If you're a huge Schitt's Creek fan (a Schitt-head, if you will), you might recognize Dustin Milligan as the wholesomely pun-derful Ted Mullens. Just a year after the Canadian comedy ended, Dustin has been keeping busy: starring in the upcoming NBC Michael Schur comedy, Rutherford Falls, as a journalist trying to cover a local dispute involving a familial statue and the fictional Minishonka tribe. We caught up with Dustin over Zoom to talk about Schitt's Creek, Rutherford Falls, and his tendency to sweat an awful lot on set.
THEN — What was the audition process like for Schitt’s Creek?
I kind of knew Dan Levy — there's a little bit of the Canadian crew hanging out in LA. He was having people over at his house, and he was like, "Hey, I'm trying to get this show together. There might be a role for you." And I was just like, "Oh, wow, I just got offered a role!" Then my agents a week later were like, "Okay, so they want you to audition for this part..."
I had a conversation with Dan the night before [the audition], to just make sure that I wasn't completely blowing it with my approach. And then I went in, we did it a couple times, and it felt good. Sometimes you can't tell — you're like, "Oh, I totally nailed it!" and then you never hear from them again. This one felt pretty good. I was really stoked to get the call.
NOW — What was the audition process like for Rutherford Falls?
I was very nervous for the audition, because I knew that I was going directly in to audition for...first of all, the casting directors, Allison Jones and Ben Harris, are very big deals. They're sort of the big wigs in the casting world for comedies. Also, knowing that Mike Schur was going to be there, and Sierra Teller Ornelas, and Mike Falbo, there's all these people that were there. It was a huge room! I was very nervous because, knowing what the show was about, it was like, oh, this is a big deal. It's not something that you want to screw up, because this would be something really special to be a part of.
I went in and I think one of the first things I said was acknowledging my own nervousness. I think they were like, "Do you have any questions?" And I was like, "My only question is, can you please just stop me right away if I'm completely blowing this?" They didn't stop me right away. Afterwards, Mike Schur said, "You didn't completely blow it." [Laughs] I was like okay, great, that's a good sign? I might have just blown it in a small way. It was one I was very nervous for, and I had a good feeling when leaving.
BF: It's funny how that works. I finished my BuzzFeed interview and thought it went terribly, so sometimes it's hard to gauge.
Dustin: One time I was doing an audition for some horror movie way back in my Vancouver days. I was like, I'm gonna not be standing on my mark the whole time — I'm gonna be crawling around. I backed up in terror at one point and elbowed a hole in the wall, a literal hole. I knew what had happened, but the scene was only like just getting started. I just slowly leaned over to cover the hole the rest of the scene — as if everyone didn't know exactly what had happened. I guess it's not really relevant to what you were just saying because no, I did not book that part!
THEN — What was your favorite scene to shoot on Schitt’s Creek?
This one with Annie [Murphy], when her character is sleeping over at my house for the first time — but I'm dog sitting these two dogs, and they have some kind of incontinence thing going on, so they're wearing diapers. There's a whole bit that needed to be executed where one dog smells the other dog's diaper. In order to do that, the dog handler on set had to put Steak-umms inside one of the dogs' diaper so that the other dog would sniff it. I don't know, this has always been something that has been really special to me, when I think about it.
NOW — What was your favorite scene to shoot on Rutherford Falls?
There's a scene in an episode that's focusing on the Terry character, played by Michael Greyeyes, who's a fellow Canadian who's just an incredible, incredible actor. I can't wait for people to see him. He's schooling my character, who's kind of this know-it-all "woke" reporter, on who he is and why he does what he does, and telling me what's what. He delivers this incredibly powerful, long, and beautiful speech. He was just so, so engaging, and so incredible — it was hard for me, even though that's not what my character was supposed to do, to literally not get emotional and start crying in it.
Then, in the middle of that scene, there was a moment where we were resetting for something else. It wasn't even something that occurred while we were filming. Our director Sydney, and showrunner Sierra, and Michael, they were all taking a minute to talk about what was going on in that scene. I was already very heightened emotionally because of Michael's performance, but then watching the three of them — two Navajo women and Michael, who's Nêhiyaw — watching the three of them, talking and having this shorthand about where his motivation is coming from and the cultural references there. I was so deeply moved.
I know this isn't a funny, cool answer, but I was so deeply moved by seeing that. I already knew how special this show was, because of the Indigenous representation, but in that moment it really struck me how important this was and how powerful it was to see these three Indigenous creatives working together and finally being able to showcase their skill, their talent, and their various cultures in this really funny and powerful show. That was honestly a highlight of my entire career.
THEN — What was your favorite part of working with the Levy family?
I grew up watching SCTV and a lot of other weird Canadian comedies. That was a big thing. I sort of knew Dan, but the idea of getting to work with Eugene — and, of course, Catherine [O'Hara] — was just such an obvious yes! It's just lovely to know that Eugene is just this normal — well, not normal...a very, very nuanced man in a charming and hilarious way. He's just so kind and generous, while we're rolling and in-between takes.
You get to meet these people sometimes throughout your career, and not everybody's nice, not everybody's kind, and not everybody's cool. And Eugene is all of those things. It's almost a relief, especially if you represent Canada so much — as a Canadian, you're like, I hope this guy's not a dick! Quite the opposite.
NOW — What was your favorite part of working with Ed Helms, Michael Schur, and Sierra Teller Ornelas?
I kind of spoke to what was so great about working with Michael. Ed is such a pro and he's so good at riffing and running on variations of his lines. I had a hard time keeping it together and not laughing. Through a bunch of scenes, he does do things that are very unexpected, which has been great.
Then, working with Jana, who I absolutely love. I think that's the biggest thing. I can't wait for people to see her because she's so funny, and so great, and also just so smart and kind in her real life as well. I think she's someone that I can say will be a hero to many once they're exposed to her. Similar to, you know, never meet your heroes — I'm happy that I got to meet Jana.
THEN — What’s a small detail you think people might not have noticed in Schitt’s Creek?
Here's something fun and completely embarrassing that happened in the first seasons, then, for some reason, it went away. I'm a human being and that means that I sweat sometimes. There's a lot of scenes in Schitt’s Creek where you may not notice this, but I've got paper towels crammed into my armpits. Our lovely costumer on the show would have a hairdryer ready to go, so in-between takes, I'd be standing there getting my armpits blown. I think a lot of people wouldn't have been able to spot any sort of TV movie magic going on there. Definitely desperately avoiding any indication that I'm human and that I perspire.
There was actually a moment on a very hot day outside the motel, Annie [Murphy] turned around and was like, "I'm so proud of you!" And I was just like, "What?" Then she pointed to my armpits and said, "Look at that, they're dry!" She was very supportive.
BF: Once, I sweat so much in an interview, it was getting in my eyes — but, because of the quality of Zoom, they couldn't tell. So, I just tried really hard not to touch my face.
Dustin: I just feel like I run hot. There's been takes before where sweat has dripped from my eyebrows, down into my tear duct, and out down my face. Everyone's like, "Oh my god, I couldn't believe you produced that single tear at that moment! It was so beautiful." Yes, single tear. Of course. I'm a good actor! Not sweaty.
NOW — What’s a small detail you think people should keep an eye out for in Rutherford Falls?
Jana, who plays Reagan on the show, she's a beader. She actually did a lot of the earrings and certain details that some of the people are wearing, which I think is a really cool thing. In general, the costumes, the attention to detail, the set design, a lot of that is coming from well-known Indigenous artists from Canada and the States. Not only is this show crushing it when it comes to Indigenous representation in the writers room and the talent on screen, but then literally the things people are wearing are coming from people who wear three hats in the show, by beading, and making costumes, and being hilarious.
THEN — What’s one of the most memorable fan responses you’ve gotten to Schitt’s Creek?
What's been nice about what fans have brought to me, in terms of appreciation, is all the puns. That's something that I started to wedge into scenes early on, and the writers took that and ran with it and started making it a part of the character. When I get recognized as Ted, or people reach out online, it's about puns. I get tagged in a lot of things online, where people are like, "Hey, Dustin, what do you think about this pun?" And usually I'm like, "It sucks!" [laughs] It is something nice that they've appreciated what I brought to that character in that way. I'm a real hard-ass about the quality of puns, so let people be warned, only bring me the good stuff!
NOW — What are you most excited for viewers to see on Rutherford Falls?
I just think, again, it's so great that this show exists at all. There's very timely, very poignant topics being discussed, but it's done in such a fun, heartwarming, and kind-hearted way. You never know how big a response you're going to get from an audience, but I have a feeling that this is going to be a big deal for a lot of people. I'm just kind of excited that I got to be a part of it at all — I really do think, especially for Indigenous communities everywhere, the representation here matters.
Thanks for talking with us, Dustin! Rutherford Falls hits Peacock on April 22.