Though a good student, Miller dropped out of Hoboken’s Hudson School his junior year, prompted by a dream in which a despondent Ludwig van Beethoven visited him in the subway. “He was crying, and he said, ‘The four symphonies I’ve written are no good. They’re just, like, not enough.’ And I was like, ‘You write five more! Keep going!’ And I woke up in a cold sweat and I was like, ‘I need to drop out of school.’ ” His interpretation? “I think it’s about how it’s the responsibility of every artist to make sacrifices and seemingly irrational decisions in order to carve out their little pebble of work to put on the big, like, art kingdom that everyone’s been building for so long.”
A despondent Beethoven came to Miller in a dream when he was 16, and he decided to quit school.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, given those dreams and circuitous musings, Miller was arrested in June for pot possession while shooting The Perks of Being a Wallflower, an adaptation of the popular teen novel in which he plays Emma Watson’s gay brother. Though “pot was strewn about, covering me like a quilt,” says Miller, he got off, thanks to a “kindly magistrate” who gave him two counts of disorderly conduct and “a lengthy lecture regarding my influence on the young extras of our film, one of whom he later revealed was his daughter.”
Miller remains unapologetic. “I don’t feel like there’s any need to hide the fact that I smoke pot. It’s a harmless herbal substance that increases sensory appreciation.”
He can’t have been easy to raise, but Miller’s parents have been remarkably supportive, which is why he refrained from speaking to his mother for Kevin’s entire shoot. “In the moments where my mind could escape Kevin’s, I had this growing, gathering appreciation for everything that my mother did right,” he says. “But to bring back to the forefront of my brain this loving, empathetic relationship with my mother would have been extremely detrimental to either me or the film, so it was really essential that she, uh, keep fair distance.” She sat beside him during Kevin’s debut at Cannes, to see a killer with her boy’s face. “I’ve never heard her cry like that,” he says. “Like, audibly sobbing and shaking.”
Our wanderings take us through stoop sitting, or, as Miller calls it, “the most harmless of petty loiterings,” and the Nan Goldin exhibit at the Matthew Marks Gallery, before ending where we started, back at the hope tree. Miller has a new one: “I hope that I might always play my part so that I will always know my hopes.” He tries to explain that, but never really does, and in a way, it might be disappointing if he did.