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‘Flash’ star Ezra Miller’s apology is not a get-out-of-jail-free card, experts say

Actor Ezra Miller arrives at the premiere of Warner Bros. Pictures’ ‘Justice League’ at Dolby Theatre on November 13, 2017 in Hollywood, California.
Axelle/bauer-griffin | Filmmagic | Getty Images

Ezra Miller’s apology could be the first step in a potential redemption story, but there’s no guarantee it’ll have a satisfying ending.

On Monday, the actor publicly addressed the ongoing controversy surrounding his recent arrests and allegations of disturbing behavior. Miller, who leads Warner Bros. Discovery’s “The Flash,” due out in theaters June 2023, said they’d “recently gone through a time of intense crisis” and has begun to undergo treatment for “complex mental health issues.”

The statement came one week after Miller was charged with felony burglary in Stamford, Vermont, just the latest criminal offense on the actor’s call sheet, and about two weeks after Warner Bros. Discovery axed its straight-to-streaming “Batgirl” film and said it was eyeing a reset of its DC Comics cinematic universe.

The newly merged company has remained quiet about Miller in recent months, as new and damning reports circled about disturbing behavior that ranged from disorderly conduct and harassment to allegations of child grooming and running an unlicensed cannabis farm. Miller has not specifically addressed any of these claims.

Many speculated that Warner Bros. Discovery would still release “The Flash” theatrically, but wondered whether it would sever ties with its lead in order to save face with the public.

Sources told the Hollywood Reporter prior to Miller’s public statement that there were various outcomes Warner Bros. Discovery was preparing for. One was that Miller would seek professional help, give an interview about their erratic behavior and do limited press for the film before its planned cinematic release.

There has been some indication 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 reportedly held meetings in April to discuss Miller’s string of controversies and how the studio would proceed going forward. At that time, it was determined that the film would remain on the slate, but Warner Bros. would pause future projects involving the actor.

The company didn’t immediately return a request for comment.

Now that an apology has 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 out Robert Downey Jr. and Winona Ryder. Those were much simpler situations. … As long as one isn’t behind bars, I think there are possibilities that careers can be managed.”

Downey famously reignited his career after a very public fall from grace that included numerous arrests in the late 1990s on charges related to drugs. He spent several stints in jail between 1997 and 2000, and entered a drug rehabilitation program in 2001. Downey slowly rebuilt his reputation, and then came “Iron Man,” a 2008 breakout hit that would go on to spark the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He played the character for more than decade before hanging up the metal suit in 2019.

Ryder’s fall was slightly less serious. She was arrested for shoplifting in 2001, but it was no less damaging. The actress was almost uninsurable following the arrest, leading to a nearly five-year hiatus from acting. She picked up supporting roles over the next decade 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 accusations against Miller are more severe than what Downey and Ryder faced. If the allegations of impropriety with minors are true, the actor may not be able to resuscitate their career – although Kevin Spacey, Louis C.K. 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 directly impacted Warner Bros. Discovery’s reputation, and 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 horrendously difficult situation,” said Tony Freinberg, president at Edendale Strategies, a crisis management and strategic communications firm.

“It seems strange to think that a movie studio could be overjoyed to hear its leading star of one of its tentpole franchises admit to having severe mental health problems,” he added. “But I suspect that’s exactly how the studio executives feel.”

The apology is not a silver bullet, however, Freinberg said.

Any time you hear words like grooming, or trafficking or suggestions of impropriety with minors, the stakes are incredibly, incredibly high.
Tony Freinberg
Edendale Strategies

“It’s really important for everyone to remember that this isn’t just about stealing a couple of bottles of booze, or a bar fight,” he said. “There are some really serious, sexually based allegations about Ezra Miller. And any time you hear words like grooming, or trafficking or suggestions of impropriety with minors, the stakes are incredibly, incredibly high.”

Freinberg said he suspects the statement from Miller was made partially because the actor came to terms with some of their challenges and partially because of pressure from the studio following their felony charge.

“It’s not a get out of jail free card,” he said.

For Warner Bros., the path to releasing “The Flash” has become easier, industry experts told CNBC.

Paul Hardart, director of the entertainment, media and technology program at NYU Stern School of Business, said the initial reports about Miller likely wouldn’t have impeded box office success significantly. However, with Miller’s apology, Warner Bros. can adapt its strategy.

“There’s a redemption story,” he said, noting that the studio has until June to figure out how to best market the film and time to see how Miller’s legal and personal battles unfold.

“And I think from Warner Bros. standpoint, they’ve clearly said, ‘This movie is of value to us,'” he said. “They could write it off, they have the benefit of the purchase accounting moment. They could write it off and are choosing not to.”

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