LOS ANGELES—Here’s a little-known fact. The acting community has a Yellowknife mafia. Not surprisingly, it is, like the Northwest Territories town itself, rather small. In fact, there are just two members.
Dustin Milligan was 18 when he left Yellowknife for “the south”. When he arrived in Vancouver in 2004, he knew he could stay with his sister Molly, who lived and worked in Whistler, where she competed in snowboarding competitions. However, Milligan was here to become an actor, and a snowboarding sister wasn’t much help in making connections to the film and television community. Fortunately for Milligan, actor Tobias Mehler had made the same journey several years earlier. Milligan kept in contact with him and when he arrived in Vancouver he gave him a call.
Watch the trailer for Extract.
“Toby had started 10 years before me and had some success. He proved to be a big influence on me. I sent an e-mail six or seven months before I went down there and asked if he had any advice and he sent me some great stuff. ”˜Wash your face and brush your teeth and take care of yourself and make sure you look good.’ Then I met him and he gave me a couple of numbers of photographers to get head shots taken. There were some serendipitous events that followed after that that led me to getting the same agent, and he had me working almost right away. I was really lucky.”
Six years later, Milligan is living in Los Angeles and wrapped his one and only season on 90210. He is costarring in Extract, a new film from Mike Judge, the creator of Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill and the director of the cult film Office Space. (The film opens Friday [September 4].) In Judge’s film, Milligan plays a dumb gigolo hired to seduce a woman (Kristen Wiig) so that her husband (Jason Bateman) can feel all right about pursuing a new employee (Mila Kunis) at his extract factory. Milligan says playing dumb was a challenge.
“I’ve done stoners before, but this is the first flat-out probably-dropped-as-a-baby dumb guy. I figured out this guy’s thought process. He seems like he almost gets what is going on around him but he never quite gets there no matter how many times things are explained to him. I really enjoyed trying to convey that faulty thought process on-screen.”
Milligan played a surfer named Ethan on the first season of 90210. His character was one of the leads, but someone apparently decided that the character had run its course. Milligan says he is not really concerned about being fired.
“I was always really hesitant to get into the teen-soap genre because it has killed a lot of careers,” he says. “If you get locked into being a favourite character on a show for six years, people love you while the show is on. But once that is over, the question becomes, ”˜What do I do now?’ That is why I feel that even though it was great being involved in 90210 with all those great people and I felt the whirlwind of publicity, and all that was nice, I have an opportunity to do something totally different because I don’t think I had the time to be known for just that character.”
Milligan is keeping busy. In addition to Extract, he recently shot the Canadian film Gunless in Vancouver and a movie called Eve, with Vanessa Redgrave, in Romania. And he is teaming up with friends in Vancouver to write screenplays in the hope that he can give something back to the Canadian film industry.
“I have a couple of buddies that I write with up there. In the interim between jobs, you need to stay active, and your fantasies of what work you will be doing and where your career can go is supported best by creating your own work and potential jobs for yourself. We are working on some Canadian-set stories because if there is any chance of taking whatever notoriety I get in the Hollywood industry and using that in Canada to help the Canadian industry, then that is what I want to do. I really do think that there is great potential in the Canadian film and television industry and the arts in general. I feel that the industry doesn’t have to model itself after Hollywood, which it seems to be doing. It needs to rely less on the American image of what film needs to be.”
Milligan admits that he made a sacrifice of sorts when he decided to take up acting after finishing high school. While his friends were heading to university, he was eschewing traditional education to work on television and film sets. He says that he began to regret his decision but quickly realized that he could learn things from the opportunities he was being given.
“I was so stressed when my friends were going to university. I kept thinking, ”˜What education am I going to get?’ Then I started working and realized that there was no better education than a practical working education. I like to hang around sets and to ask as many questions as I can. If you want to learn this stuff, there is a great opportunity when you are on-set every day. There is never a shortage of opportunities to figure out how to ultimately one day make that reality for yourself as a producer or director.”
Milligan may have left his northern roots behind, but he has strong opinions of the difference between the part of Canada he grew up in and the rest of it. He says that northerners just feel differently about the country.
“We feel separate from Canada. We know that everything is different in the North, but what people in the South don’t realize is how unique it really is and how special it is and how untouched it is up there. When I went down south and spent time in Vancouver, I felt that there was a lack of understanding of what it was like up north. It became clear to me how fortunate I was, because living there is something that so few people get to experience.”
But can you go home again? Milligan gets back to Yellowknife at least once a year, and he says that when he returned after 90210 hit the airwaves a year ago, he did have some concerns that the people he left behind might feel resentment toward him. He says that things worked out better than he had expected.
“I went up there after the show was on and it was interesting, because I always thought I would go back there and people would resent me and beat me up at the bar or try to beat me down. I come from a small town, and you could always see how that would happen. But if people are saying something about me, it is behind my back, because they are very supportive. To me, that was really touching, because I am proud to come from the North.”
As he finishes his sentence, he turns over his wrist to show a tattoo that is just a couple of letters and a number. “I have inked into me the first three digits of the Yellowknife postal code [X1A] so that I will always remember where I come from. It’s important to me that I don’t forget that.”