Miller has also avoided that other kind of press for most of the year. No more arrests or court orders or messianic declarations. No new allegations of assaults, drug abuse, grooming, paranoia, rooms full of guns and rumors of cults — the headlines that dogged the actor throughout last year.
Miller’s apparent muzzling, some industry experts say, is a studio strategy to manage a crisis of rare magnitude.
There is a playbook for dealing with rogue stars. Studios can replace them, cancel their movies and shows, or simply play down their roles in productions. But those methods were perfected on performers with smaller parts, smaller projects or smaller shares of the attention economy than Miller.
DC’s chosen hero, who uses they/them pronouns and famously disdains Hollywood conventions, effectively is “The Flash.” After preparing for this crucial role for nearly a decade — including several appearances as the Flash or his alter ego Barry Allen in prior DC projects — Miller is in seemingly every frame of the character’s title film, which premieres Friday and reportedly cost at least $200 million to make.
There is simply no modern template for managing these kinds of allegations against an actor this essential to a movie with this much riding on it.
“I don’t envy the publicity and marketing people. Not for all the whiskey in Ireland,” said Karie Bible, a media analyst and film historian for the entertainment research company Exhibitor Relations.
The studio’s best bet, she said, might to be to put the film out and “pray to God that people focus on other things.”
Not long ago, Miller seemed to be prototyping a new kind of celebrity. They provoked and played with Hollywood conventions between performances in films such as “The Perks of Being a Wallflower” and the Fantastic Beasts franchise. Openly queer and spiritual, they have waxed lyrical on colonialism and polyamory, donned red lipstick and multiple photorealistic eyes for the Met Gala, and once showed up for an interview in a unicorn costume.
“I don’t identify as a man,” Miller told a reporter in 2018 on their 96-acre farm in Vermont, for a soft-focus profile in the Hollywood Reporter. “I don’t identify as a woman. I barely identify as a human.”
But the star, whose media representatives declined an interview request from The Washington Post, has said little in public since last summer, when Miller released an apologetic statement suggesting “complex mental health issues” were to blame for a string of accusations and arrests that began before “The Flash” went into production.
There’s Iceland, where they lived for several weeks after the pandemic shut down much of Hollywood in spring 2020. Insider reported that locals were frightened of Miller, who residents allege was leading a commune outside the capital, claimed supernatural powers, stank, muttered and “strolled the frigid streets of Reykjavik barefoot, revealing long, pointy toenails and what looked like an infected gash on one foot.” A video uploaded in April showed Miller appearing to choke a woman outside a bar in the city.
There’s Berlin, where in February 2022, a friend said Miller viciously harangued her after she asked them to stop smoking inside her apartment. “They started with ‘I’m a maker of planets. Tobacco is sacred,’” the woman told Variety. Half an hour after she called police and evicted her guest, she said, Miller tried to break down her door.
Sensational headlines followed Miller wherever they roamed that year. In Hawaii, they were accused of stealing a host’s identification and credit cards; then arrested at a karaoke bar on charges of disorderly conduct and harassment; then arrested again a month later and accused of throwing a chair at someone. In their home state of Vermont, they pleaded down a felony burglary charge to trespassing. A family in Greenfield, Mass., won a temporary protection order after claiming the actor threatened them with a gun.
Miller’s alleged behavior with minors provoked some of the most serious accusations. The Massachusetts family said the actor had taken an inappropriate interest in their 12-year-old. Rolling Stone reported last summer that Miller was housing a mother and her three young children at the Vermont farmhouse, where high-powered rifles and handguns were seen lying next to stuffed animals. The Standing Rock Sioux tribal court issued a temporary protective order against Miller the same month, when a couple accused the actor of a years-long manipulative relationship with their child, who met Miller at age 12 during the 2016 Dakota Access pipeline protests.
Many of these accounts are unproven and disputed. The mother in Vermont and the Sioux teen, now an adult, have said Miller never harmed them and was, in fact, helping them escape their own abusive situations. But they are the kind of stories that have derailed other A-list careers, particularly at the height of the #MeToo movement.
Kevin Spacey was replaced by Christopher Plummer in “All the Money in the World” after sexual assault accusations in 2017, and has appeared in a small handful of films since. Johnny Depp spent some time in the cold after Amber Heard claimed he abused her during their marriage, and is only regaining acceptance in Hollywood now, after partially prevailing in a libel lawsuit against his ex-wife.
Nor is it unheard of for a studio to spike a big project at a late stage. Warner Bros. Discovery chief executive David Zaslav pulled the plug on DC’s “Batgirl” last summer — despite the film being essentially finished at a reported cost of more than $70 million.
Warner/DC entertained dire measures for “The Flash” last year, too, as headlines about Miller coincided with the latter stretches of production. The Hollywood Reporter wrote in August that a source close to the studio said that scuttling the movie or reshooting it with a different actor was a possibility if the chaos didn’t end. Miller reportedly promised to seek help.
“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,” they said in a media statement a few days later.
That act of contrition, and an abatement of sensational headlines, seems to have satisfied the studio. Last month, “The Flash” director Andy Muschietti told Variety that Miller would return as the star if any sequels are made. “I don’t think there’s anyone that can play that character as well as they did,” he said.
What puzzles industry observers is not so much the studio’s decision to stick with Miller. It simply may have no good alternative after betting the future of the DC Extended Universe on the star. Less explicable to some observers is the lack of any apparent PR attempt to rehabilitate Miller’s image. Their handlers have thus far arranged no splashy magazine profiles; no press junkets; no climactic scenes of self-reflection in one of Oprah’s sun-dappled gardens.
That is “baffling,” said pop culture writer and critic Kayleigh Donaldson. “They’re trying to sell their big hope for this very messy franchise by almost concealing the star.”
It’s not as if Miller lacks defenders or a story that could be portrayed as sympathetic. Hollywood has become much more open about mental health issues in the past several years. And many fans and co-workers have stood by the actor, who once referred to mentally ill celebrities — nearly all of them, in Miller’s view — as “my people.”
“I thought Ezra was lovely — very kind to me when I was there,” Michael Shannon, who plays Zod in “The Flash,” told Vanity Fair this month. “It’s difficult to talk about, but I always give people a lot of slack in this business, because there’s a lot of people in this business that have issues. And some people have more privacy than others.”
Muschietti told a Deadline podcast that working with Miller was “definitely one of my best experiences with an actor in my whole career.”
An actor since childhood, Miller first captured widespread attention for playing a psychopathic son in 2011’s “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Their big star turn came the next year, when they appeared opposite Emma Watson in the sentimental teen drama “The Perks of Being a Wallflower.”
Miller came out as queer around the same time and fascinated fans by subverting expectations for A-list celebrities. The Jersey native chose a Vermont farm over a Hollywood bungalow, eschewed social media and spoke in riddles. “I am clandestine,” Miller told British GQ in 2020. “People do not understand me. I don’t intend them to, right?” In 2018, the same year Miller began identifying in the press as nonbinary, they posed with their farm goats for the Hollywood Reporter, shared their #MeToo story, and came across like the antithesis of a predatory celebrity.
“It’s a great f—ing age of being like, ‘You know what? That s—’s unacceptable.’ And it’s amazing for a lot of us to watch. ‘Cause, like, we all knew it was unacceptable when we f—ing survived it,” they said.
Looking back, it’s hard not wonder whether Miller’s eccentricities were also warning signs for studio executives who backed the actor. Or maybe they never needed to worry. Miller received wild applause when they took the stage at Monday’s premiere event for “The Flash” in Los Angeles, wearing flowing locks, a frilled shirt, and a lily-white suit jacket that seemed to fuse the superhero’s lightning-bolt iconography with the garb of an 18th-century romantic.
Several esteemed reviewers have already rewarded Warner/DC for standing by Miller. “The troubled star turns out to be the film’s chief asset, bringing humor, heart, and a vulnerability not often seen in big-screen superheroes,” David Rooney wrote in the Hollywood Reporter. “Miller, putting a spin of effrontery on every line, is the perfect actor to play this corkscrew superhero,” Owen Gleiberman raved in Variety. As of Wednesday, “The Flash” had an average score of 60 out of 100 on Metacritic, and a 71 percent “fresh” rating on Rotten Tomatoes.
It’s too early to know how many moviegoers will forgive or forget the stories about Miller and buy tickets. But regardless of whether “The Flash” is a hit, Warner’s strategy of silence could echo in Hollywood, which never lacks for human crises.
Jonathan Majors, who won acclaim and adoration for his performances in “Creed III” and HBO’s “Lovecraft Country,” was cast several years ago as Kang the Conqueror — the supervillain slated to anchor upcoming blockbusters from DC’s more successful rival, Marvel Studios. Then in March, after appearing as Kang in this year’s “Ant-Man” film, the actor was arrested in New York on misdemeanor charges of strangulation, assault and harassment stemming from a reported dispute with his girlfriend.
It seemed possible that Majors would lose his big role. But like Miller, he pulled a disappearing act instead — receding from public view while Marvel stays mum about its plans, although this week the studio pushed the release dates for its next two Kang movies back a year, to 2026 and 2027.
Naturally, some wonder whether Marvel’s PR team is taking notes from “The Flash.”
“One reason the Miller case has proven so infuriating is because, if this PR strategy works, what’s to stop studios from rolling it out for further alleged abusers?” Donaldson said. “If the press doesn’t push back and audiences remain indifferent, it will be replicated. … The Miller strategy feels like the inevitable endgame of this.”
An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that “The Flash” had a 6 out of 100 average on Metacritic as of Wednesday. It had an average of 60. The article has been corrected.