It’s the third Cannes Film Festival for actor Ezra Miller — he first attended in 2008 for Afterschool at age 14, then again last year for We Need To Talk About Kevin — and it’s been an odd awakening for the 19-year-old: Thanks to those pesky kids in Moonrise Kingdom, he’s no longer the youngest person in the room. So now that he’s in the position of being either a wise sage or a corrupting influence on our preteen friends, which route will he take? We spoke to Miller this week before Sean Penn presented him with this year’s Chopard Trophy for emerging talent (which he received alongside fellow honoree Shailene Woodley) about being a kid at Cannes, the unconquerable impulse to curse in front of child actors, and how he accidentally discovered 3-D porn on the Croisette.
Miller: Oh, there’s the lead kid in the movie [Jared Gilman, who plays Sam in Moonrise Kingdom]. I have to go talk to him.
What do you want to say to him?
What I was trying to say to him earlier when I saw him and the other kids outside the theater. I felt so terrible because I tried to compliment them and I ended up cursing because I was emphatic in trying to tell them they did a great job. I was so excited about their performances that I accidentally just kept spewing profanities. I was like, “Great performances. Great fucking job!” [Covering his mouth] “Oh shit! Oh fuck! I’m so fucking sorry!” I just immediately played into the role of film as something that corrupts children, which I felt bad about.
Does seeing them here make you nostalgic for your first time at Cannes?
Cannes for me, when I came when I was 14 for Afterschool, it just reached out of nowhere and it was taking my shoulder and validating me as an artist, as a 14-year-old, which is this absurd, amazingly, benevolent thing that can happen in someone’s life, that I feel like very rarely will happen for most kids who are artists. Wes Anderson just brought twelve kids to Cannes who will now know for their entire lives that this [making movies] isn’t an impossible thing that you shouldn’t quit your day job and try to do. You know, this isn’t like a fantastical reality. It’s an art form and it’s a profession, and it’s a beautiful social crazy scene and all of that. It’s a whole world of people who spend their lives doing this, playing make believe. These kids are maybe going to be too validated. They’re going to have my experience of having their heads expanded at a really unnaturally young age. But I believe in that and I really think that a kid with their head expanded is hope for the future, you know, for the rest of us.
How does this compare to your other two times at Cannes?
Usually the first-night Cannes jitters are accompanied by, Let’s see how these really honest audiences react to something I did … The two films I had at Cannes, prior to seeing them in Cannes I hadn’t seen them before. Now I’m here to be honored for Kevin, so I’m here for something I already know played well and isn’t playing again. It’s really nice to be here around, yeah, tons of beautiful people watching movies and riches and plush parties, but I don’t have to worry about the judgment nightmare in the largest theater in the world tomorrow.
Moonrise Kingdom is about the relationship between two preteens. Did you fall in love at that young of an age?
Yes! With every person that remotely understood me. Head over heels. More so and in a more rapid frequency than now in the time where I’ve really fallen in love and entered relationships. That thing of when you have a crush on someone that tears you apart, that is love. We shouldn’t invalidate that just because we’re little. We’re all told that’s not real, your first kiss wasn’t that kiss with your third cousin when you were four. It was when you were 15 and kissed that high-school boy. And that’s false. We’re scared of childhood sexuality, because it really brings out the raw, essential nature of sexuality, which,we’re so far removed from in our culture that it just scares us and makes us feel bad, when instead you should think about the purity of child sexuality, because you don’t have it and I don’t have it, because we live in a porn society.
Speaking of porn, didn’t you have an interesting experience with porn last year at Cannes?
Yeah, I was in the Marché [the market section, filled with wacky posters] and I stumbled upon a pavilion filled with 3-D porn. Keep these kids away from that particular pavilion. But it’s the reality that you can’t keep them away from that pavilion. Children will see the world that we create.
What did you learn about 3-D porn from that pavilion?
I think I learned more about thee-dimensional technology and how it’s coming how to exist on a small scale. And they handed out glasses. I don’t think I spent too much time really analyzing, That penis really appears to be protruding from the screen! How impressive is that? I was impressed that all the penises are definitely three-dimensional.
What are you working on after Cannes?
I’ve got The Perks of Being a Wallflower coming out and then in the fall I’m shooting Madame Bovary. I play León [Dupuis], who is the young romantic interest. It’s this girl who’s trying to fulfill this romantic hunger and lust with all of these inappropriate choices, and León is sort of the last hope in the progression of the tragedy that is Madame Bovary, because he’s actually her age. He’s not from this impossible-to-understand aristocracy. He’s just a legal clerk.
And Mia Wasikowska is Madame Bovary.
I’ve been a big fan of hers for a long time. I saw this short called “Summer Breaks” before I’d even seen In Treatment. It was at the Berlin Film Festival, and I was like, Whoa, who is this person who is about to dominate this age-range of female acting game? and it was Mia Wasikowska. And then I’m talking with Shion Sono about doing a movie together. He’s this Japanese director who is just a madman. He did Guilty of Romance. He’s making a film about the post-earthquake-tsunami radiation crisis in Japan called The Land of Hope. I saw [his 2001 film] Suicide Club when I was really young and it really disturbed me permanently, which has defined most things that I like as an artist. Edgar Allan Poe became my favorite author when he disturbed me significantly, like Alfred Hitchcock disturbed me significantly. When I was a kid, I was like, Well, those people can do something right because they disturbed me so significantly. He’s planning to make a movie about a Norwegian black metal band called Mayhem that is, in my opinion, the craziest story in rock and roll history. It’s got church burnings, and a former band member murdered a current band member. Basically Shion Sono and I met each other and pretty much exchanged faithful vows, so I’m really excited for that to happen.