The plight of Patrick, the gay high school senior in The Perks of Being a Wallflower who is relentlessly bullied for his sexuality, hit close to home for 19-year-old Ezra Miller.
The actor, who earned critical raves for his performance as a disturbed, archery-obsessed teen in last year’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, steals the show in the new film, a beautifully acted Bildungsroman set in the early 1990s. Miller’s Patrick leads a gang of misfits that includes his stepsister Sam (Harry Potter’s Emma Watson) and their latest recruit, an introverted freshman named Charlie (Logan Lerman).
“I’ve fallen prey to my fair share of moments of the phobias of others and the way that that can become an attack,” Miller, who recently described himself as “queer” in an interview with The Advocate, told The Daily Beast. “In my middle-school years, I was at a show for a band called Attack! Attack! I was wearing a green velvet jacket—not your common attire for the metal/hardcore scene—and was doing sort of vaudeville-reminiscent dance moves in the mosh pit. I was walking away from the mosh pit after having a wonderful time and the word ‘faggot’ resounded in my ear. I turned around just in time to see someone snapping their fist down on my left eyeball … I have a scar on my eyebrow from the incident.”
While many felt Miller’s comments to The Advocate meant that he’s gay, the garrulous young actor says that’s not entirely the case.
“The way I would choose to identify myself wouldn’t be gay. I’ve been attracted mostly to ‘shes’ but I’ve been with many people and I’m open to love wherever it can be found,” he says. “I think a lot of people are projecting their own troubles and fears concerning sexuality onto those around them, and it does result in the perpetuation of a lot of hateful notions. As long as I can remember, I’ve felt really horrified watching those dynamics play out. It really hurts and divides us all, and in the end, so much of the human experience is shared, so we only end up hating and fearing our own damn selves.”
Miller, it seems, has been overcoming hardships all his life.
Born with a debilitating stutter, he was inspired by his kindergarten teacher to enroll in opera training at her conservatory at the age of 6. After a year, his stutter was completely gone.
“I had been doing speech therapy, and it had been making me more aware of the stutter, which actually made it worse,” he says. “It was a breath-line stutter, so I wasn’t breathing in enough to complete a word, and opera training is all about control and manipulation of the breath.”
He attended the Hudson School, a prestigious private institution for “intellectually inquisitive students,” in Hoboken, N.J., but dropped out at 16 shortly after the release of his critically acclaimed debut film, Afterschool, in 2008. Working outside school allowed Miller to disengage from the usual high-school-college-employment track, he says, adding that he wasn’t a fan of the high-school formula of “completely unrelated courses for 45 minutes each.” Plus his status as a working actor made him a bit of an outcast among his classmates.
“There was a feeling of being inherently ostracized because I was missing school,” he says. “Also, I sensed a feeling of perceived betrayal, the feeling that they thought I was superior. It wasn’t true, but that feeling of resentment can make you feel far more alone because you’re surrounded by people who you can’t quite connect with because they perceive you to be ‘other.’”
Following Afterschool, Miller starred in two films that premiered at the 2009 Tribeca Film Festival: City Island, in which he played a wise-cracking teen; and as a gay teenager in Every Day, opposite Helen Hunt and Liev Schreiber. Both performances earned him high marks.
Next is The Perks of Being a Wallflower, in theaters Sept. 21, based on the acclaimed epistolary novel of the same name and directed by the book’s author, Stephen Chbosky.
Since so much of Perks hinges on the chemistry of the three principal actors—Miller, Watson, and Lerman—the trio engaged in what Miller calls “one mischievous bonding trip” while filming, which included running around parking lots in the suburbs of Pittsburgh and screaming at the top of their lungs, as well as late-night music sessions at their hotel jamming out to ’90s tunes inspired by the film’s soundtrack.
“As fate would have it, every cast member was musically talented,” he says. “I sing and play drums, Emma has a beautiful voice, and Logan is an incredible piano player. We had a four-hour music session ’til 5 in the morning and got a bit of a chastising the next day because a family checked out of the hotel in a hot rage.”
During the filming of Perks, Miller was pulled over by Pittsburgh police, who found him in possession of 20 grams of marijuana. He was ultimately fined $600 for two citations of disorderly conduct. As far as legalization goes, Miller says with a laugh: “It does seem like a fantastic idea, not only for its curative properties, but some of the strongest bridges in Asia are built of hemp, you can put it in granola, endlessly useful stuff. At this point, it does seem a little silly that we can’t keep some in the ol’ backyard!”
“It really hurts and divides us all and in the end, so much of the human experience is shared, so we only end up hating and fearing our own damn selves.”
While he says he isn’t overtly political, Miller jokes that he “worries about politics constantly” and says he isn’t a fan of the GOP’s position on gay rights, which was left virtually unmentioned at the recent Republican National Convention.
“It’s massively distressing that one of our two political parties is not talking about it,” he says. “It’s a cry for freedom, a cry for safety, and also a cry for love and family, and all the quintessential ideas that both these parties purport to represent.”
After Perks, Miller will travel to Normandy for three months to film a highly anticipated film adaptation of Madame Bovary, where he’ll play Leon opposite Mia Wasikowska (Bovary) and Paul Giamatti (Monsieur Homais). Miller also has been writing a bunch of music and says he’s planning to record his debut album in the near future.
A few weeks ago, I spotted Miller at an after-party for the film Lawless, hobbling around the roof of New York City’s McKittrick Hotel with a cane. A fire truck going “about 100 mph” had sideswiped his cab on the Williamsburg Bridge, he says.
“I got jerked both ways in the car, hit my head on the divider, and then hit my legs on the side of the car,” he says. “I was blessedly OK and only had swelling in my knees and a minor concussion. I got in a fight with New York City, and New York City always wins!”
Yup, Ezra Miller is pretty damn resilient.