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Millen Baird

Actor, Writer

Millen Baird writes, acts and directs; he has been creating all kinds of content since escaping from a job as a tax accountant at company Arthur Andersen.

Growing up in New Plymouth, Baird showed few signs of wanting a showbusiness career. His father "was my comedy idol from a young age", followed later by Billy T James. His mother Colleen was a speech and drama teacher. She compelled Baird and his two siblings to take lessons — with another teacher. “We were too naughty to go to mum’s class,” he says. “Every year we ‘d compete in May competitions organised by my lovely mother, but it was a real chore. Even the improv class weirdly enough, as improv’s the way I love to work now.”

Graduating from the University of Canterbury with a Bachelor of Commerce and then a postgraduate degree in taxation from Victoria, Baird spent two years working as a "hopeless" accountant. One day he idly picked up the Yellow Pages; it opened on the acting course for Unitec in Auckland. Baird went along and auditioned, winning a place on the diploma course, which morphed into a three year degree in his second year. At Unitec he got the writing bug. while writing some short films.

Out of drama school, and out of work – “it was quite uneventful, sitting by the phone” – Baird returned to Taranaki for a wedding. Driving back to Auckland with a broken radio, he began improvising a series of wedding speeches. By the time Baird got home, he had his opening scene. After help from script consultant/director Tim McLachlan, Baird put together one man show that became Wedding Speeches. He toured it around Aotearoa to acclaim and full houses.

After small acting roles on Being Eve (as a cult leader) and Shortland Street, Baird and friends began making a "random" comedy sketch pilot. "There was no end goal. It was just getting together on the weekends and shooting stuff." After hearing about a late night comedy initiative on TV2, they added more material and ended up being one of five Comedy Pilots chosen. Baird had been developing some of the characters for years. Some of the characters ended up jumping channels when TV3's Caterina De Nave invited them to make The Millen Baird Show (2008).

Each episode was built around a loosely themed series of sketches set in a mythical town. The characters included the racing commentator from Wedding Speeches, a school mum, and a flatmate from hell. But before the show aired, Baird was invited to host 2Tube, which featured amusing video clips lifted off the internet, and played to a live audience. “I thought I’d never work again after that. I was waving my arms around like a confused seal. I apologise publicly to those that hired me.”

The Millen Baird Show faired better with viewers. The Dominion Post called it "witty, relevant" and "wonderful". Guest roles on a number of dramas followed before Baird got back into comedy, and improv, with Auckland Daze in 2011. As Baird describes it in this extended interview for show Funny As, the show involves four characters trying to make it in the Kiwi entertainment scene: "an angry stuntman, an alcoholic dwarf, an unfunny stand-up and a mummy's boy male model". 

“Originally we went for broadcast funding,” Baird recalls. “It was suggested we try for NZ On Air's Digital Media Fund, because it had just kicked off and because I guess we were a bit of a gamble.” He found that the networks were a little less hands on with digital. “You could pretty much do what you want, so we had free reign to work out what we were doing as we went along. The best thing about shooting for the web for us was the immediacy. You'd shoot and then people could view it and give feedback the following week."

Baird’s ability and enthusiasm for improvisation had seen him run into occasional trouble on more structured drama shoots, but with Auckland Daze he was in his element. A number of local acting legends got in on the act, and the show won two NZ Writers Guild awards. In 2017  Baird created web series Darryl: An Outward Bound Story (with frequent collaborator John Argall) featuring his favourite kind of character, a "dreamer who won't quit", followed by Leeway (with Argall and Owen Black), about a loner forced to to get a flatmate when his psychotic neighbour demands half his share of a border fence. As he says in this interview, Leeway is one of the shows he's proudest of to date.

“Scripted (or structured) improv is the way I like to work,” Baird says. “You hit every beat of the scene, but there’s no pressure to stick to the lines verbatim. A location, a piece of wardrobe, a look from the other actor – anything can inform what’s written and add to the script. It adds to the realism. So it’s not strictly improv where you completely ignore what’s written and zoom off on a tangent — it’s more like ad-libbing within a tight structure. You always stay with the intention of what’s written, but there’s no censorship. The scene’s not entirely written until you’ve finished the edit.”

Baird and his wife, actor Siobhan Marshall, moved to Los Angeles in 2016, after a three year wait for green cards. Originally looking for a change of lifestyle, they got firmly into creating their own content. Ironically much of their work has involved New Zealand, including Slow Pete (2018), an animated series of 10 two-minute webisodes for TVNZ. “It’s based on our own journey with IVF,” Baird says. “It’s about a slow sperm called Pete, and his journey to reach the egg. Siobhan's learnt to animate on the fly. She's amazing!" In 2019 a Darryl sequel debuted on TVNZ OnDemand. "It was a crazy shoot: way too ambitious, just like Darryl."

In 2020 Baird began addressing a whole new audience as host of online gaming show Tetris Primetime.

Outside of his own shows, Baird's acting CV includes joining fellow Taranaki actor Fern Sutherland on season three of The Almighty Johnsons (as the bike courier love interest to Sutherland's character), Step Dave (as ex boyfriend to solo Mum Cara Gray), Super City (as a nightclub owner), The Eggplant (as the school coach), animated series The War at Home (as an officer), and movie Housebound  (as a "dufus cop"). 

Profile written by Doug Coutts; updated on 29 November 2021

Sources include
Millen Baird
'Millen Baird - Funny As Interview' (Video Interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Rupert Mackenzie. Loaded 19 August 2019. Accessed 29 January 2020
'Millen Baird: On the pros and cons of improvisation...' (Video interview) NZ On Screen website. Director Andrew Whiteside. Loaded 7 December 2015. Accessed 29 January 2020 
Taryn Utiger, 'Almighty local love triangle' (Interview) - The Taranaki Daily News, 23 July 2013