CANNES, France — A year after his chilling portrayal of a mass-murdering teen in “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” Ezra Miller is back at the Cannes Film Festival — and trying to convince people that he is a nice guy, really.
“I think maybe the pervasive fear of me as a person is slowly fading away, which is nice,” he says. “If you meet someone for the first time and they’ve only seen ‘We Need to Talk About Kevin,’ for the first 10 minutes of that conversation, they’re really wondering if I’m truly a bad guy, and I’m really acting now.”
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The 19-year-old’s next movie, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower,” is unlikely to dispel his reputation for playing tortured high schoolers. In Stephen Chbosky’s adaptation of his cult coming-of-age novel, Miller stars as Patrick, a gay adolescent who goes by the nickname Nothing.
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“I’ve just spent a year or two reading that I’m capable of only playing dark, dysfunctional humans,” he shrugs. “Every human is dark and dysfunctional, and I’m not interested in movies that make up a story that’s fun for us to pretend is real.”
But whether or not he knows it, Miller is about to leap into another league. As recent spreads in L’Uomo Vogue and GQ attest, the 19-year-old actor has blossomed into something of a heartthrob — all cheekbones, soulful eyes and pillowy lips.
The fact that Sean Penn was the godfather of this year’s Chopard event was the icing on the cake.
Miller credits Penn with triggering an “epiphany” when he was 11. “From one character to another, Sean Penn is unrecognizable, whole human beings — every time, without fail,” he says.
Finding a balance between high art and earning a living is something the young actor is still working out. In addition to acting, he plays drums and sings in the New York-based band Sons of an Illustrious Father. An opera buff since the age of 6, Miller is equally comfortable wearing a tuxedo to the Met and joining the Occupy Wall Street protesters at Zuccotti Park. Sitting in the Chopard Lounge on the rooftop terrace of the tony Hotel Martinez, he sports the slogan “99 Percent” written on his left hand in black ballpoint pen.
“I know the world of high art, power, privilege, and then I know the world of complete crust punk, do-it-yourself, independent art making, and I think they both have things to learn from each other,” he says. “That’s where I want to be, using the power of both those worlds.”
Up next is his first period drama. Miller starts filming this summer opposite Mia Wasikowska in an adaptation of the classic French 19th century novel “Madame Bovary.”