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Ezra Miller is one to look out for. One of the youngest up-and-coming actors working today, this year alone he was in two of my favorite films on the festival circuit: Another Happy Day and We Need to Talk about Kevin. In the former, out in theaters today, Miller plays Elliot, the troubled middle son of main character Lynn (Ellen Barkin). And as the title character in Lynne Ramsay’s Kevin—a teenager who goes on a high-school killing spree—Miller delivered one of the most talked-about performances out of this year’s Cannes Film Festival. In both films, Miller not only holds his own against established actors like Barkin, Ellen Burstyn, Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly—he often steals scenes from them. I spoke with Miller about the two films; the differences between working with Another Happy Day‘s Sam Levinson, a first-time director, and Ramsay; and how, when meeting with a director, “you always want to trick [them] into thinking you’re the character.”

Andy Young (MM): How did you first get involved in Another Happy Day?
Ezra Miller (EM):
I was contacted by [writer/director] Sam [Levinson], and I had a meeting with him at the French Roast coffee shop. We had a long conversation about the goals of the film, and we shared various doom outlooks that I put forth into my character, Elliot. You always want to trick the director into thinking you’re the character, at least a little. After that lunch we really found we understood and trusted each other, and I knew I wanted to do that film, and they offered it to me without reading something or doing a scene for them.

MM: What was it like working with Levinson?
It was his first time directing, which can sometimes be a nightmare situation of someone not knowing the technical aspects, but that wasn’t the case at all. He had been developing his voice in his head for years; he had such an awareness of his own vision, and [he] knew how to accomplish it. He already had a plan to realize his vision, and at the same time he had this openness and spontaneous ability to receive what was happening in a given moment on set. There was no video village: He didn’t want to have a monitor, and for me as an actor it was great to not have to look over at your sit-in audience watching monitors.

MM: On the flip side of that, what was it like working with someone who has had years of experience, like Lynne Ramsay on We Need to Talk About Kevin?
Lynne is someone who, stylistically, maintains instinct as her formal approach. She has this impulse that tells her what she needs to tell her story. She doesn’t even have to work through words in her script or on set; she can find other channels for her notions and directions that come in an abstract sense [and] are very specific. She can look you in the eye and know what has to change in a scene.

MM: How did you prepare for Kevin? Did you do any research for the part?
I did, I always do. There’s always a natural path of investigation where similar stories exist in the world of facts; in this case, sensationalized media stories.

MM: Any directors you’d like to work with in the future?
Yeah, far too many to make one proclamation. The world is teeming with artists, and I want to work with so many of them that I can’t pick just one.

MM: Any advice for other actors?
Make your own stuff. I love the technological capacity of young artists right now to realize their work on such a grand scale. Also, and this is really cheesy, but the only measurement for success as an artist is the level of your belief in yourself. The more you clarify and validate yourself as an artist and the more you can make that commitment, the more joyful the act of creation can be.

Another Happy Day (anotherhappydaymovie.com) hits select theaters in New York and Los Angeles today; We Need to Talk About Kevin is scheduled for release on January 27, 2012.

Andy Young is a director, editor, writer and composer living in Austin, Texas. At the age of twenty, he has produced over 100 short films and one feature film, The Legend of Action Man, which he shot on a budget of only $200. Andy continues to make low-budget shorts with his sketch comedy group Dingoman Productions.