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For young actor Ezra Miller, ‘Perks’ and peeves

By Amy Kaufman, Los Angeles Times –

LOS ANGELES — “I am incredible,” Ezra Miller told a waitress assuredly.

The server didn’t bat an eyelash, jotting down the actor’s order before retreating back into the kitchen. At Cafe Gratitude, an organic vegan restaurant in Hollywood, such proclamations are commonplace. In fact, they’re required if you want to order food or drink, which all have mantra-like, inspirational monikers.

Despite his hippie attire — drawstring pajama bottoms combined with a formal blazer that had strings of his long hair stuck to it — Miller, 19, found the trendy eatery to be ridiculous.

“I might have wanted the ‘I am luscious,’ but I definitely wasn’t going to say that,” he said, hesitantly sipping the concoction of coconut milk, hemp seed, kale and almond butter that had arrived at the table. “This is kind of gross. But it’s mostly like a textural gross. I could really use the cream of a cow right now. I could really drink some blood right about now. ‘I am bloodthirsty’?” he says, suggesting a new menu item.

The thing is, it actually wouldn’t have been entirely absurd for Miller to publicly declare his incredibleness. He had arrived in Los Angeles earlier in the day from the Toronto International Film Festival, where he openly wept with joy during the world premiere of his new film, “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.” And after finishing his revolting-looking smoothie, he would head over to the ArcLight Hollywood to walk another red carpet and debut the movie for local audiences.

Based on director-writer Stephen Chbosky’s bestselling 1999 novel, “Perks” follows a group of teenagers coming of age in suburban Pittsburgh. The film’s protagonist, Charlie — played by Logan Lerman — is struggling to fit in during his freshman year at high school. He finds eclectic seniors who take him under their wing, including a promiscuous girl he quickly develops a crush on (Emma Watson) and her flamboyant, boisterous stepbrother (Miller).

Though the film is peppered with dark moments — Miller’s character is verbally and physically bullied over his homosexuality — it’s perhaps the lightest role the actor has ever portrayed on screen. In the quirky 2009 family dramedy “City Island,” he played a teenager with a fat fetish, then moved on to a pill-popping bad boy in last year’s “Another Happy Day.” But the most disturbing of his movies has no doubt been “We Need to Talk About Kevin,” in which he plays a troubled young man who goes on a violent rampage at his school.

After “Kevin” launched at the Cannes Film Festival in 2011, Miller was officially deemed one of young Hollywood’s rising stars — but almost instantly began getting pigeonholed by the industry as well.

“After ‘Kevin,’ everyone was like, ‘Do you want to play a murderer? Maybe a rapist? No? Well, how about a murderer?’” Miller recalled with a smile.

Not surprisingly, the free-spirited actor — who also plays in a band called Sons of an Illustrious Father and was charged with marijuana possession while filming “Perks” — detests being labeled. Last month, in an interview with Out magazine, the actor described himself as “queer,” a revelation that created a flurry of media interest over whether Miller had come out as gay.

“I didn’t think people would care,” said Miller, seeming slightly peeved about the media attention. “I don’t need my sexuality celebrated, and I certainly don’t need it to be criticized. I didn’t necessarily want it to be observed, but here we are.”

The actor, who will begin shooting an adaptation of “Madame Bovary” opposite Mia Wasikowska in November, is also worried that his openness about his sexuality may affect his ability to secure a variety of roles.

“I’m hoping to avoid labels; they’re sticky. And I can certainly still shoot a gun probably better than a bunch of the straight actors around,” he said, toying with his unopened pack of cigarettes. “I wouldn’t want to lose out on my macho action movie just because I told people I was queer. That would be a damn shame.”

While filming “Perks,” Miller was the most ebullient personality on set. As his costar Lerman described it: “Ezra’s eccentric. He’s the definition of a fun, artistic personality. Like, he’ll just tap his leg and come up with an incredible song.”

Director Chbosky echoed that sentiment, acknowledging that “whatever darkness there is in Ezra, he’s always shown me the lighter side of himself.” Which isn’t to say there’s not something deeper below the surface. “Obviously, you can tell in his performance and his choices that that darkness is there, but he’s battling it very well for a young person.”

For his part, Miller appears content to keep any hidden demons to himself — though he doesn’t mind if people perceive him to be a bit off-kilter.

“I think everybody’s crazy,” he said, “and if I’m the one being a little direct about it, that’s fine by me.”

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