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Defector At The Movies

An Interview With The Cop Who Stole ‘M3GAN’

Millen Baird's scene in M3gan
Screenshot: Universal

It only takes about 40 seconds for Millen Baird to steal M3GAN. His lanky frame (he’s over 6-foot-3) arrives one hour into the camp-parody horror, right after the titular robot doll designed by Allison Williams has just killed someone. Baird’s cop (he’s listed simply as “police detective” on IMDb) is a rumpled suit personified. He absently interrogates Williams’s character (he seems more committed to chewing his gum), his hair inexplicably damp, his tie loose, his brow furrowed in a pretense of somber concern. When she asks if he’s made a connection between this crime and a clearly connected previous one, he gives a priceless split-second blank look, before going over that previous crime, in which M3GAN mutilated a kid’s ear. “The entire thing was ripped clean off,” he says with a mild chuckle. His smile suddenly drops: “... Sorry, I shouldn’t laugh.” With Williams’s sleek look and the sleek surroundings (this particular scene was shot in New Zealand, where both Baird and director Gerard Johnstone are from), it’s like he’s walked off some other set, some bargain-bin procedural.

“I do not know @millenbaird but he was so funny as a cop in his short scene in M3GAN that I was thinking about it for the rest of the movie,” comedian Joe Kwaczala tweeted. (Baird responded that he hadn’t even seen it and two days later, when we spoke, he still hadn’t: “I’m in L.A., right near a movie theater at The Grove. As soon as we can get a babysitter, we’ll get along and go and see it, and I can see what you’re talking about.”) In a separate tweet, writer Emma Stefansky seemed to concur:

I felt the impulse to speak to this guy and only this guy who sits at the bottom of the cast list, nameless. I emailed M3GAN’s publicist but was not left with high hopes. “We haven’t been in touch with him for any press so not sure we will be able to make this happen,” I was told, which made me laugh considering Williams’s wall-to-wall coverage—she seemed an easier get.

Despite not even having an agent in the U.S., Baird was surprisingly easy to pin down. Though he is perhaps best known for his work with Johnstone—Baird also played a “doofus cop” in his 2014 cult haunted house horror comedy Housebound—he has also been producing, directing, writing and starring in his own comedy series (see The Millen Baird Show, Auckland Daze, and Darryl: An Outward Bound Story) for more than two decades, after an initial two-year stint as a tax accountant. Though Baird’s company Longline Productions doesn’t have a website, I found him through another New Zealand-based production company he often works with, the amazingly named Brown Sugar Apple Grunt. They immediately forwarded the message to him, and a few minutes later I got an email from “Mills.” The following is our lightly edited phone conversation in which Baird never stopped sounding disarmingly perplexed at the sudden unexpected attention.

Where’s your name from?

My dad, who was an accountant, had a Yugoslav fisherman client called Milan.

Oh! So is your dad the reason that you did accountancy?

That is, yeah. But I didn’t possess his genius with numbers, so after two years as a tax accountant, I thought, I need a change. My mom was a speech and drama teacher. I think I found an ad when I was in the accounting office for a drama school, so I just went and auditioned for that. Miraculously, I got in there and I just abandoned the tax career, but to be honest, it wasn’t going anywhere.

So, I saw M3GAN, and it was crazy, because you had, like, I think it was 45 seconds on screen, and my friend and I were like, “Who the hell is this? And what is he doing?”

I just cannot fathom what’s going on. My agent in New Zealand basically said, “Oh, hey, there’s a walk-on role for a film that’s shooting here, you probably don’t want to do it.” I said, “Who’s doing it?” And she said, “Gerard Johnstone.” I said, “I don’t care if I get paid, I just want to work with him again.” So, I auditioned for him and got the part. It was just for one day; I was there probably three hours. I can’t quite believe it. I just don’t know what’s going on, because it was a really in-and-out kind of scene. I can barely remember what we did. But I remember the script, it was amazing.

Did you see Malignant?

I haven’t seen Malignant, but I know the writer of this one [Akela Cooper] was the writer of Malignant.

She has her own kind of trope, where she parodies these cops who are supposed to know everything, but they don’t know anything. And so watching you in M3GAN it’s like, Oh, she’s doing this thing again. But it also felt like you stepped on from some other set. You just, like, do not fit. You look like some kind of gumshoe, noir detective, and it’s like, Why is he here? And also, when you say the line, “I shouldn’t laugh ...” —was it improv?

That’s what I usually like to do and what I’ve been known to do in New Zealand, but, no, Gerard’s quite meticulous about sticking to the lines. I remember he was so Zen that day—there were a bunch of studio execs running around—I think we must have done seven to 10 takes.

In the audition, what was on the page versus what you brought to it?

Pretty much my audition scene was that scene. It was exactly the same dialogue. But Gerard was in the room. For a first audition, it’s not often you’ll have the director in the room. But one of the things I remember is, he said: “This guy’s probably got a hangover. He’s had a late night. Let’s try rubbing his eyes. He’s just trying to look enthused about this case, but he’s got other things to do.” Words to that effect. So, we were just playing with that. And then when I got on the set, you know, it’s a fast-moving machine, so we just tried to remember what we did in the audition and then just kind of went for it. But, yeah, it’s just a blur. I think the reason I was chewing gum was because I had a couple of coffees, and I was a bit concerned about my coffee breath. I have seen a couple of reviews that talked about the gum-smacking.

What was the styling like? Everything is so crisp, including the CGI of M3GAN, so when you look like someone who’s hungover and your tie’s kind of askew, I think it sticks out in a way that it wouldn’t in another movie that’s less slick.

I remember I went into my first wardrobe fitting and then when I went into the second one, the clothing had completely changed. I saw reference to something about me having wet hair. I can’t remember having wet hair. Maybe they spritzed it. Someone tweeted me and said, “This guy gets the award for clearly the most hungover.” I was like, Wow. This is why I’m so curious to see it, because we talked about being hungover, but then you just sort of leave it and then you just try to do the thing.

So [Johnstone] also directed Housebound—you played a doofus cop in that too. He’s like, This is my doofus cop guy.

Yeah, he singled me out. That was a slow burner, that one that took place over a couple of years. I think he laid his chops on sort of cultivating that suspense and horror. He’s basically just been able to smash it all out in this one.

How did you first meet him?

Well, he did a comedy show called The Jaquie Brown Diaries and I made my sketch comedy show, The Millen Baird Show. We were both nominated best comedy at the New Zealand TV Awards [Johnstone won], so that’s when I met him. We didn’t actually meet again ‘til he started casting for Housebound.

Do you guys have a similar sense of humor? I was looking at some of your own work, and it makes sense that you are good in M3GAN, because it’s a similar kind of low-key absurdity.

New Zealand’s kind of known for its subtle, deadpan, dry self-deprecating humor. Some might call us a bit of a self-conscious nation, being at the bottom of the world. I think that it just imbues itself into any characters that I create—they’re usually guys on the downside of advantage who try to take on ridiculous challenges. I find the ones you want to root for kind of interesting. [Johnstone and I] do have a similar kind of sense of humor. I’d say his was more sophisticated than mine—mine is probably more lowbrow than his. We admire each other’s work, so it’s quite cool.

I saw on your Twitter that you just won a series pitch competition at Just For Laughs in Montreal?

It’s about a Black American female detective who moves to rural New Zealand for love. She marries a white Kiwi guy, and this bizarre murder investigation follows her as she’s trying to ingratiate herself into his white family. It’s one that we’ve been working on for a couple of years now. Funnily enough, I sent Gerard the proposal. I was like, “Hey, man, you should make this with us.” But he’ll be too busy for that kind of carry on.

Do you go on auditions or are you mostly working on your own stuff?

I actually don’t even have representation here in L.A., but strangely, with this 30-second part, I might be securing myself an agent. I certainly didn’t think it would happen this way.

It's so funny that you don’t remember the shoot.

It sounds like I’m brushing it off, but you know how sometimes you just do a part, and you leave it and you’re like, "Eh, I think that went all right, we’ll see what happens," and then sometimes you get favorable reviews, and sometimes you just never hear about it. This was one of the former I guess, but it’s certainly a surprise.

Basically, the thing I get the most kick out of is making my own stuff and I usually do that with my wife [Siobhan Marshall]. Creating something out of nothing and then just getting an audience, that’s the biggest recompense for me. We’ve got a laundry list of shows we want to make and that’s one of the reasons we’re here in L.A., it’s just to shop them around and try and marry that New Zealand and American sensibility à la Flight of the Conchords.

Well, it was just really nice to get you, and congratulations and thanks for making us laugh for 45 seconds.

Thank you so much for going along and getting in touch. It really is a surprise.

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