Eric Millegan: Going Back to Bones
by Jay S. Jacobs
Let’s paint a mental picture, shall we? You are a young actor. You have your first role on a popular TV series and your character has become a fan favorite. After a few years in the role, the producers of the show call you up with a classic good news/bad news situation: your character is going to go very dramatically insane, but after this tasty morsel of acting, you will no longer be a regular.
So, you settle back into your life. A few times over the years they bring you back in to the show for flashback scenes, but soon those opportunities dry up as well. You’ve pretty much settled into the mindset that your character is pretty much forgotten. Then, eight years after you left the show, the series is winding down for its final season. And then, you get the call… They need you to come back to provide some closure. Besides, the fans have been clamoring for your return for years.
Pretty exciting stuff, right? Just ask Eric Millegan, who is living that situation.
Millegan had played the role of Zack Addy on the popular FOX series Bones. Zack was Dr. Temperance Brennan’s (Emily Deschanel) brilliant-but-troubled assistant in the first few seasons of the show. Zack was something of a fan favorite, but one day in 2008 Millegan received a call that the show’s producers wanted to have a meeting. Millegan happily set it up, but then a sense of unease hit him.
“I was like, wait a minute. What is this meeting about?” Millegan can laugh about it now. “I started getting paranoid. When I called, I was talking to Hart Hanson, the creator of the show. You’ll have to tell me what this means. He was like, ’Well, it’s not the worst news in the world; you’re not going to be a regular anymore.’ I was like, oh my, no. I went in for the meeting. They closed the doors. Stephen Nathan and Hart Hanson basically said, ’You’re going to be The Gormogon’s apprentice.’”
The Gormogon was a cannibalistic serial killer whose crimes and detection formed the spine of the third season of shows. The idea of Zack being involved with the madman was one that seemed to come out of the blue, surprising not only fans, but the man who was playing the apprentice.
“It was actually kind of exciting at first,” Millegan recalled. “I was like, wow, that’s amazing. Have I been eating people?”
The producers assured him that Zack was not a cannibal. Then Hanson told him that it was a shame that he would have to leave the show, but they had written him a great character arc to leave with. At that point, Millegan had only two more episodes to film, a court episode which really had nothing to do with the big reveal, and then the season three finale.
“I tried not to focus on the fact that I was going to be off the show, and focus more on wow, look at all this great material they are giving me as an actor,” Millegan admitted. “Then when it was time to leave, it was sad to leave and not work with my friends on a regular basis. But they had me back for two episodes in season four, one in season five, and then I wasn’t sure if I’d be back at all.”
For six seasons, Millegan wasn’t back. However, while making the 11th season of Bones, the new show runners Michael Peterson and Jonathan Collier decided the next season would be the last. They decided one of their priorities would be the return of Zack Addy.
“I was hoping they’d call me for the final episode of the series,” Millegan said. “I thought it would be nice to be brought back in at least once more. Then I get an email from my agent in January of this year….”
Not only did they want the character of Zack to come back, they had decided that he would be the season 11 cliffhanger. Millegan was brought back to make a surprise appearance in the final scene of the season, showing Zack to be the mysterious figure that had kidnapped Dr. Brennan.
This turn of events seems a bit shocking, as Dr. Brennan was always one of Zack’s strongest supporters. However, Millegan acknowledges that there is more to the action than meets the eye.
“Absolutely,” he said, cryptically. “Yeah, absolutely.”
However, he said, we were going to have to wait for the new season to begin in January to find out the specifics of what is happening.
“I’ve shot the first episode of the final season,” Millegan said. “That is an exact continuation of where we left off at the end of season 11. Everything gets explained. That’s all I can tell you. It’s a great episode. Everything gets explained. I can’t wait for everybody to watch it.”
In a recent interview, (current show runner) Jonathan Collier said, “We really want to make this a season that is exciting and meaningful, that pays off for our characters and rewards the fans that have put so much into the show. Once you come to that, who’s better to bring back than Zack?” How gratifying is it to Millegan to know that his character has taken up such a major role in the series’ mythology?
“It’s great,” Millegan agreed. “When I was doing the show initially, I used to read the FOX message boards all the time, to see what people thought about the episodes. It was like my way to have a live audience where I could get feedback. When I went off the show, I decided I wasn’t going to read the message boards anymore, because, I thought, I don’t want to see them forget me. After a few months or so, people won’t talk about me any more. That will be upsetting. But it never happened. They’ve been talking about me all these years I haven’t even been on the show. All of the message boards online have always said, ’When is Zack coming back?’ That was exciting and a surprise.”
Therefore, Zack’s return at the end of last season was a huge surprise. Millegan couldn’t tell anyone he was going back. Of course, it wasn’t a complete shock to the hardcore fans. Show runner Peterson had done some interviews acknowledging that he was going to do whatever he could to get Zack back to the show. It was just a surprise that it happened so soon and how he was going to return.
After Peterson’s interviews “it wasn’t a total secret that I would be returning at some point,” Millegan said. “It was just the context that was a secret. Probably the hardest thing was keeping a secret of my exit from the show in season three. That was hard. I knew that I was going to be off the show and no one else did. People were asking me questions about the following season, and I couldn’t really tell people that I wasn’t going to be involved on a full-time basis on the following season.
“Once that episode aired, I literally wrote a whole letter to my fans that I put up on various websites saying I’m sorry I had to lie to you guys. I had to keep this a secret. Here’s what happened, and here’s what I knew when. I didn’t quit the show. It was a show I enjoyed working on. Yeah, that was hard. I had to lie on red carpets and stuff when they asked me. It was difficult. This wasn’t as much; I don’t have to wait as long.”
However, perhaps the nicest surprise was simply this – eight years after leaving the show, it seemed like very little had changed. Millegan felt that he fit right back in, almost like he had never left in the first place.
“I did keep in touch with people [over the years],” Millegan said. “It was pretty great going back to the set. It sounds crazy, because I had been fully off the show; I hadn’t been in a single episode since 2010. It had been six years. It literally felt like I had never left. Some of the people on the crew were different, but a lot of them were the same. When you’re waiting to go on, you have a chair, you know, like the director chairs? The actors have chairs with your name on it. When I came back to the show, they had saved my chair. When I came back they had my chair still for me. It really felt like I had never left. It was pretty crazy. I had a great time.”
Interestingly, to make things even more old-homey, the directors of the two episodes which had been film were his old co-stars.
“It was great” to work with Emily Deschanel again, Millegan says. “She directed the episode as well. The season finale that’s already aired, David Boreanaz directed that episode. But episode one, that I’ve already shot, Emily Deschanel directed that. So, I was working with her as actress and director. She was great. Both David and Emily are great directors.”
He pauses and proclaims dramatically, “I only want to work with them the rest of my career! Terrific directors.”
He may even have the chance to work with them again, because it appears that his work at Bones is not done yet.
“I’m going back. Next month I’m going back to the set to shoot something. What, I don’t know, because I’ve not read the script yet. I don’t think the script has been written yet. But they do want me, so I’ve been put on hold for that… I’ve done one. I’m doing another. The episode I’ve already done, I’m heavily featured in. It’s the most my character has ever been featured in an episode. [So] at least one more.”
It also felt nice to slip back into the character of Zack. Of course, due to the secrecy surrounding the storyline, he cannot tell whether this will be the sweet, nice Zack of the early seasons or the evil Zack who became the apprentice of a serial killer. In fact, just as an actor, Millegan doesn’t even want to judge Zack. He just enjoys the acting challenge.
“I don’t think he’s evil, but he’s complex and you always like that,” Millegan said.
So, is that episode going to determine if Zack is the Puppeteer, the latest serial killer character that Booth and Bones and the team have been tracking?
“Right. That is all revealed,” Millegan said. “I wish I could tell more, but that is all revealed.”
Strangely, Millegan finds, there seems to be some disagreement in the Bones fan universe as to whether they want to have Zack find redemption in the new storyline, or whether he gives in completely to the black.
“It’s funny,” Millegan said, “I see people on Twitter. Most people want to see him good, but there are the few people that are like: No! He’s the villain. This was perfect. This was wonderful. They better not change it. It’s cool that there are both sides. For me, personally, again, I wish I could say more, but I’m very happy with how they’ve handled the character. I’m very, very happy with how they’ve handled the character. And, again, that’s all I can say. I wish I could say more.”
Millegan also says that working on the final season of a 12-year running show has not started feeling bittersweet yet, with everyone realizing this is the last ride.
“The only thing different is that it’s a closed set,” Millegan said, “Normally; we have friends and family come on the set and hang out. But this is a closed set, because there are secrets in this season and they don’t want them out. We’re very focused on getting this done and not letting the secrets get out.”
In recent years, Millegan has moved back to New York and has been concentrating more on theater and singing. In fact, leading up to his return to Bones, Millegan recently did a cabaret on Restaurant Row in New York.
“I love singing,” Millegan said when I spoke with him, soon before the show. “I’m doing a cabaret show here in New York at Don’t Tell Mama, on November 5th at 6 pm. I only do it once every four years. So I’m not begging my friends to come see me every day all year long.”
What can someone expect from the cabaret show? What kind of music does he do?
“There’s musical theater,” Millegan answered. “There’s Barry Manilow. There’s all sorts of different standards. And there’s a world premiere. There’s a novelty-comic song that a fairly successful composer has written for me. I will be singing it. It’s funny. I think people are really going to enjoy it. What other kind of songs do I do? A lot of standards. I have some guest singers. Jenna Gavigan, who understudied Dainty June in the revival of Gypsy with Bernadette Peters. Then my musical director and piano player Tracy Stark will also have a piano solo, and she’ll have a singing solo as well.
“It’s going to be fun. I’ve been doing this every four years since 2000, so this is kind of a best-of all the different shows I’ve done. One song that I’m really looking forward to that I can give away is from the musical Snoopy, it’s called ’The Vigil.’ It’s about Linus waiting in a pumpkin patch for The Great Pumpkin. I think that’s really fun. It’s fun that it’s going to be a week after Halloween.”
And just to make sure that he doesn’t get too comfortable, he adds, “Also, I’m running the New York Marathon the next morning.”
That’s right, he was finishing the show, getting something to eat, going to sleep early and then running a marathon early the next morning. However, the close time between those two major life events was not a mere coincidence.
“In terms of the timing, I scheduled it that way on purpose,” Millegan said. “I thought if my family came to see me run the marathon, they could come see my show, too. I thought that would be exciting. One of my cabaret shows I did before; I did on my 30th birthday. I try to tie cabaret shows in with other events, to make them extra exciting.”
In fact, he finished the famous marathon with a time of 5:32:29. Not bad for a guy who has only been running for a little over year, and was competing in only his second marathon.
“I didn’t really run at all until last year,” Millegan explained. “I’m living in New York. I’ve seen people run the marathon. I had known people who had run the marathon and always admired them. I admired my sister-in-law, who has run six marathons. I thought I would enter the lottery. One of the ways to get into the marathon is to enter a lottery and they pick who gets to be in. I won the lottery, so I said, okay, I’ll do it. I signed up for this training program where they email you every day and tell you what to do. I just did those things and then I ran the marathon [in 2015].”
Millegan laughed, looking back. “It all worked out. I qualified for this year because I ran nine races in New York last year and volunteered at one – it’s called Nine Plus One. That got me into the marathon this year. For some reason, before I even ran it last year I was already like: I want to do it again next year. There is something fun about it. Actually running the marathon is very exciting, because it’s one big party all over the city. They have bands everywhere – marching bands, singers, gospel choirs – that perform for you as you’re running the marathon. The only way to see it all is to run.”
And, Millegan admitted, making sure his show and his marathon were so close together also had a practical aspect to it, to make sure that he did not get too in his head about either thing.
“Yes! That’s like auditioning,” Millegan explained. “Sometimes if I have an audition, and I’m working really, really hard on it, and then another and another audition may come up. It’s like, okay, the pressure is off, because now I have to focus on this other one. I’m not beating myself up about the first one. You have perspective. This is the same thing. If I was only running the marathon, all I’d be thinking is the marathon. Or if I was only doing the cabaret show, that’s all I’d be thinking of. It’s nice to have two different things to think about.”
Perhaps that is all because Eric Millegan, like he described his character above, is above all else complex. Just like the rest of us.
“I don’t fit into a box. I’m openly gay. I like musicals and theater and Broadway. But I also love basketball. Sometimes even my main love of all is The Portland Trailblazers, which is my basketball team. I have their logo tattooed on to my leg. When people try to [say]… well, if you’re a sports fan, you don’t care about theater. Or you’re gay, gay people don’t care about sports. All these stereotypes. I think I break the stereotypes. I’m definitely not a stereotype.”
Copyright ©2016 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: November 27, 2016.
Photos ©2016 Mark Doyle. All Rights Reserved.