Ezra Miller won critical kudos for his breakout performance playing Tilda Swinton's psychopathic son in Lynne Ramsay's We Need to Talk About Kevin last year. He follows that with his beautifully nuanced work as Patrickthe stylish, gay high school senior who, along with his equally dazzling sister Sam (played by the luminous Emma Watson), acts as a creative and social mentor for the shy freshman Charlie (Logan Lerman)in writer-director Stephen Chbosky's debut film The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
The movie, based on Chbosky's 1999 acclaimed novel, is a coming-of-age story in which Patrick and Sam act as emotional cheerleaders as Charlie slowly comes out of his shell. The book made a huge impact on the 19-year-old Miller, who came out recently as queer and whose enthusiasm for the project was evident in an exclusive interview with Windy City Times.
Windy City Times: I want to start with a quote from one of your interviews: "Getting socially outcast can be the best and most informative thing that can ever happen to you because you have to learn who you are to separate from the pack."
Ezra Miller: [Laughs] Yeah, I agree with myself!
WCT: So it sounds like your high school experience was closer to Charlie's than it was to Patrick'strue?
Ezra Miller: I w as loud like Patrick but I was confused like Charlie and I was stoned [laughs] like Bob [another character in the film]. That's as best as I can sum it up. Hopefully, I had dance moves like Sam.
WCT: Who didn't hope that? She's the coolest. So, was there someone in your arena that was like Patrick and Sam for you to look up to?
Ezra Miller: Yes. The weird sort of frame tale of all this for me is that my Patrick and Sam were Esther and Maggie. [There were] Esthermy first girlfriend, the girl who took my virginity and all this crazy stuffand Maggie, my best friend through those high school years. And the two of them are actually the people who told me I had to read Perks of Being a Wallflower. They were simultaneously the seniors who took me under their wing. So a shout-out to themthey're the beast's toenails, as far as I'm concerned.
WCT: How surreal it must have beenbecause I understand that this book was a talisman for you, as many of these kinds of books are growing upto then actually find yourself playing this role. Did you feel this huge weight? Was it really cool?
Ezra Miller: Yes, for me I had the added convenience of having conceptualized this character for four years with no knowledge that it was some sort of actor's preparation just because I loved this story and admired this character and sort of loved the symbol of Patrick. And so when it came time to try and portray this person I already had a lot of accumulated information, which is always what I want for playing a character.
I want to feel like there's far more in my mind about who this person is than I'll ever have to refer to so a lot of it can become atmospheric backlog in the character's head. So, yeah, I would just say it was helpful [laughs] in a funny way. And also, of course, there is the weight of how much this book meant to me and to so many people; certainly, if this moviemaking process had been in the hands of someone besides Stephen Chbosky, the author of the book, I think it could have been a terrible time and a terrible mistake. But because we were all under the counsel of Steve there was a comfort that we were following through on this guy's heart visionwhich is kinda like x-ray vision.
WCT: Sure, sure.
Ezra Miller: To understand myself as a marionette for Stephen's Perks of a Wallflower vision, to reach a new form sort of provided the comfort of not feeling like I had to all alone capture this character who I'd admired so much in literature. From the second I met Steve, I think a lot of those nervous jitters subsided.
WCT: I love that the characters find validation and inspiration from things like "Rocky Horror" and I'm of the age where I actually did that back in the late '70s.
Ezra Miller: You did the floor show?
WCT: I wasn't in the floor show but I saw the movie dozens of times, and my best friend helped create The Anticipation Players here in Chicago. Did you experience any of that "Don't dream it, be it" message of the movie in your own life?
Ezra Miller: I was privileged and fortunate to have radical older siblings and my sister Caitlinwhen she was supposed to be babysitting my sister, Saiya, and Ishowed us The Rocky Horror Picture Show on VHS. And I remember when she turned it off, she turned on us with this menace and did the hardcore shakedown like of, "If you tell mom and dad that I let you watch this ridiculously inappropriate musical movie all hell will break loose from my corner."
Seeing that movie at age 8 or however old I was completely blew my mind in a bunch of ways. Obviously, there's the mystery and appeal of the raw, sassy, sweet sap of sexuality that runs through that movie like a river and then also, I just remember being incredibly fascinated and obsessed with Tim Curry and Frank N. Furter and that performance. Just the range of physical capabilitywhat he was doing with his bodyI remember being blown asunder by watching that. Yes, later I went to a couple of shows during my high school times, and when I found out I got the part I started going every week to absorb the feeling. The whole cast and crew actually went out to see the floor show that they put on in Pittsburgh and we had a really amazing time.
WCT: It's a delightful irony that you got to step into that drag. There are two very interesting powerful documentaries that have been making the circuit that speak to the importance of queer history: Vito, the profile of queer activist Vito Russo, and How to Survive a Plague, about the history of ACT UP. How important is it as a young, queer person to think about our historyto take a moment and honor that?
Ezra Miller: I think it's so essentialas we gird our loins and ready our arms for the next round of trying to push mass consciousness and social awareness forwardthat we always look to the people who have fought to allow even the ground we stand on now, taking our time to get ready for that push. And certainly, I had an incredible experience this year trying desperately to help organize activism and actions in New York City during that very exciting time [of Occupy Wall Street] and I remember ACT UP coming through one day and putting the entire coalition to shame with their fierceness and their diehard commitment and their bravery.
You had people who were incredibly sick who were standing on the front lines getting tackled and kicked by cops and marching on. I think it's crucial that we look to especially that particular time of crisis and how the creative vehicles that we were able to board in order to fight and survive in that time of crisis. It's definitely something to refer to frequently.
WCT: Are there queer mentors, creative mentorssuch as Tilda Swintonthat you've looked to as you've come out as queer? You're obviously going to be a spokesperson for a while, which is an unfortunate thing to throw on you, but being so talented and articulate that's going to be part of your deal. [Laughs]
Ezra Miller: I would definitely not want to speak for anyone but I've got a loud mouth and I'm down to yell at people, you know what I mean? [Laughs]
WCT: You have a lot of great mentors who made you who you are and I'm assume we're going to hear more from you in this arena…
Ezra Miller: YesI feel incredibly lucky to have had those mentors and to have had people who have empowered me and who have let me know that I'm seen and that I'm recognized and that what I'm doing is valid. I think it's that sort of support systemmy family, these amazing collaborators who stand generously in my corner as I struggle to figure all of this out[who will] hopefully make [it] possible to continue to work in this industry and to continue to try and be my whole, unadulterated self when involved with this sort of work.