Ezra Miller made waves last year playing a disturbed, high-school-massacring teen in We Need to Talk About Kevin. In The Perks of Being a Wallflower, out now, the 20-year-old switches things up as the scene-stealing, impossibly cool, life-of-the-party, openly gay senior Patrick. He spoke with Rolling Stone about playing one of his favorite childhood characters, bonding with his castmates (including a pixie-cut, post-Potter Emma Watson), and the musical connection between Mozart and Neil Young.
The film garnered some great buzz following the Toronto Film Festival. How did it feel to see it for the first time?
It was amazing, and I was really kind of floored. I was sort of emotionally sucker-punched. Being a part of a production, you think you might have a buffer or safeguard against it, but I was quite moved. There’s a moment in the beginning when it could almost be a normal teen flick, but I think the tides turned pretty quick.
You’ve said that you read Stephen Chbosky’s 1999 book The Perks of Being a Wallflower numerous times as a teen, and that you were hesitant to make a movie based on a book you liked so much. Did having Chbosky himself adapting it make the film more authentic?
From the second that I met Steve and saw how completely developed and evolved his cinematic view of this story was, I felt rather confident that it would be the work that he wants it to be. You know, Steve made this film the same way he wrote the book, as an act of giving in full generosity. He opened up about his own plight and revealed his own teen struggles just so other people could have a reference. There’s a lot that the book accomplishes that the movie doesn’t, and some stuff that the movie accomplishes that maybe you just can’t do without a cinematic assault, but I think it’s sort of wonderful how these two pieces can each stand alone. I think Steve looked so deeply into himself and wrote a story that’s so personal that a character like Patrick touches something universally accessible even though he’s just this acidic kid in this high school in the middle of Pittsburgh. Who knows what he’ll do or what he’ll be? We can all kind of recognize those characters, and I think there’s something really cool about that. It’s like getting a lifelong gift from Steve.
Steve wanted the cast to bond as if they were having a high school experience. Do you feel like you all accomplished that?
Yeah! The environment in which a film is made is always fed into the work to some degree. And I think that the deep, sort of constant bonding and togetherness of this group of people and the amount of joy that we found in playing music and being mischievous . . . I mean, similar to a hippie commune, but sprung out of the second floor of the Crowne Plaza Hotel in the suburbs of Pittsburgh.
You started a band?
Oh yeah! Two projects spawned out of it. We’ve got Octopus Jam and Waste Band coming soon to a ghost record store, or wherever music even goes anymore. We had so many talented musical bodies there, just sort of by chance. I don’t think that was viewed or scoped out on the resume “special skills” section, but it just so happened that Johnny Simmons plays a mean guitar and Logan Lerman tickles a serious ivory and Mae Whitman and Emma Watson have beautiful voices. I’m a bit of a drummer myself, and I was tapping on things like lamps and countertops in the hotel room. I don’t recall any covers – it was experimental and we were just making stuff up. And we’re talking about full instrumentation, like approaching big band. Saxophones, steel guitar, acoustic guitars, multiple percussionists, eight to 12 vocalists. It was a noisy operation amidst these families trying to sleep. They were checking out in the middle of the night in flurries of rage when the music reached its crescendos!
Who are your musical influences?
I started in opera as a kid, like with The Magic Flute, which led me to all of Mozart’s music. You know, you’re a kid who likes Mozart a lot, so people ask, “Have you heard Bach and Beethoven and Handel?” So I like all of those guys, particularly Beethoven. And then of course from Beethoven it’s a natural progression into David Bowie, which leads easily into Tupac Shakur, who unfortunately was killed, you know, around the same time as Kurt Cobain, who was one of my favorites. And I really like Neil Young. When those guys died in the early Nineties, it left us Neil Young carrying all the torches.
Your Rocky Horror Picture Show scenes are incredibly entertaining. Might you have had some extra years practicing for that part?
Since I was far too young, I was awakened to the cries and the power of the Rocky Horror Picture Show. I loved doing those scenes. It was incredibly fun. I really lost all sense of self in my homage to Tim Curry, which is something I guess I’ve been meaning to do for awhile, come to think of it. To pay my respects and blood oath to the man who formed so many twisted parts of my psyche.
So next on your list is Madame Bovary with Mia Wasikowska?
That’s definitely coming up soon. I’ll play Leon, the legal clerk who is the third of the misadventures of the tortured madame. I’m really excited. I’m feeling romantically tragic already.