Anyone who has seen Ezra Miller perform in a duo of upcoming family dramas could be forgiven for feeling some trepidation upon meeting the rising indie star. In Sam Levinson’s Another Happy Day, opening this Friday, Miller plays Elliot, a recovering teenage addict with a proclivity for acid-laced barbs and self-destructive behavior. As the titular character in Lynn Ramsay’s upcoming We Need to Talk About Kevin, he embodies a devil’s spawn-like child turned anarchist adolescent who psychologically tortures his mother (Tilda Swinton) before mowing down a gym full of fellow students.
Fortunately, the only trait Miller seems to share with these troubled characters is a knack for quick-witted speech and some Freudian-Nietzschean philosophical leanings.
Here, the Hoboken-native waxes poetic on the essence of the mother-son bond, the importance of exploring dark cinematic territory, and why people shouldn’t enter into parenthood lightly.
You seem to have a penchant for dark material. Is that a fair assessment? Yes, I would determine that to be fair.
Is that a coincidence or just the sort of thing you’re drawn to? Coincidence, I would say, but in a way that’s cohesive and sensible in the context of what I want to explore. Sure, it’s something fairly dark, but it’s also something fairly common. We all teeter on this strange razor’s edge, and when one of us falls outside the boundaries deemed acceptable by the modern world, there’s a contradiction at play between what’s required to perpetuate the function of society—to keep trash people picking up trash and the world moving—and what’s in our innate nature. Something that’s dark is something that’s unseen; the shedding of light is simply the act of trying to understand it, and that’s what art can do.
I’m assuming you haven’t struggled with some of Elliot’s many problems: the drug addiction, the terrible family situation… How do you prepare to take on a character like that? I really wanted to find him physically first because of how intense his sensory experience of the world is. He can’t sleep, and for anyone who’s ever suffered real insomnia, you know that when you can’t sleep your sensory experience of the world becomes even more extreme. I wanted to find that cycle.
Did you deprive yourself of sleep? Yeah, I did. I didn’t sleep much at all on the making of this movie. Towards the beginning of film, we were putting a little bit of makeup under my eyes—towards week two we didn’t really have to anymore. I was just really tired.
He’s pretty gaunt, too. Did you stop eating as well? I wasn’t eating a lot. I really committed to the physical emotionality of Elliot while already totally having the knowledge of what was going on with him on an emotional level. Then I just let the physicality of the character dictate the rest.
The trailer for Another Happy Day
Family is at the heart of We Need to Talk About Kevin. It’s interesting that you star in these two films in which you have fractured relationships with your mother, to put it lightly. I think it’s the most essential relationship, to speak generally. It’s the first relationship that any of us has, even if that relationship is defined by a lacking of it. It’s almost like humanity is an angry son right now. If you just look at the physical damage to mother earth right now, whether you want to see it in some sort of spiritual reality or view it as a metaphor, the earth gives us nourishment. But because of our adolescent half maturations, we think we don’t have to protect this thing that gives us life. Within that, there’s a natural cause and effect, which we already see: war between a mother and a son. Then it’s just like, who isn’t trying not to be at war with their mother? I have a fucking fantastic relationship with my mother, and that relationship is based on us both making beautiful, sweeping efforts to not be at war.
I have to say, watching both of these films made me terrified of becoming a mother. It was some pretty effective birth control. That’s what we’ve heard! But I’ve warned people that it won’t work—do not try to watch this movie and have unprotected sex. But yeah, I feel like people should think really hard before having children in this day and age.
It sounds like you had a lovely childhood. I had a beautiful childhood and I would very much consider having children. But I would feel better about that decision in light of having gone through these explorations, because essentially if you’re equipped with love and focus and determination to handle a Kevin or comfort an Elliot, you’re truly ready to be a mother. The world doesn’t need more people. The world needs more righteously, fully-formed people who are allowed to be anything.
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