Actor Ezra Miller arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Justice League” at Dolby Theater on November 13, 2017 in Hollywood, California.
Axelle/bauer-griffin | Movie magic | Getty Images
Ezra Miller’s apology could be the first step in a possible redemption story, but there’s no guarantee it will have a satisfying ending.
On Monday, the actor spoke publicly about the ongoing controversy surrounding his recent arrests and allegations of troubling behavior. Miller, who Warner Bros. Discovery’s “The Flash”, which is set to hit theaters in June 2023, said they have “recently gone through a time of intense crisis” and have begun undergoing treatment for “complex mental health issues.”
The statement came a week after Miller was charged with burglary in Stamford, Vermont, just the latest offense on the actor’s call list, and about two weeks after Warner Bros. Discovery had halted its direct-to-streaming “Batgirl” movie and said it was looking at a reset of its DC Comics movie universe.
The recently merged company has kept quiet about Miller in recent months, as new and damning reports circulated of disturbing behavior ranging from disorderly conduct and harassment to accusations of childcare and running an unlicensed cannabis farm. Miller has not addressed any of these claims specifically.
Many speculated that Warner Bros. Discovery would still release “The Flash” in theaters, but wondered if it would cut ties with its lead role to save face from the public.
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Sources told the Hollywood Reporter ahead of Miller’s public statement that there were several outcomes where Warner Bros. Discovery was preparing for it. One was that Miller would seek professional help, give an interview about their erratic behavior, and do limited press for the film before its scheduled theatrical release.
There is some evidence that Warner Bros. was ready to cut ties with Miller after releasing “The Flash,” which is said to have a budget of about $200 million. The company is said to have held meetings in April to discuss Miller’s string of controversies and how the studio would move forward. At the time, it was determined that the film would remain on the slate, but Warner Bros. would pause future projects involving the actor.
The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Now that apologies have been made, the question becomes: can Miller stage a comeback?
“Is it possible for a redemption? Yes,” said Robert Thompson, a professor at Syracuse University and a pop culture expert. “You point to Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder. Those were much simpler situations… As long as you’re not behind bars, I think there are career opportunities to manage.”
Downey famously revived his career after a very public fall from favor, including numerous arrests in the late 1990s on drug-related charges. He spent several stints in prison between 1997 and 2000, and began a drug rehabilitation program in 2001. Downey slowly rebuilt his reputation, and then came “Iron Man,” a 2008 breakthrough that would ignite the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He played the character for over ten years before hanging up the metal suit in 2019.
Ryder’s fall was a little less serious. She was arrested in 2001 for shoplifting, but it was no less damaging. The actress was nearly uninsurable after the arrest, which led to a nearly five-year hiatus from acting. Over the next decade, she landed supporting roles in films like ‘Star Trek’ and ‘Black Swan’, but her big comeback was 2016’s ‘Stranger Things’.
It’s about more than just Miller
The allegations against Miller are more serious than what Downey and Ryder faced. If the allegations of impropriety with minors are true, the actor may not be able to revive their careers – although Kevin Spacey, Louis CK and Woody Allen have managed to work after allegations of sexual misconduct.
Miller’s future isn’t the only factor. In addition to the potential impact on victims and their families, Miller’s actions have also had direct repercussions on Warner Bros.’s reputation. Discovery, at a particularly vulnerable time for the company. After all, new CEO David Zaslav has a very different strategy for running the company, especially its streaming business.
“The news that Ezra Miller is seeking help is the best possible outcome for Warner Bros. in what is clearly a dire situation,” said Tony Freinberg, president of Edendale Strategies, a crisis management and strategic communications company.
“It seems strange to think that a film studio could be overjoyed to hear that the lead actor of one of its tentpole franchises admits to having serious mental health issues,” he added. “But I suspect that’s exactly how the studio executives feel.”
However, the apology is not a panacea, Freinberg said.
“It’s really important for everyone to remember that this isn’t just about stealing a few bottles of booze or having a bar fight,” he said. “There are some really serious, sexually based allegations about Ezra Miller. And every time you hear words like grooming, or human trafficking or suggestions of impropriety with minors, the stakes are unbelievably, unbelievably high.”
Freinberg said he suspects Miller’s statement was made in part because the actor has come to terms with some of their challenges and in part because of studio pressure following their felony charges.
“It’s not a card to get out of jail,” he said.
For Warner Bros. the path to releasing “The Flash” just got easier, industry experts told CNBC.
Paul Hardart, director of the entertainment, media, and technology program at the NYU Stern School of Business, said early reports of Miller probably wouldn’t have significantly hampered the box office success. With Miller’s apology, Warner Bros. change its strategy.
“There is a redemption story,” he said, noting that the studio has until June to figure out how best to market the film and time to watch Miller’s legal and personal battle unfold.
“And I think from Warner Bros.’s point of view they’ve clearly said, ‘This movie is valuable to us,'” he said. “They can write it off, they have the advantage of the purchase accounting moment. They can write it off and choose not to.”