version is wholesale replacing and re-filming in the set practically. Things are easier than ever with deep fake face and voice alteration getting so realistic.”
Even more than how much Warners wants to spend, it comes down to the new leadership. Warners’ executives held an emergency meeting about the fate of “The Flash” in April, but that was just before the creation of Warner Bros. Discovery and the installment of David Zaslav — not to mention new studio chiefs Michael De Luca and Pamela Abdy, who take over for Toby Emmerich after the July 4th holiday.
Zaslav will not only weigh the ROI for keeping or replacing Miller, but also how much he’s willing to add to his bottom line. (He’s promised $3 billion in post-merger savings over the next two years.) He could decide it’s a lost cause and decline to throw good money after bad, which might mean a smaller marketing spend and an HBO Max debut — but that’s an ignominious start for a new, would-be theatrical franchise.
At this writing, we are 53 weeks away from the release date for “The Flash.” By my math, a year and a week is nowhere near enough time to make “The Flash” a franchise-shaping smash and Ezra Miller the full-throttle movie star that Warners desperately wants. Miller — wherever they may be — does not appear to be headed toward an apology or rehab or any other willing and enthusiastic desire to put this chapter behind them.
Warners would not respond to requests for comment for this story.