Actor Ezra Miller has rightfully earned a reputation for his willingness and ability to give fearless performances, including the one he gave as Patrick in The Perks of Being a Wallflower. Recognized for his emotionally moving work in that film, he was honored with a Virtuosos Award at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival (SBIFF). Collider was there to cover and attend the event, and we’ve compiled the highlights of what the actor had to say, both on the press line and during the Q&A.
While there, Ezra Miller talked about how amazing it’s been that the film has been able to reach kids in the way that they’d hoped, his reaction when he first read the book at 14, how exciting it was to play a fully realized and confident gay character, the unfortunate reality of the American high school experience, the first time he saw The Rocky Horror Picture Show, and throwing out the choreography and doing the film’s fight scene for real. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
EZRA MILLER: It’s been amazing! What’s most amazing about it is that we’d hoped and were counting on the idea that we could reach kids with this film. But, what’s been really incredible is how much nostalgia plays a role in it. The people who have had the most emotional responses are people who were at that age, at that time, in the early ‘90s. People in their 30’s will connect with it on a whole other level, and it’s been incredibly fascinating to see how nostalgia can be a bigger trigger of emotion than having someone relate to where you are right now because you don’t yet have perspective on where you are, which makes it useful for that.
For people who don’t know, The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book written by Stephen Chbosky, who then adapted his own book into a screenplay and directed the movie, as a first-timer. Weren’t you a fan of the book, before it was ever a movie?
MILLER: Yeah. I read the book when I was 14 years old, and was a confused young adolescent and needed a book like that to pull me through. It’s a crazy thing to then, four years later, be able to be a part of the film.
When you read it, did you ever visualize yourself as Patrick?
MILLER: In my mind, reading the book when I was 14, just coming into high school, I read it as Charlie, interestingly enough. I actually had two friends, who introduced me to the book, who were seniors taht were my Sam and Patrick, in many ways. They were those friends that got me through that experience. It was incredible, four years later, to get the script, and then to realize that I had aged to the point where I could be the helpful person and not the confused young child.
MILLER: Very exciting! Ever since we let the gays into the movies, it’s a lot of tokenization. It happens all the time. The token gay character is always so funny and so fantastic. That’s happened a lot. Or they’re often purely victims. There’s an element of that that should be depicted, but it was exciting to read the book, and then have a film where there’s such a strong, compassionate and confident gay character. More of that.
What do you think is so special about Stephen Chbosky, and why he can speak so well to the younger generation?
MILLER: Stephen is the most generous guy I’ve ever met. He’s an incredible communicator and just one of those people who is endlessly giving, but not to a fault. He can give endlessly, but he’s not a martyr who wears himself out. It was an amazing thing, that this was his vision. This was very much his experience. We filmed the film where he grew up and where the book takes place. It was almost like he was really generously ushering all of us actors into his memories. It was great that that never felt like a violation.
A lot of the people in the movie call your character Nothing, and it’s kind of a joke that backfires on him. Did you try to put yourself in the mind-set of what it must have been like to go through your high school experience being called Nothing, on a daily basis?
MILLER: You know, I think that’s an unfortunate reality of the American high school experience for everyone. It has an amazing ability to make everyone feel like the most insignificant cog in this terrible machine. It makes sense that we came up with our public school system during the Industrial Revolution because it’s like everybody is a factory worker, eating their terrible food and going back to the room where you’re silent and listening to an idiot. That’s an epitomizing idea, getting called Nothing for your whole high school experience. That’s how it makes you feel, alas.
Patrick does the live performance of Rocky Horror in this film, so did you have to brush up on that, or was that already in your repertoire?
MILLER: I have two older sisters, and the eldest was charged one night, when I was maybe eight or nine years old, with babysitting the younger two. She decided to show us The Rocky Horror Picture Show, but she had never seen it before. So, we started watching it, and I was fascinated and excited by a lot of things I couldn’t yet completely understand. But then, mid-way through, she had an epiphany and was horrified, and turned it off and said, “You can never tell mom and dad that I showed you this movie. They’d be so mad at me!” So then, I was obsessed with something that I had to keep a secret, which is always good. Nothing like a nice bit of repression to make something super freaky. And so, I was thinking about Rocky Horror when I was inappropriately young. It was about unleashing that monster into the world, at long last.
MILLER: My eldest sister has a very low tolerance for anything disturbing in films, so she hasn’t seen any of my other films. This was the first film she saw, and she really loved it. I think she was proud of me, and stuff.
This movie has a very realistic cafeteria fight scene in it, where your character is called the F-word, and he goes crazy, as he should. How did you make it look so real?
MILLER: That’s because we really fought. We admitted to each other, two months later, that we both sustained relatively harmful injuries, over the course of shooting that scene. They brought on these stunt choreographers who were trying to choreograph a fight scene with us, but it just didn’t feel real. The last thing either of us wanted was to have the gay characters in the film have a terrible fight. We were avoiding that. It was looking like that, for a second. And so, there was that great moment between Johnny [Simmons] and I, where we were like, “Let’s just beat each other up. Won’t that look best?”
What was the first professional acting job you ever had?
MILLER: My first job was when I was eight. I did this opera, which was a Robert Wilson/Philip Glass opera, called White Raven. That was a very confusing and trippy creation tale, and I was a kid who brought up the sun and rotated the earth. It was very empowering.
Would you be excited by the idea of doing a movie musical?
MILLER: I’m ready. I’m ready, right now!