Daniel Isn't Real Star Miles Robbins Discusses His Character's Complex Psyche and the Joys of Genre Films

Actor Miles Robbins has earned a number of coveted genre roles in his career, from playing the son of Mulder and Scully in The X-Files to a Haddonfield, Illinois teenager in last year's Halloween. In his latest film, Daniel Isn't Real, Robbins takes on his most ambitious role yet, not only because he is the film's lead but also due to the subject matter requiring him to deliver audiences a character that is endearing, complex, and deeply troubled. The responsibility isn't something the actor takes lightly, as the film's ambitious subject matter and exploration of mental issues could have descended into cliched territory without his subtleties.

In the film, troubled college freshman Luke (Robbins) suffers a violent family trauma and resurrects his childhood imaginary friend Daniel (Patrick Schwarzenegger) to help him cope. Charismatic and full of manic energy, Daniel helps Luke to achieve his dreams, before pushing him to the very edge of sanity and into a desperate struggle for control of his mind — and his soul.

ComicBook.com recently caught up with Robbins to discuss his new film, his genre efforts, and the complicated nature of Luke.

daniel isn't real miles robbins
(Photo: SpectreVision)

ComicBook.com: Before getting into your new movie, I have to commend you for your Halloween performance. Your character might have had the trappings of a typical stoner/slacker character, but you brought a much more endearing charm to a potentially annoying character.

Miles Robbins: Thank you. Yeah, I aspire to not annoy people, and I am so grateful to hear that.

Between The X-Files, Halloween, and now Daniel Isn't Real, you're establishing yourself as a strong force in the genre world. Is that something you actively pursued or did it just happen that these were the roles you found most compelling?

I definitely think I do things one project at a time and I try not to be too into one thing, but I love horror. I don't know if my success as a horror boy is because people think my face is spooky or what, but I definitely enjoy making these movies. I think that genre is a really great opportunity to talk about social issues without being too heavy-handed. A lot of my favorite films have been genre films. 28 Days Later is a favorite film of mine that communicates so much beyond the fun of a zombie movie. I think that you can use a lot there, so I'm very attracted to these kinds of things.

I also think movie magic is really the reason to make movies. If we just wanted to watch people talking to each other, we could go to a play, but a movie is there to make something magical and out of this world, and with some prosthetics and some dolls getting thrown around. It's a lot of fun and I really embrace it. I love prosthetics and doing all that kind of stuff. There's some people who definitely don't enjoy it as much as I do, so maybe that does mean that it's a world that I enjoy working in the most, but I'm always just glad and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to be doing a really fun job and just doing my best to make something that people enjoy watching.

Daniel Isn't Real manages to effectively normalize a variety of mental issues that people struggle with and, while the film heightens things to an otherworldly level, there's still something positive about how Daniel encourages your character to break out of his shell. Can you talk a bit about the distinction between depicting mental and emotional struggles vs. the horrors that unfold in the film?

I think part of what's really nice about abstraction is that it doesn't have to be too explicit in what it is that he's dealing with, this character, and it can be related to mental illness. It can also be related to toxic masculinity. And that's a big part of what I was seeing in the character and what Daniel contributes to his life. Often these thought patterns give him confidence, but sometimes are at the expense of the humanization of the women around him. He tells Luke to see these certain women as objects or things to be achieved or accomplished, to get their numbers, et cetera. So I think it's many things. What the voice in his head is coming to represent, it can be many things, but overall it comes to the difficulty that someone has with a private thought process that can possibly be positive, but, ultimately, when left to his own devices becomes quite harmful.

And it is, obviously, so much more than a normal case of some mental illness or the toxicity of hypermasculine culture, but he ends up needing the help of others, which he seeks out. And I'm very glad for that. The film really includes him seeking out help, but through movie magic, we can explore the extremities of that struggle and see all kinds of new, psychedelic, extra terrifying versions of it.

WARNING: Spoilers below for Daniel Isn't Real

The film's finale has some ambiguous elements, hinting at either a darkness living inside of Luke or potentially Luke becoming the victim of something supernatural. What was your interpretation of the ending?

I think that, to answer the question of how much is really happening and how much is a metaphor, would have to be something answered by the director and writer, but in my experience of it, the point would be that there might not be a distinction. That whether or not it's truly the work of some nefarious extra-corporeal force or if it's something that's existing within himself, there might not need to be a difference between those two things, in terms of what the harm is that can come to people. And there's a sword fight. That was fun.

I think it's really a tragedy. I don't think anyone really wins this movie, but there's a lot of good spooks, and some killer music, and I'm in it.

But the audience wins because they get to leave the movie pondering their own existential dread.

Exactly. Or turned on. Whatever you're into. I don't care.

0comments

*****

Daniel Isn't Real will be available in select theaters, on Digital HD, and on VOD on December 6th.