Playing Seth Milchick, a supervisor and middle man at the mysterious Lumon Industries, on Apple TV+’s Severance, has changed Tramell Tillman’s life.
“The show dropped in February of this year … and nobody knew who I was in January,” Tillman tells THR. “I went to Comic-Con for the first time [in July], and my whole body was on a building — my face was everywhere. A person tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a picture. And the next thing you know, a crowd just grew, and so many people knew who I was.”
Tillman — whose previous small-screen roles include parts on Dietland and Godfather of Harlem — had just finished a run in the Broadway play The Great Society in 2019 and was looking for his next gig when Severance came across his desk.
“I was very intrigued by it, because it was very cryptic,” says Tillman. “The role of Milchick was very simple: an enthusiastic company man. I was able to meet with [director] Ben Stiller and [creator] Dan Erickson and had such a great time. I actually made Ben Stiller laugh, which is a big achievement for me. I said, ‘You know what, I made Ben Stiller laugh, so that’s a win!’”
The bigger win, of course, was landing the job, although the pandemic-halted production began eight months later than planned. That hiatus gave Tillman more time to prepare for a character who “could be nice, and then he could not be nice” in a matter of seconds.
“Physicality was really important for me,” Tillman says of preparing to play Milchick. “This was a guy who was extremely measured and controlled, so I did a lot of breathing exercises. I spent many hours meditating. I would get up two hours before I was picked up to go to set, and I would meditate and do small physical exercises to really find the center of magic. I wanted to create Milchick as a duck on water, if you will: very calm, but there’s always something going on underneath. I always had this image of an iceberg when I stepped into his shoes. Icebergs are very beautiful, and you always think that you have an idea of what it is, but there’s so much more underneath, and I felt that that was a great analogy for Milchick.”
Tillman has loved the “discussion of morality” around his character, with viewers caught between respecting him, as an employee simply doing his job, and fearing him. “I have received messages in my inbox about how people are viscerally bothered by Milchick, to the point where they want to fight him,” he says. “I also hear people say, ‘I wonder if he’s a really good guy?’ I love the discussion of what he represents in the show, where some people think, ‘He’s horrible. He’s the devil incarnate,’ and others think, ‘Maybe there’s something else underneath there. Maybe he is a light in the tunnel that we don’t realize yet.’ ”
We may learn more about Milchick and his backstory in season two, but for now, Tillman is mum. “The show is built in such a way that there’s so much intrigue and mystery, and I don’t want to compromise that, but I think there’s going to be a lot of fun stuff. I’m excited about it.”
This story first appeared in an August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.