'I want people to feel empathy:' Reid Miller steals the spotlight from Mark Wahlberg in heartbreaking 'Good Joe Bell'

Elisabetta Bianchini
·4 min read
'Good Joe Bell' (Courtesy of TIFF)

Good Joe Bell may have A-list stars like Mark Wahlberg and Connie Britton, but it’s the film’s young lead, Reid Miller, who steals the spotlight with a heartbreaking, gripping portrayal of the late Jadin Bell.

“I'm so glad that people are going to get to see this movie, even if it's maybe not exactly how we planned it, what matters is that it's coming out,” Miller told Yahoo Canada.

Making its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF), Good Joe Bell tells the real-life story of Joe Bell, Jadin’s father, who sets out across the U.S. on a mission to build awareness of the impacts of anti-LGBTQ bullying.

Directed by Reinaldo Marcus Green with a script by the screenwriters of Brokeback Mountain, the film tells the tragic story of how the brutal homophobia Jadin experienced at school and the embarrassment in his father’s eyes at home led to his devastating suicide. Miller’s performance is incredibly emotional and sparks essential discussions around bullying, homophobia, acceptance and support.

“I want people to feel empathy,” Miller said. “When they watch the film and when the film ends, I want people to realize that...yes, we have become a lot more accepting, but we still have a long road ahead of us.”

“I hope that people come out of this film with more empathy towards what that community has been through...and what still needs to happen for there to be proper equality and empathy towards everyone.”

‘I didn't even consider him a character...he was a person’

It can’t be overstated how impactful Miller is in Good Joe Bell, tackling such an intensely deep and layered character, while having the responsibility of portraying a real human being.

“I didn't even consider him a character...he was a person,” Miller explained. “He lived and breathed and he went through all of this.”

“The biggest thing to remember was...this isn't my role, this is Jadin.”

The actor revealed he researched Jadin and his experience, watched home videos from the family and even listened to the music Jadin listened to.

“I had his old iPod that had his music on it and I did everything in my power to understand him as best that I could, so that I could play him as truthfully as I could,” Miller said.

He admitted that taking on the role of a real person came with particular difficulties and complexities, and it became difficult for the actor to separate himself from Jadin at times.

“I have struggled a lot in my life, just emotionally and I've dealt with depression, and I understand that feeling of loneliness that he felt,” Miller revealed. “The biggest thing and the most challenging thing was...reminding myself, you are not Jadin.”

“I'm playing Jadin and I want to do my best to properly portray him, but there still has to be that line that it's not me because of the heaviness of the role, and what comes with it. I needed to remind myself of that for my own mental health.”

Miller only realized the amount of pressure that came with the role when filming for Good Joe Bell wrapped and he decided to not work on any projects for a while.

“Every night after that I just slept like a rock and I just had no energy,...emotionally and mentally I was completely exhausted,” he said. “I needed to return to my normality and to really feel like Reid again.”

“It was definitely a process stepping out of that role, but it was an honour to play that role.”

Although Miller is the star of the film, he said he learned a lot working with Wahlberg, in particular, who gave him a lot of “wisdom” about the film industry and “being a young man in this industry.”

“One thing I’ll take away from this project, one of my favourite things, is knowing that I have a mentor in Mark and I have someone sort of watching out for me,” Miller said. “It’s a very nice feeling to know that I made such a good friend out of someone who I really look up to.”

The Toronto International Film Festival (TIFF) takes place from Sept. 10 to Sept. 19. Information on screenings and tickets at tiff.net.