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Ezra Miller — and their recent volatility — explained

Miller is on the cusp of massive fame, but their hedonistic spate of aggression may be their undoing.

Ezra Miller attends the Universal Music Group Hosts 2020 Grammy After Party on January 26, 2020, in Los Angeles, California
Gregg DeGuire/FilmMagic
Aja Romano writes about pop culture, media, and ethics. Before joining Vox in 2016, they were a staff reporter at the Daily Dot. A 2019 fellow of the National Critics Institute, they’re considered an authority on fandom, the internet, and the culture wars.

It looks like The Flash won’t be departing the Speed Force just yet. Actor Ezra Miller has apologized for a lengthy string of bizarre and often violent behavior throughout 2022, including multiple bizarre allegations that they have been forming a sex cult, had “groomed and brainwashed” one formerly underaged teen, and had acted wildly inappropriately with an 11-year-old.

In a statement to Variety published Monday, Miller blamed their troubles on spiraling mental health. “Having recently gone through a time of intense crisis, I now understand that I am suffering complex mental health issues and have begun ongoing treatment,” Miller said. “I want to apologize to everyone that I have alarmed and upset with my past behavior. I am committed to doing the necessary work to get back to a healthy, safe and productive stage in my life.”

The apology follows news that Warner Bros. has been working with actor Ezra Miller to film reshoots of Miller’s highly anticipated film, despite their recent string of arrests for aggressive and violent behavior. Strange tales of the actor’s exploits both in Iceland and on their gun-filled Vermont estate culminated in an arrest in that state for felony burglary on August 7, after Miller allegedly broke into a house and stole bottles of alcohol. That arrest resulted from a search of Miller’s property as police attempted to locate a missing mother and her three children who’d reportedly been living there as recently as July.

Miller, one of Hollywood’s most well-known nonbinary actors, has largely flown under the radar until recently, turning in acclaimed performances in indie films before joining the Fantastic Beasts franchise and becoming The Flash in the DC Extended Universe. They kind of (but not really) won an Oscar for that performance.

But their March 28 arrest and eventual no-contest plea to disorderly conduct caused other reports of temperamental and aggressive behavior to bubble up. One couple filed a restraining order against them, and they were arrested on charges of second-degree assault after refusing to leave a party and throwing a chair that struck and injured a woman in attendance. The woman refused treatment, and Miller was released. Meanwhile, rumors surfaced that the actor had been having breakdowns while filming The Flash, an upcoming installment in the DC movie franchise, scheduled to be released next summer. After spending the last decade or so on the cusp of top-tier celebrity, Miller’s starring role in that film finally seemed to be pushing them into the limelight.

Following the ongoing controversy over their behavior, however, Miller’s career seemed to be in jeopardy. Rolling Stone reported on April 6 that Warner Bros. had put all of Miller’s upcoming projects on hiatus following an emergency meeting to discuss their behavior. That could have potentially included the two remaining installments of the Fantastic Beasts franchise as well as all of Miller’s contracted Flash roles. Meanwhile, other projects began to distance themselves from the star: Most recently, the Toronto International Film Festival announced it would close the fest with the world premiere of Daliland, in which Miller plays a young Salvador Dali — but TIFF prominently failed to mention Miller in its announcement for the film and its cast. It’s all been a sharp, swift drop for an actor whose career has so far appeared to be a steady, straight climb to the top.

Still, so far, Warner Bros. seems to be committed to forging ahead with The Flash and with Miller. Studio head David Zaslav described the film as “terrific” on an earnings call according to THR, and the film is still scheduled for a June 2023 release. Miller’s apology seems to validate prior speculation that the studio might finally bring them to heel in order to allow the film to move forward.

With so much riding on The Flash, including its $200 million budget, there’s a huge amount of pressure on Miller to make a full mental health recovery. But that might be easier said than done: Miller’s troubling behavior seems to have been spiraling for a while.

A brief history of Ezra Miller’s brushes with the law

The Hawaii police chief who delivered the announcement of Miller’s March 28 arrest noted that they’d been the subject of 10 police complaints in the past month. And the details of Miller’s protracted misconduct spree read like The Hangover as Dadaist poetry: Miller had reportedly been hanging out in small-town Hilo, Hawaii, living at a hostel alongside a married couple they befriended at a farmers market and then stayed with. On Sunday, March 27, Miller became rowdy at a local bar, refusing to calm down despite several requests. Then they grabbed the microphone away from a woman doing a karaoke duet of “Shallow” before accosting a man playing darts, at which point the police got involved.

The couple Miller was living with paid $500 to bail them out. Miller’s aggression didn’t end with the actor’s arrest, however. According to the restraining order the pair subsequently filed against Miller, a few hours after they all returned to the hostel, Miller suddenly “burst into the [couple’s] bedroom and threatened [them], saying ‘I will bury you and your slut wife.’” Miller then allegedly stole the man’s wallet, containing all his identifying info; it’s unclear whether it was ever recovered.

So far, this could sound like Miller was having one really upsetting day. Indeed, in my initial reporting on this story, I mentioned some of the factors that might be distressing Miller — the pressures of being a nonbinary celebrity, the strains of the pandemic era, and the many health risks and other stressors that trans people face.

But as more allegations of predatory, coercive, and controlling behavior by Miller surface, a pattern emerges in which Miller appears to display the classic signs of a cult leader in the making: a volatile, unpredictable, violent personality, a tendency to amass groups of followers, and an alleged pattern of grooming underage admirers.

This volatile persona may seem little like the actor and musician fans have come to know through their onscreen work and pop culture events like Comic-Con. But Miller has reportedly been having similar outbursts and bursts of aggression for years.

Miller’s rise to fame was extraordinarily swift and early. Born in 1992 to wealthy New Jersey parents — he was a prominent New York publisher, she a successful modern dancer — Miller excelled in singing opera while they were still a child, debuting with the New York premiere of Philip Glass’s opera White Raven at Lincoln Center in 2001. They would later describe that experience as “the most profound ego boost that an 8-year-old could possibly receive.” Miller then moved into a long-term residency with the Metropolitan Opera children’s chorus. That background primed them to segue into acting, and there again they seemed to be charmed: Their first TV role? Feeding wisdom to David Duchovny at the ripe old age of 15 in Showtime’s hit dramedy Californication. Their first movie? The lead role in Antonio Campos’s critically acclaimed Afterschool, which debuted at Cannes that same year.

With so much momentum behind their burgeoning career, it’s probably unsurprising that after Afterschool, Miller quit school and focused on acting. (It’s perhaps more surprising that they credit this decision with Beethoven appearing to them in a dream.)

Their breakout mainstream role came soon after: 2011’s We Need to Talk About Kevin, a bleak but unforgettable drama in which Miller played a school shooter tiptoeing a strange line with his mother, played by Tilda Swinton, who struggles to connect with him both before and after unspeakable tragedy. That film introduced Miller to mainstream audiences; 2012’s Perks of Being a Wallflower, where they played Emma Watson’s charismatic gay stepbrother, seemed to put them on a path to certain stardom.

Yet even then cracks began to show. According to Rolling Stone’s Tatiana Siegel, Miller was perhaps a little too gleeful about their ownership of We Need to Talk About Kevin’s now-infamous crossbow along with the rest of their gun collection. In 2012, while bonding with their Wallflower co-stars, Miller claimed they, Emma Watson, and others got hit with a hotel noise complaint for having a loud, long after-hours party. That same year, after a car Miller was riding in got pulled over for a broken taillight, Miller was detained by police for allegedly holding an armful of pot (they were clutching “brown, vegetable material” and later described it as “pot strewn about, covering me like a quilt”) and ultimately cited for disorderly conduct. While it’s not clear what conduct was disorderly, the judge, according to Miller, lectured them on being a better influence for today’s youth.

Miller had perhaps more personal priorities, like coming out, embracing their queer, polyamorous identity, posing for Playboy, and starting a band, all while continuing their edgy roles in things like 2015’s Stanford Prison Experiment. Then Warner Bros. came calling, and Miller entered the DC family with 2016’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, putting them on a vaunted superhero trajectory that would eventually lead to their expanded role in Zack Snyder’s Justice League and their upcoming titular turn in 2023’s The Flash.

But entering the DC universe also meant introducing Ezra Miller to fandom, which maybe hasn’t always been the best outlet for their high-level theater-kid energy. When they weren’t at Comic-Con performing bare-chested renditions of Rihanna in the lobby or roleplaying as a bare-chested Toadette, they were turning heads for spontaneously kissing a fan — and, in 2020, for a disturbing incident that appeared to set a precedent for what followed.

At a bar in Reykjavik, Iceland, in April 2020, a group of fans approached Miller, who grew increasingly agitated. While speaking to one woman, Miller abruptly asked her, “Did you want to fight?” before grabbing her by the neck, choking her, and pushing her against the floor — a moment briefly captured in a video in which Miller apparently had to be pulled off the woman by bystanders. While some fans thought the incident might be a joke, Variety reported at the time that Miller had been “frustrated and angry” and had been escorted off the premises.

Miller seemed to stay off the radar since that incident, but while they were filming The Flash last year, an anonymous source hinted to Rolling Stone that Miller had multiple “meltdowns” — nonviolent but apparently torturous. Then in 2022, they re-emerged with a vengeance. In late January, they made a strange, since-deleted Instagram post threatening violence against a specific small-town chapter of the Ku Klux Klan — one that doesn’t seem to have been active in recent years. While that was inexplicable, it didn’t raise as many eyebrows as Miller’s Hawaii stint, in which they were reported to police for more quizzical behavior, including filming strangers at a gas station. In one incident captured on camera, Miller seems to be refusing to move away from a restaurant when asked until finally one of the hosts pushes them away, after which the cops were summoned.

Miller has always seemed aware of their tendency for edgier, riskier behavior. They once described their high school rebellion as a period of “burning, breaking, yelling, hitting things” and later added, “I definitely don’t count on a full life cycle for many reasons.” Miller has also spoken before of “the inherent torment of being privileged or coming from an illustrious father in a time of gross economic disparity.”

Then there’s the brutally young age at which Miller was thrust into the limelight. To be forced to deal with the monumental pressures of skyrocketing fame as a teenager, an age when most people are still learning how to grapple with their own huge emotions, has historically tended to be a stumbling block to a well-adjusted adulthood. It probably also didn’t help that, while still a teen, Miller immersed themself in the mind of the titular Kevin, a mass murderer and family annihilator who hates his mother — a role that led Miller to completely avoid speaking to their own mother for months, until the production wrapped. These things in Miller’s childhood are not their fault, least of all the destructiveness of method acting — but they all hint, perhaps, at the utter lack of mental health resources Hollywood provides young actors as they embark on careers that can so easily leave them feeling vulnerable and misplaced. Miller’s high-profile genderqueer identity further makes them more likely to experience depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation.

None of this, however, justifies Miller’s escalating pattern of violence, aggression, and in particular what now seems to be a long pattern of manipulating and coercing young admirers. Business Insider recently published an investigative report on Miller’s intensifying behavior, including interviews with numerous people who knew them in their recent travels to Iceland. Friends described Miller’s efforts to gain followers and house them all in their rented Airbnb in Reykjavík — and how the “commune,” as one visitor described it, turned toxic as Miller attempted to keep people from leaving. They described Miller as indulging in long sermons, claiming to have supernatural powers, and forbidding any type of disagreement.

Even more disturbing are allegations that Miller groomed multiple underage followers for sexual relationships. Multiple parents filed protection orders against Miller over the summer, including the parents of a 12-year-old who claimed Miller had been behaving erratically and inappropriately towards their child for some time. This included hugs and touching that made the child uncomfortable and claiming that the child was “an elevated being” who needed Miller’s guidance.

One alleged target of Miller’s is Gibson Iron Eyes, an 18-year-old Standing Rock Sioux activist whom Miller has known since they were 12 and Miller was 23. Their parents requested and received a protective order against Miller in June 2022, claiming that Miller had “brainwashed,” “groomed,” and used “violence” and “intimidation” to manipulate Iron Eyes and separate them from their family.

Although the protective order was granted, the couple was unable to locate Miller and Iron Eyes, whom they had previously tried to remove from Miller’s side after the teen allegedly overdosed on LSD while in Miller’s care. Iron Eyes later twice escaped from their family to rejoin Miller, leading to one incident in which Miller allegedly slammed a car door on Iron Eyes’ mother’s arm.

Iron Eyes has gone on the record repeatedly to dispute these claims, insisting that they are not being coerced and that they now realize they were manipulated and psychologically controlled by their parents for years. It’s worth noting, though, that that’s also the kind of alienating belief that both cult leaders and controlling, isolating partners like to instill in their victims. Moreover, one eyewitness described the relationship to Business Insider as deeply manipulative, claiming Miller had sex with the teen (which Iron Eyes has denied), confiscated Iron Eyes’ phone, coerced them to take “Gibson,” the nickname of their family’s dog, as their own, and even slammed them to the ground and screamed at them.

At the very least, none of this paints a flattering portrait of Miller. At worst, they may be guilty of a long list of criminal conduct. As of August, police were searching Miller’s Vermont estate hoping to track down a missing mother and her three children, due to concerns that the children’s environment contained unattended guns and bullets. The mother had previously told Rolling Stone that Miller had helped her and her children escape an abusive relationship by offering her shelter on the property. Miller claimed the family had since left the property, but police saw this statement as evasive.

In the wake of these incidents, it’s unclear what the future status of Miller’s projects with Warner Bros. might look like. The Fantastic Beasts franchise may be doomed without Miller’s assistance: Although there are still two films remaining, they haven’t been greenlit by the studio, and the next film in the beleaguered franchise does not yet have a script.

But if one of Miller’s franchises is floundering, it looks as if the other may be powering ahead. The Hollywood Reporter recently reported that Warner Bros. regularly filmed reshoots of The Flash with Miller over the summer.

Barry Allen — the Flash’s alter ego — won a huge fan following after Snyder’s Justice League cut, which led to their big scene from that movie, “The Flash Enters The Speed Force,” winning the “fan favorite moment” award (not a real award, but, you know, a thing) at the Oscars. The Flash seems likely to be one of the biggest DC Expanded Universe films yet — and despite uncertainty about how it might promote and market the film, Warner seems to be sticking by its decision to continue featuring them in the role.

Still, even with Miller’s new apology, the allegations against them aren’t typically the kind an actor just moves on from. While the petty theft and dive bar meltdowns could perhaps be written off as a form of pressure release, the accusations of violent outbursts, cult-like activity, and years of strategically grooming underage fans point to much deeper problems — problems that likely won’t be curbed by handing them a major starring role in a massive franchise.

This is an actor, after all, who once claimed that “burning and breaking things” was “necessary,” and that “you have to set things on fire and then yell to feel even remotely okay.” Increasingly, it appears the thing Miller is setting ablaze may be their own life.

Update, August 11, 4:40 pm: This piece was originally published on April 8 and has been updated throughout to include new incidents involving Miller.

Update, August 16, 11:30 am: This piece has been updated throughout to include Miller’s apology.