Hollywood told Ezra Miller coming out was a 'mistake' - now he's proving them wrong
We spoke to the actor about lovers, volcanoes, and why he wants to play a dog
He arrives with a sound system on his shoulder in an overpowering cloud of incense and flowers. Loose, grey wool trousers and a ruffled shirt, like a time traveller who shouldn’t be in 2017 at all. But here he is: Ezra Miller, putting down a bag of his clothes that he thought we might like to try for his shoot. Everyone gets a hug – “What’s your name, hi, can I hear a secret about you?” Two kisses. “So nice to meet you.”
He sets a stuffed owl and a stuffed alligator around the room, the better for them to see what’s about to unfold. The owl is named Antonio Gramsci – after the Italian socialist theorist, of course. “The ridiculous operating premise here,” Ezra is telling the room, “is that I’m naming animals after thinkers that I admire. Most of Gramsci’s writing was done in prison, because whatever his theories, they were lost out in Italy and Mussolini [when] the Fascists took power.
“And…” he giggles, “if I could just be completely honest? I just think he looks like an owl. He wore circular spectacles, he had good, cute face proportions, that sharp beak of a mouth and very wide, endearing eyeballs magnified by his spectacles, the way owls have those circular eyes framed beautifully by the colouring of their feathers around the ocular sockets.” Another pause. He’s looking at me, do you know what I mean?, but I am Googling ‘Antonio Gramsci’.
“I’m naming animals after thinkers that I admire”
He is already peeling off his clothes and eyeing up the rail – Miller took it upon himself to choose a lot of the clothes for this shoot, for reasons that will soon become abundantly clear. “Give us a moment, my wonderful new friends,” he coos, disappearing into his room to squeeze his long limbs into the first outfit. We can still smell incense in the air and, on the floor, his cup of tea starts to go cold.
No sooner has he slipped into a bacon-coloured one-piece splattered with the most luxurious-looking paint, and he’s off, under the pretence of going for a wee, but in actuality off on a 25-minute adventure through the corridors of this labyrinthine hotel to see what the well-heeled clientele make of a 25-year-old leaping around them as they enjoy brunch. This is Ezra Miller, the cosmic gentleman who just might be the most interesting man in Hollywood.
He prowls around the room, twisting his limbs, pointing his long, crooked toes into the sky. He has a gold chain with the word ‘Princess’ resting against his hairy chest. When NOFX comes on the stereo, he starts screaming so loudly that a member of staff pops their head round to ask if everything is OK. The room, it should be said, is supposed to be soundproof, or it was until Ezra Miller arrived.
Razor-sharp cheekbones. Almond-shaped eyes. He looks like a cat, or something feline, but he disagrees. “I have been told by a few lovers that I resemble a baby dinosaur. I don’t know how to take that.”
Last night, he and some pals, including his friend and ‘guru’, Rubee, were having dinner at the hotel until several glasses were smashed and they decided to go up to their room for a seance, which was, apparently, “a resounding success”.
“I have been told by a few lovers that I resemble a baby dinosaur. I don’t know how to take that”
“I strive to know myself. I think it’s a lifelong process for everyone,” he says, when we go upstairs for a chat. He is, for reasons that are never fully explained, doing the interview shirtless, but from sounds emanating from the room prior I think he was meditating. He’s ordered a fresh orange juice, which comes in a steel decanter, but this, like the tea, has gone ignored, and the thick pulp has risen to the top like flotsam.
There is a conspicuous easel in the room with a huge poster of his new movie, Justice League, in which Miller plays super-fast metahuman Barry Allen, AKA The Flash, alongside Batman, Wonder Woman and Aquaman. Miller is gazing at it like you might study a painting. “I went to the Temple of Apollo once.” Oh? “Super-cool. Greek mythology is interesting to think about.” He says he went to visit Scottish filmmaker Lynne Ramsay, who worked with Miller on We Need to Talk About Kevin. “I had an incredible time. The temple, it says two things on the side. I don’t know the Greek, but one means ‘Know yourself, know thyself’ and one means ‘Moderation in all things’. Which is confusing, because moderation in all things must also include moderation. You have to moderate how much you moderate.” He starts chewing the inside of his cheek. “Then you’ve got to moderate that moderation.”
The trip wasn’t just headache-inducing temples, though. “Someone told me, while I was there, that there was a volcano, so we visited it. He said it could explode at any moment, and we’d all be underwater in an instant. And then… he kissed me?” He looks out the window, thinking. “It was a very good trick.”
Apart from kissing boys on active volcanoes, Miller has been working on the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, where, despite being blown up into some sort of magic dust at the first film’s climax, he seems to be reprising his role as the sullen, dangerous Credence Barebone. The first phase of his career was interesting and odd, psychos and freaks and rejects but now he’s a superhero and a wizard in two of the biggest blockbuster franchises in cinema, which almost seems at odds with how un-Hollywood he is in person.
“According to the world’s climatologists, we haven’t got long left,” he tells me. “That is why it’s time to do this. Speed the engine! Make cool stories about flawed people taking on a big responsibility.” He looks at the poster again, which reads ‘You can’t save the world alone’. “Now is also the time to cultivate that love between one another, and think about how we’re going to take care of each other through this next phase of humanity.”
Miller loves babies, and puppies, and doesn’t want them to all die in a massive flood, which is, he thinks, the most logical way for global warming to cause the end of the world. “I’m generally worried,” he says. “But… they say nervousness and excitement are the same part of the brain triggering.” He’s focusing on being comfortable in his body, and anchoring himself. Which means if global warming causes a few puddles… “Maybe, as a theory, I think it would be interesting if we approached our lives like nothing is an accident,” he says.
He is intense, until he isn’t. He’s just read Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch because he heard they’re making it into a movie and wants to be in it. The book, a coming-of-age story where a young boy becomes unmoored after his mother is killed in a terrorist attack, sounds like the sort of critically acclaimed, cult-ish title Miller has developed a monopoly on. I wonder if he’s going for Theo, the good-natured but misled lead, or maybe his close friend, the eccentric druggie Boris? “The dog.” What? “The dog! I want to play the little dog, Popchik. That’s where I want to head, Andy Serkis territory. I want to be clear, right now, in this interview: I want to get deeper into the world of playing non-humans.” He is kneeling in front of the Dictaphone, whispering to it. “I want to play the dog.”
“I want to get deeper into the world of playing non-humans. I want to play the dog”
Does he find himself drawn to odd roles? I think about celebrated king of the freaks Patrick in YA film The Perks of Being a Wallflower. And playing Tilda Swinton’s son in We Need to Talk About Kevin, in which he orchestrates a massacre at his school. Even in Amy Schumer’s Trainwreck, where he plays bushy-tailed intern Donald, he ends up doing a line of coke off Schumer’s cleavage and reveals he likes to be beaten during intercourse. These… non-traditional roles have been what made him so compelling to begin with. But he disagrees.
“I question whether that truly is non-traditional, in the history of this art form,” he says. “These are roles that have the potential to tear an actor apart from the inside. But is that non-traditional? The tradition, the way I see it anyway, has always been to stretch the edge of empathy. Exploring. But as I say… moderation in moderation.”
He dropped out of high school because Beethoven came to him in a dream – ridiculous, yes, but, says Miller, “It was serious to me at the time, in my highly energised, romanticised brain”. Beethoven was depressed from a dissatisfaction with his work; the five symphonies that he’d written didn’t feel like a complete corpus. “He felt suicidal, because he was looking at his life’s work and he was miserable, because he felt incomplete.”
Miller implored him to keep going. “I told him he’s doing great, I asked how many symphonies [he’d done], and I told him to keep making more. Then then there were these sort of zombie creatures, made of a clay-like substance, so we had to run away and survive the zombie apocalypse together. There was more,” he says, looking at me suspiciously. “Maybe I’ll trickle more of the dream to you later.” Sadly, that never happens.
But the Beethoven dream left an awakened, teen Miller feeling empowered to take initiative. Instead of doubting or questioning himself, or trying to fit into a social context where he might not feel at home, he threw himself into “a burning sense of purpose to make art”. Chocs away, no walls.
“We had to run away and survive the zombie apocalypse together”
And then, in 2012, he came out in an interview with Out magazine. He identifies as queer – the broader, umbrella term within the LGBTQ community that could translate as ‘everything but straight’. Miller has dated “plenty” of women, but he kisses boys atop volcanic rock. Sometimes he spans the entire spectrum, sometimes he doesn’t. Queer is the term he uses, so that’s the term we use, too.
He’s the first queer actor to play a superhero. I want to know: does he feel under pressure to be any kind of role model to the LGBTQ community? Does he feel observed in a way straight actors might not be? He shakes his head softly.
“I don’t feel pressure. Pressure would only come from a dam, or a block. And when I came out I took the block away, removed the dam. I’ve undammed my identity in the world. I was told, when I gave that interview…” he tails off. “This is an interesting thing to talk about. I was told by a lot of people I’d made a mistake.” By who?
“I won’t specify. Folks in the industry, folks outside the industry. People I’ve never spoken to. They said there’s a reason so many gay, queer, gender-fluid people in Hollywood conceal their sexual identity, or their gender identity in their public image. I was told I had done a ‘silly’ thing in… thwarting my own potential to be a leading man.”
His early work – those beautifully realised depictions of weirdos, were so promising, people explained. He’s squandered it by being open. “I was given a lot of stern talking-tos.”
“When I came out I took the block away, removed the dam. I’ve undammed my identity in the world”
It’s the first time he looks sad; his palms are flat on his knees and he looks more present than he’s been all day. “‘You’ve made a mistake’ is such a hard thing to hear. Maybe if I’d actually made a serious mistake? But not for this. I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong, though there have been moments of doubt as a result of those conversations. But… what they said was, in fact, ‘rubbish’, as you might say. We are the ones. It’s up to us,” he’s flicking his finger between him and I, “us to manifest the world we want to exist in. But we’re ready. Humans are ready.”
Someone is hovering near the door. Our time is nearly up. Miller asks them to come back. “I know a lot of people who are in the closet,” he says, quickly. “It’s all good. It’s OK. This is what I want to say… it would be a good idea to re-examine how this is working for us. These ideas. These values. Is it really working for us? Honestly?”
Someone at the door again. He nods. Says goodbye, and we hug it out. Kiss on the cheek. “Thanks,” he says. “It’s not much, but I think we have a few more answers than before. Don’t you?”
Justice League is in cinemas from 17 November