In the film world, Ezra Miller has steadily been on the indie circuit with roles in films like Afterschool, City Island, and Every Day. He’s also been on television in such series as Showtime’s Californication and USA’s Royal Pains. Now the 18 year-old’s latest role is in the teen film Beware The Gonzo.
The newly-minted adult Miller shared with us his own high school experiences.
“14 to 18, I don’t know if I can think back that far,” Ezra jokes, “That was a second ago. So hard to recall. How quickly it all flies by. I went to a school that was founded on a lot of very radical ideals of how education should be changed. But what’s happening to schools like that sort of all over the country is in economic pressure they’re becoming more and more preparatory because that’s what people will really pay the money for private schooling for now.”
“So I kind of watched as the preparatory system, which is sort of what we see in Gonzo became more present in the school I went to,” he continues, “I had a very hard time in high school and did feel the compulsive need to be outspoken against a lot of the institution out there and did get in trouble, and some of that was probably unnecessary, and some of that probably just came from sort of a self-centered rage that is sort of just endemic, is just like a part of that time I think for people. I think there are similarities between all kids’ high school experiences.”
Ezra was asked what kind of trouble he got into in high school.
“Varieties of things,” Miller replies, “It would be like we’d have a school concert where we were supposed to play covers of bands and I’d sing “Killing in the Name Of” by Rage Against the Machine and they’d be like, ‘Well, do you have to choose a song where every line has an expletive in it? Or could you maybe have chosen a different song?’ And then I raised a “You’re trying to censor me and limit my amendment rights,” and that whole thing that I think kids should do and must do because we must define ourselves.
In Beware The Gonzo, Miller plays Edward “Gonzo” Gillman, an outcast who starts an underground newspaper after he is fired by the school paper’s editor. Miller was asked if her own high school ever had an underground newspaper.
“The year, I left high school my insane British friend Quentin, he is both insane and British and he’s been working in a union organization and very real radical causes from a very young age,” he remembers, “The year I left he started a true reporting paper within my high school, the Hudson School, and it did actually go up against the blonde leader of the more popular school paper.”
“And that was going on, they were duking it out,” Ezra adds, “And he was getting in trouble when I was making Gonzo, which is actually something I never really told anyone. I should say it in more press but it just kind of was like this private thing that I drew from which is that this happens all the time. The official school paper is under the thumb of the school and it’s there to be a nice thing for the parents to see. Really high school is a place where just like in the world you want real journalism because you want the kids to be able to have a voice and keep an eye on the goings on within an institution that they don’t run. And that’s kind of supposed to be the role of journalism, right?”
Ezra talks about the music that helped him identify more with Gonzo in the film.
“Punk rock changed our lives,” Miller notes, “terms of definitely speaking about this character there is this culture or this music that is for angry kids. There are actually a few types of music that speaks specifically to disenfranchised youth. There are some cultural divides in what type of music that will be for various people, but punk rock and hip hop are in this country the major forms of music of disenfranchised angry youth, which there are far more of than you guys suspect.”
“That music of distorted, loud, and fast rock and roll, that’s how a lot of kids are formulating their personal beliefs and philosophies under the umbrella of the raw energy of that music,” he continues, “And I say again, hip hop is very much the same. There’s an energy in it which is the energy of being enraged as a young person in this society that was informative to me and my life and it’s informative to this movie.”
One of Gonzo’s more memorable lines in the film is, “The revolution will not be televised.” Miller was asked if he was familiar with Gil Scott-Heron, who originally said that line.
“Yeah,” he says, “And also I love that song. This was a fun one for me because a lot of my investigations just as an individual from a young age have been into radical opposition resistance movements. And essentially there’s something very funny about when a kid in this uninformed idealism takes on a complex radical philosophy and tries to execute it in the context of his high school life.”
“It’s a hilarious situation I found myself in, which is that like no really you’re going to have to wait a while to really start to bring in a lot of the realities of what is actually at play on a case by case basis,” Ezra continues, “But as kids who don’t like the way things are moving there’s a natural draw to these movements that we can’t actually grasp as such young people but it’s still important to take them on and investigate.”
Ezra talks about the film’s focus on bullying in high school and the current “It Gets Better” campaigns currently being implemented in high schools across the country to combat it.
“But will it get better?” he replies, “I love the It Gets Better Foundation what they’re doing, but that promise is not always true because the injustices that exist in high school are a microcosmic representation of the injustices that exist all over the world and are only getting worse and worse and worse and worse and we all know it. I think when it comes to a kid, each individual teenager has to, this is like the name of the adolescent game, you have to in this time figure it out, and you shouldn’t be listening to anyone.”
“You should be listening to everyone but you should be listening to no one,” Miller adds, “You should be taking no one’s advice, no one’s supposed words of wisdom because, ‘Look, I made it through and I’m in this position in my life.’ No, you need to go with your gut and your instinct and just do you and as much as you can ignore all the people who are telling you that you can’t do that.”
Miller talks about how Gonzo in the film defends himself against his bullies.
“There’s something about people have too much pride or they have too little pride,” Ezra says, “People are either far too strong in their lives as ego presences, or they’re far too meek and submissive and humble. Finding the balance between those two things is one of the hardest things to do, and in a society where as a boy if you’re not strong enough or as a girl if you’re not weak enough or all these conventions surrounding strength and humility. I think Gonzo is an interesting story because it’s about someone who is coming from the place of being trampled on, finding the natural empowerment that exists for every living being on the planet.”
“There’s empowerment to be had, but then going far too far to the other extreme of knowing your power and then abusing your power, which puts you right back on the other end of where you started, which was getting trampled on,” he adds, “So now you’re trampling on someone. There’s something interesting about teenagers trying to figure out how to not be stomped on but also trying not to stomp. Because in high school sometimes it seems like I have to choose and I have to be one or the other; I have to be a stomped on or a stomper on, and you don’t have to be either.”
Ezra has made much of his film career in indies, so he was asked whether he can find just as much relevance in a bigger budget film as in a smaller one.
“It doesn’t matter,” Miller believes, “But then you do think about certain things like there would be certain things that you just couldn’t make a film about that would be funded by a big studio. That’s just a reality, and certain ideas will have to find independent forums for now.”
Miller talks about the past teen films he loves that he believes Beware The Gonzo strives to be.
“I love The Breakfast Club,” Ezra replies, “And I also love in the context of this movie some lesser known equally relevant films, like Malcolm McDowell in “If…. It’s like this kingdom. There’s a kingdom of horror but then there’s a very specific kingdom of teen movies.”
Ezra was inquired about whether or not there was any improvisation done in the film.
“There were a lot of kids who were ready to go in terms of adlibbing and improvisation,” Miller answers, “I do actually remember that scene where I give that speech at the punk show. He told me five minutes before we shot that he still hadn’t written anything and that I should just make something up.”
Co-starring with Miller as one of his subordinates is Zoë Kravitz, the daughter of rock star Lenny Kravitz and actor Lisa Bonet. He talks about working with the budding actress.
“She’s the best person in the world,” Ezra believes, “I learned that Zoë’s literally the best human being alive. I’m actually not exaggerating or kidding. She’s the most inspired, on fire artist of this fucking generation and like the most beautiful person ever to live, and people know it. And people will know it more and more and be like, ‘Lenny who?’”
Ezra was also asked about how he enjoyed playing the leader of the group.
“Good,” he replies, “One thing I discovered on this film is the vast importance, especially in a high school movie, this makes and breaks high school movies all the time, which is extra work. How background is either involved with a story or literally just a bunch of people there for the day being shepherded around like goats and not participating in the making of a story.”
“And one of my favorite things on this film was we had this amazing army of extras who I got to really explore the leader of the pack thing with this group of kids,” Miller continues, “So that was a lot of fun. In terms of the exploration of what that means, it was mostly about what is this thing of the irresponsible leader, and the irresponsible leader takes the fuel from the movement and instead of pushing it back out into the movement incorporates it into his own view of ego and self. That was the exploration. It was about everybody who becomes a leader takes it too fucking far.”
Miller talks about whether or not he has any plans to return to Royal Pains.
“I doubt I return to Royal Pains, although I’m not necessarily opposed,” Ezra answers, “We Need to Talk About Kevin comes out all over the world over the course of the next four or five months. Another Happy Day is coming out. The Perks of Being a Wallflower comes out in spring.”
“My band, Sons of an Illustrious Father, we just dropped an EP and we will release our album in winter,” he continues, “And I’m sending out a call right now to artists internationally to come converge on New York and start a collective with me and my friends.”