Actor Reid Miller was about 13 years old when he first heard about Jadin Bell’s death. The Oregon teen who committed suicide in 2013 inspired a national conversation about bullying and its effects on LGBTQ youth.
Miller, now 21, never imagined that in less than a decade he would have the opportunity to play Jadin in a feature film. Doing so, he said, was “an honor.”
“Joe Bell,” which opened Friday in the United States, is not an easy story, but it is one that many, including Jadin’s family, have been committed to telling for years. After Jadin’s death, her father, Joe Bell, decided to tour the country to raise awareness about the negative effects of bullying.
Producer Cary Joji Fukunaga stumbled across this story in an article in 2013 and saw the possibility of a feature film in it, recruiting the Oscar-winning screenwriting duo for “Brokeback Mountain” Diana Ossana and Larry McMurtry, the latter of whom passed away this year. Soon after, Mark Wahlberg signed on to produce and star in the film as Joe Bell, a father who grapples with the guilt of feeling he didn’t do enough to support and protect his son.
Naturally, Jadin’s role was critical and led to a national search. Casting director Avy Kaufman drew the filmmakers’ attention to Miller, a relatively unknown actor. Not only did the Texas native resemble Jadin, but according to director Reinaldo Marcus Green, he also had instant chemistry with Wahlberg.
“He and Mark connected in a way that felt real, and this was without a camera, just me watching them do a scene in Mark’s room,” Green said. “Jadin had a natural strength. It was quite cheerful on the outside, but it had also gone through a lot of darkness, and Reid was able to embody all of that. “
As a huge fan of the “Transformers” movies, Miller said she was touched during her first meeting with Wahlberg, but they quickly got down to business and formed a deep bond. Wahlberg, Miller added, treated him as an artistic equal and as a son. This unique relationship helped him find the emotional strength and vulnerability necessary for the difficult role. And the experience ended up being moving for Wahlberg as well.
“Every time we read a scene together, it got me really excited,” Wahlberg said. “It made me constantly think about my own children.”
Miller also didn’t lose sight of the sensitivity of the challenge of playing Jadin, which was made even clearer when he met Jadin’s mother, Lola Lathrop, one day on set.
“I did my best to portray him in the most authentic way that I could while remembering that it’s not necessarily my job to bring him back, but to give back a part of him to his family and friends,” Miller said. “I feel like we accomplished that.”
Now he hopes the film will help open people’s minds to issues related to harassment and LQBTQ rights.
“We live in an age where equality, acceptance and unity are sadly something we still have to fight for, especially the LGBTQ community,” he noted. “We have passed many laws that are very beneficial for the LGBTQ + community, but there are still so many things to do and so many struggles for equality. I hope this film softens the hearts of those who may not see them as people. “