Jonathan Daniel Miles, “Marcus”
Tell us about the character you play in Escaping Freedom (no spoilers!).
Marcus is an associate pastor for a church community in Portland. His marriage is like a cream puff — healthy looking from the outside but no substance within. He pours himself into the church and is passionate about serving his congregation. Marcus also believes the pastor, Vincent, is on a direct mission from God to bring a greater understanding of the light and love of Christianity to his community. When he lets himself engage in flights of fancy he wonders if the book he and Vincent are writing might bring a revelation to the global Christian community.
What attracted you to this role and/or film?
I grew up a good little Christian boy — singing in the choir, leading summer youth camps, cooking pancakes for the fundraiser breakfasts etc. That sense of community and purpose had an incredible impact on my personal development and I’ve carried it with me throughout my exploration of other spiritual/philosophical belief systems. As soon as I read the role description for Marcus, I felt an instinctive attraction to the internal conflict inherent in a crisis of faith and felt compelled to explore that conflict as it had occurred in my own life. From a very young age I knew I was queer (not just because it was the 90s and people were always telling me I was), and I knew that I wouldn’t be accepted by my community if they knew. That internal struggle between staying connected to my church and learning to connect to myself drew me to this role like metal to a magnet.
Without giving away plot points, what do you see as your character’s longings and desires in life? How do they go about reaching them?
Marcus wants to be part of something larger than himself and has a global sense of purpose. Throughout the film he realizes that his desire to embrace his community has caused him to move farther away from knowing himself. He believes that denying himself is denying a baser nature which then brings him closer to God. However; denying his personal desires eventually leads to him taking very risky choices and clumsily blowing up his life entirely.
If you don’t mind sharing, what are some ways that you felt you were very different from or similar to your character?
Marcus is awkward, people pleasing, impressionable, and slow to warm but quick to trust. The primary difference between myself and Marcus is that he stayed with the church, choosing to ignore and repress his feelings and his true self. Whereas Marcus continued down the path of community service through his church, I left my church and took my community service elsewhere. We’re also both addicted to coffee and would rather hang out with friends in small groups than go to a big party.
What got you interested in acting?
I have a borderline narcissistic need for attention and validation while pretending to be someone else. Joking. Sort of. I guess... the sense of total empathy that is required to inhabit a character and play them honestly is an addictive practice which has bled into my personal life and given me a closer sense of connection to others. Michael Chekhov often said he believed his characters were not created but derived from a real place and were real people that he was stepping into as he brought them to life in our world for a brief time. Having that level of reverence for ‘fictional’ characters makes it easy to empathize with any real people I meet and gives me faith in humanity during dark times.
What did you look forward to most when filming began?
I couldn’t wait to work with all the fantastically talented actors on the call sheet. After the casting announcement, I thought maybe I was being pranked. I simply couldn’t believe that I was working with Actors of this caliber and I knew that working with them would teach me so much about the craft and my approach to it.
When approaching a role of this nature, what type of preparation do you do?
After pulling clues out of the script (cultural references and character statements in the dialog etc.) I dove into research. I began attending church, singing hymns in the car, reading the bible and listening to sermons on topics related to the issues Marcus faces in the film. The more I dug into it, the more I started to blend with Marcus. My great granddad’s Jerusalem copy of the New Testament lived in my messenger bag and I began to reach for it whenever I had questions/uncertainty about my own life — taking notes and writing scripture down in a little notebook which also went with me everywhere.
What is the most important thing you would want an audience member to take away after watching Escaping Freedom?
I hope people who see this film reevaluate what freedom means to them. Is it freedom of choice or freedom from choice? When do we have a choice and when are we penned into a single option by our life’s circumstances?
What was the most challenging aspect of working on this film for you?
The pace. This film was shot in a very short time period. After working on my first feature film a year earlier, I thought of the production as a marathon — you have a long way to go and long process from casting to wrap to final cut. Each time I film a short or commercial, it feels like a sprint - you have very limited time to film and you have to move at top speed the whole time. Escaping Freedom was some chimera of speed and distance that felt entirely new and wonderfully challenging.
Being an actor, what do you see as your role in the filmmaking process?
In my high school theatre troupe I learned the motto: let each person, from curtain page to lead actor, play their role as best they can. It was a tenant derived from a story our theatre director would read to the cast and crew before the opening of each show - The Train Story. In the story, everyone on the train has a job. Someone on the train decides their job isn’t important and they can just ride the train without putting in any effort. That indolence is infective and very soon the train stops running. In a way, my role in filmmaking is the same as every other person’s role: help keep the train running.
Who are some artists (any field) whose work inspires you?
Sarah Levy (Bloody Trump Portrait), Mickala Duprey (Bella’s Italian Bakery), Ji Tanzer and Rebecca Sanborn (the band Swansea), Phil Schalberger (Comedian), and so many more. Each of these artists approach their work with originality, purpose and dedication which will inspire me forever.
What’s one memory from this project that you will never forget?
Being naked on camera.
The day I first watched your audition, something in my gut just knew we found our Marcus. I didn’t know anything about you, but instantly could tell that you understood the subtext of the material and could grab a hold of that and express it. What a wonderful experience to work with you, brother! Thank you for sharing your talent, professionalism, and laughs with us all. - Edd
Jonathan, what can I say? Thank you so much for going into the fire with me with such a fearless, open heart. Your tenderness, talent, kindness and humor are an absolute joy. Your star has only just begun to shine and I’m so excited to see what lies ahead for you. All of the adoration. - Patrick