Omar Benson Miller does everything big. And we aren’t talking about his 6-foot, 6-inch- tall, 300-pound frame or his killer crossover as a college basketball player at San Jose State University. No, this brother knew he had to take things to the next level once his hoop dreams were deferred and he found himself living off Ramen Noodles as a broke coed. It wasn’t until he stumbled into a campus theater that Miller found his big-screen calling, which ultimately led to banking screen time with Tinseltown favorites like Richard Gere, Jennifer Lopez and Halle Berry. This month, the gentle giant costars in “Miracle at St. Anna,” Spike Lee’s new epic film about the struggles of four Black soldiers during World War II. The quick-witted Miller transforms to man-child Private First Class Sam Train. Much like his on-screen character, there is more than meets the eye with Miller, who quotes literary greats as easily as he recites eight bars of his “8 Mile” costar Eminem’s slick rhymes. Next up, Miller brings his love of sports to life as a football player on the upcoming film “The Express.” ESSENCE.com yapped with Miller about reliving racism, becoming the next 007, and why big boys need love too.
ESSENCE.COM: In “Miracle at St. Anna” we see up close the racism Black soldiers experienced from America, while risking their lives for the country. What was the toughest part of recreating what these men went through?
OMAR BENSON MILLER: I feel like I was born in the right time period because I don’t have any tolerance or patience for that kind of foolishness. I’m sure the outcome wouldn’t have been pretty for myself (laughs). My father is from Mississippi and I heard stories of racial injustice my whole life. So for me to be transported to a period where black people were overtly treated as less than, based on skin color regardless of intelligence or any other factor, was very humbling. It made me very proud to see where America has come to get away from that. Unfortunately, a lot of those themes and issues in the film are still relevant today, which shows how far the country needs to go.
ESSENCE.COM: Your character Sam Train is by far one of the most complex in the film, as he dedicates himself to protecting a lost Italian boy in the middle of a war. Did you feel he was misunderstood?
MILLER: I always wanted to play this guy. I read the novel “Miracle at St. Anna,” when it was first released and I loved it. It was fitting that Spike ended up being the one to make it come alive. And I did everything I could to convince him to let me be in the movie. Train can be interpreted by some as slow or dumb, and that’s not the approach I took. I just felt like he had a different sort of intelligence and had country smarts. I felt his naivety and innocence were his saving grace.
ESSENCE.COM: As a fan of the book, how was it seeing the movie?
MILLER: I was so happy when I finally saw the film. My costars Michael Ealy, Laz Alonso and I made a pact that we didn’t want to see the film until it was with a real audience. All of us were so pleased. I think Spike deserves all the credit. I don’t think anybody else in Hollywood could have gotten this film made for the amount of money that he did. Spike’s ingenuity is unmatched. It’s beautiful to work with someone who is so passionate about the art and the project.
ESSENCE.COM: This role was written for you. How have you been able to use your height to your advantage?
MILLER: (Laughs) I’m happy that you said that because none of the roles I get are actually written for me. As a 6-foot, 6-inch, 300-pound Back man, I’ve done everything I can to stay out of that box that Hollywood tries to put me in. I’ve been able to play a variety of roles, like the character of Vern in “Shall We Dance?” with Richard Gere and Jennifer Lopez to the character of Neal in “Things We Lost in the Fire.” I’ve been blessed. I can’t say which roles I have missed out on based on my size and my height. When I got hired for “8 Mile,” one of the producers told me that they almost didn’t hire me because I was too tall. I ended up losing 50 to 60 pounds to play Train and I think it opened me up for a lot of new, diverse opportunities.I can’t wait to see what the industry has for me next. Maybe they’ll choose me as the next James Bond!
ESSENCE.COM: Hey, we need a Black James Bond, so you’ve got our votes! So, what are some of the biggest myths that people might have about tall men?
MILLER: (Laughs) People think that somehow size makes you uncoordinated or incompetent. There is a lot of size discrimination out there, and I see the difference in the way people treated me when I was 360 pounds versus how they treat me when I’m 290—from the industry to day-to-day people on the street. Everything is catered to normal-sized people. It’s hard to find a size 15 shoe, cars [to accommodate my size], clothes and all of that. I think it’s a great situation that I get to overcome and break down stereotypes and represent the oversized man in society. I’m big-sexy. Women know what’s up because they love to be protected. My mother loves big men so she boosted my confidence level through the roof (laughs)!