Severance is taking the television world by storm, and Tramell Tillman plays one of the show’s most fascinating characters. Milchick is much more aware than those on the severed floor, but what is his ultimate goal? How much does he know? Those are just some of the questions surrounding the mysterious Lumon Industries.
HollywoodLife got the chance to speak EXCLUSIVELY with Tramell Tillman about what is going on with Milchick. This character “knows everything,” so you need to keep your eye on him for sure. Tramell weighs in on whether Milchick is more concerned about Mark or Helly and the “terror” Milchick creates in such a subtle but powerful way. Read our Q&A below.
Severance is unlike any show I’ve ever watched. What was your first impression of the script?
Tramell Tillman: Well, it’s the same. I had no idea what I was stepping into, and the script was so specific in the world that we were creating but also sparse in who these characters were, especially Milchick. He was very undefined. With that lack of definition, it felt very serious, which allowed me to sink my teeth in and really relish in crafting who this guy is and why does he take part in the Lumon kool-aid if you will?
Milchick is obviously privy to information more than Mark and the others on the severed floor. How much is he aware of what Lumon is doing? Is he on the same level as Cobel?
Tramell Tillman: Right now, it is undefined. It’s unclear as to how much Milchick knows about everything about Lumon and what’s happening deep down in the dark parts of the severed floor. I think that is done by design. But what is really interesting is that he is one of the few people aside from Cobel that knows everything about the Innies and the Outies because he interacts with both Helly and Mark and Dylan and Irving on the outside life and on the inside life in one way or the other. With that, he holds all these secrets, which is really delicious. There’s a moment in episode 2 where they’re having this orientation and Dylan says that he theorizes his Outie has a sailboat. What’s really cool is that Milchick knows the truth. He knows whether or not his Outie or their Outie would actually have a sailboat or actually have families. He knows all of that. But he holds that information, which is so it’s delicious. It’s dark. It’s twisted. It kind of makes your skin crawl a bit.
Has Milchick gotten the severance produce?
Tramell Tillman: No.
That makes him even more interesting because he is fully cognizant of what is happening inside those doors.
Tramell Tillman: Absolutely. He knows everything.
I’m almost more scared of Milchick than I am of Cobel. When it comes to Milchick, will we learn his backstory and what he goes home to or doesn’t go home to?
Tramell Tillman: I believe all the focus really is being placed on the severed floor and those in this embodiment because that is the foundation of this world. Maybe in the seasons to come, we’ll start to learn more about these people, especially with Milchick, and see how it unfolds. But right now, what’s really provocative is watching how Lumon operates and how these Innies navigate this space.
Milchick has his hands full with Helly, but Mark is definitely someone to keep an eye on. Who is Milchick more concerned about — Helly or Mark?
Tramell Tillman: That’s a good question. I believe in the beginning, Milchick is more concerned about Mark because he’s in a position where he has been promoted. I believe Milchick questions whether or not Mark can handle the responsibility of serving as department chair. The orientation of Helly is really exciting, and this is going to be a wonderful addition to the severed floor. So there’s great opportunity here, but there’s definitely a side-eye towards Mark. He’s hoping for the best but it’s also like okay, Mark, I need you to show up a little bit. Your bestie’s not here anymore, so I need you to rise to the occasion and do what you need to do.
The whole Petey situation is a cause for concern as well.
Tramell Tillman: Absolutely. We’re busy trying to figure out what happened with Petey and what’s going on there. All the while, we’re still trying to keep things focused because the severed floor still needs to make goal and needs to make goal in a specific time. We’ve got to keep the train on the track but still manage all of the outer workings and keep things afloat.
I think one of the most chilling scenes so far is the end of episode 3 with that moment between Milchick and Helly. He’s having her read this text over and over again. To me, it seemed like he was possibly making her ready a suicide note.
Tramell Tillman: That’s an interesting take.
Take me through that scene in your perspective.
Tramell Tillman: Well, I believe Milchick to be a scientist. This is an experiment that I believe Lumon is taking on, and he is watching to see the effect of this severed process. The break room serves as another level of experimentation if you will. It’s so cleverly written as the break room. We think it is a place to relax, but actually, it’s the room to break so it really allows those that operate the break room to really tap into the psyche of those that they are trying to deconstruct. With this statement, you’re asked to repeat it, but also there’s the monitoring of your responses as well. You’ll notice that Milchick says, “Hey, do it again. I’m afraid you don’t mean it. Say it again. Say it again.” I take it as Milchick is using this as a learning process that’s extremely sadistic in order to gain control and keep the severed floor underfoot.
The performances from you and the cast are so quiet and internal, which makes the situation even more terrifying. For you as an actor, what has it been like to embody Milchick’s internal power?
Tramell Tillman: Thank you for that. I believe that internal power is also a credit to the writing and a credit to the direction that we’ve been getting from Ben Stiller, Dan Erickson, and his writing team. The specificity of the world in which it has been created — the low ceilings, the fluorescent lights, the green carpet, this big severed floor space, but the cubicles are right in the center. You have all this big space and all these great mazes on the floor, so it’s disorienting. You never know when Milchick is going to pop up or anyone else for that matter. So it keeps everything on your toes, and it creates this space of tension. Ben was very instrumental in instructing us to taper everything down. Make it very small. The reactions the size, the language, everything is really small, which is what you just spoke to earlier. I believe that creates even more terror because it’s so small, but the circumstances as we see it is monumental. This is huge, and we’re sitting back and watching how this all plays out.
Milchick is aware of what’s going on. Do you look at him as a bad person?
Tramell Tillman: No, I don’t. I was told early in my acting profession that you never want to judge your character. Because if you’re judging your character, then you’re on the outside of it, right? In order to lean in, you’ve got to embrace who they are, and you have to justify their actions in some way so that it becomes real for the actor. I wouldn’t say that he’s a bad guy. I believe that he is very passionate about what he does. I believe that he sees there’s value in the Lumon way. There’s an opportunity to make our way of living, our way of doing business more effective and more productive. He believes in Lumon, and like many of us in society today, we may ascribe to a certain way of belief or living where other people may think it’s toxic, but we believe that it’s the right way. It’s this great coloring, this great display of our own humanities about what one person thinks is evil, another may think this is justified.
Mark got that book from his brother-in-law. Cobel and Milchick have been worried about this book, even though it seems harmless. For Milchick, is he looking through it to see if there’s anything negative about the company, or is there something maybe more sinister that they’re hoping doesn’t get out? What are the motives behind making sure Mark doesn’t go outside the lines?
Tramell Tillman: Well, one of the biggest rules of the severed floor is that you cannot have outside ideas. Any text that has not been approved or issued by the Lumon publishing company is not allowed. So with that, because these Innies are very young in mind, my job and Cobel’s job is to make sure that we keep their minds guided and focused on the ways of Lumon. This book written by Ricken threatens that, and what you’ll see as the season unfold is how it starts to play a role in this department. What Dan Erickson has done is he’s actually written maybe 80 pages of this book. Reading it, I’ve got to tell you is so hilarious. It’s so funny. I was sitting there reading it during filming and had to hold back laughter because the text is so juvenile but then truthful and twisted and has all these aphorisms where it sounds like this would be really wise, but then it just doesn’t work at all. It’s so funny and brilliant. It really speaks to the character of Ricken, played by Michael Chernus just beautifully. We’re combing through this book to see the harm that it could do and to protect the dissemination of ideas because we’ve got to control that. We can’t have too many thoughts going on.
I know we discussed that we’re probably not going to get a lot of backstory about Milchick’s just yet. Have you been told what it is or have you created your own backstory for your character?
Tramell Tillman: I have created a backstory in my head. But every time I think my backstory works, something in the script twists and turns, so I kind of give up because this story is so specific and random. You never know where it’s going to go. It’s this really great exercise in trust, in leaning in and just taking the leap. What’s so beautiful is that Ben Stiller and Dan Erickson have always been available every step of the way to make sure that they were resources to help us find out who these people are. To be honest, as an actor, I do have a backstory of who I think Milchick is and where he comes from in his center, but it’s not cemented because I know it’s subject to change.