Hollywood doesn't lack good scripts about troubled adolescents, just young actors capable of nailing the roles. Enter Ezra Miller, a 19-year-old star-in-the-making who surpasses his bleak portrayal of Ellen Barkin's drugged-out son in the dysfunctional-family drama Another Happy Day (out now) with his dead-eyed turn opposite Tilda Swinton as the perpetrator of a Columbine-like massacre in We Need to Talk About Kevin (in limited release December 2). The kids Miller plays are not all right—and that's what makes him so intriguing. He talked to Details.com about how he got ready to spit in Barkin's face and his real-life mom's reaction when he was busted recently for pot possession.
DETAILS: In Another Happy Day, you spit in Ellen Barkin's face. How did that go?
Ezra Miller: That particular action was written in the script: That I would yell at her, call her a cunt, and then spit in her face. When Ellen and I were first getting to know each other, we were well aware that this was in our future. We did a substantial amount of personal, emotional buffering so that we could feel comfortable.
DETAILS: Had you spit on someone before?
Ezra Miller: Not to my knowledge. Occasionally you spit out a window with little knowledge of where it might land.
DETAILS: Did you have to work overtime to convince people on set that you weren't a punk in real life?
Ezra Miller: Actually, I let my inner punk run rampant. I was trying to be a more endearing punk than my character so I could work with these people while hoping to inspire the smallest bit of annoyance and loathing.
DETAILS: Ellen Barkin just joined Twitter and has amassed a serious following very quickly. Are you following her?
Ezra Miller: No. I have yet to tweet or twatter. She's a queen bee in many respects. And I think with such a hive-oriented social network like Twitter she would quickly seize a lot of power. That makes perfect sense to me.
DETAILS: After the screening in Cannes of We Need to Talk About Kevin, you told a reporter that you saw a part of Kevin in yourself. How so? He kills his classmates, Columbine-style.
Ezra Miller: We all have this capacity in our nature to hurt and to kill. Kevin is looking at a world where the function of civilization is defined by the willingness to avoid impact. But look at your teeth, your nails—you'll start to see that you are a weapon.
DETAILS: When you take a meeting now, are people who've seen We Need to Talk About Kevin afraid of you?
Ezra Miller: When I first went to Cannes, I met someone in the promotions department. There was this strange resistance and an awkward vibe. And then he told me that he'd seen the movie, and I realized that he was actually horrified by me. He thought I had a concealed weapon and his life was in danger.
DETAILS: John C. Reilly plays your dad. Did you get any good advice from him?
Ezra Miller: John and I had an amazing conversation about coming to terms with the work that you've done. I had just seen a movie of mine and had a viscerally negative reaction to it, and he shed a lot of light on the idea that we do the work to the best of our internal awareness, and then we have to move on.
DETAILS: In both of your current films, you play kids who torture their mothers. How is your relationship with your own mom?
Ezra Miller: Fantastic. I mean, amazing. She is a constantly attentive and accepting and enthusiastic mother.
DETAILS: What was growing up in New Jersey like?
Ezra Miller: My family stuck out like a sore thumb. It came down to small things, like the way my mother would let weeds and wild plants in our garden just grow and grow and grow in an environment where the name of the game is the strict manicuring of lawns.
DETAILS: Is it true that you sang at the Metropolitan Opera as a kid?
Ezra Miller: When I was 6, I became very deeply invested in opera—obsessed, one could say. And then I did a movement piece in an opera when I was 8. Then I started singing with the Metropolitan Opera Children's Chorus from when I was 9 until I was 11 and my voice started to change. The keen-eared leader heard a slight crack and that was it. I was out.
DETAILS: Were you devastated?
Ezra Miller: Yeah. It was pretty fucking hard. But it required me to find new avenues of expression. Being kicked out was almost like the fuel to all of the fires to come. It was defining.
DETAILS: You were recently arrested for marijuana possession. The charges were later dropped, but were your parents upset when they got that phone call?
Ezra Miller: My parents had been gritting their teeth for that phone call for a long, long time.
DETAILS: So they weren't surprised or disappointed?
Ezra Miller: No, it's water off a duck's back, as they say. We all know what weed is.