Mills on the Move – The road to success is paved with good intentions but Noah Mills is taking his own way ‘round
THE great Irish novelist, Oliver Goldsmith, was once asked about his definition of success. Goldsmith, who had spent the first 40 years of his life working one tireless job after another, and failing to have anything stick, preached patience first and foremost – and then a little stubbornness. “Success,” he finally declared, “consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”
By all accounts, Noah Mills is pretty successful. At 33, he is one of the most celebrated male models of all time, discovered while he was at college in Vancouver, Canada one day, and working for Tom Ford in Milan the next. He’s since walked the runways and appeared in campaigns for almost every major fashion brand – Mills was basically the face (and body) of Dolce & Gabbana in the mid-2000s – and Models.com called him, “one of the most sought after names in the industry”. When the acting bug bit, the rugged and handsome leading man landed memorable roles in Sex and the City 2 and the hit TV series, 2 Broke Girls.
But that was then and this is now, almost a decade later. And despite his confident demeanour, laidback LA charm and shaving commercial good looks, Mills says he’s still struggling sometimes, to find his footing in the industry. “I have a lot of expectations for myself,” Mills says. “Success is great, but it can be a double-edged sword. I don’t think I’ve ever stepped back to say, ‘Good job Noah, you’ve done well’.”
Mills is calling from his apartment in New York’s West Village, on a rare day off from filming The Enemy Within, a US spy-themed drama series that premieres this spring. While he was born in Toronto, both of Mills’ parents are American, and the family moved to Baltimore when he was young. He returned to Canada as a teenager, attending a boarding school on Victoria Island, where he fell in love with a Canadian girl and worked at Best Buy and tried to graduate with enough credits to get into college to study psychology … or something.
Mills admits those years were “kind of unorganised and crazy”, so when a local scout approached him one day and asked if he’d be interested in modelling, he was all in. The small modelling job paid more than anything he had ever done, and, coupled with a bad break-up with his girlfriend, Mills packed up his Nissan Maxima and drove across the continent and settled in New York. A few weeks later, he booked his first runway show, walking for Gucci.
Mills says he’s always been interested in acting, though he didn’t formally pursue it until his agent convinced him he needed an outlet for his energy in between modelling gigs. “When I started making money as a model, I let myself get out of control,” Mills admits. “The whole ‘sex, drugs and rock and roll thing’.” Acting, he says, became “a respite. Once I got in there, I was like, ‘Yeah, I gotta do this’,” he says. “I felt empowered.” He moved to LA at 27, and promptly booked Sex and the City 2, then 2 Broke Girls shortly after. But while he was finally a working actor, Mills found it hard to shake off the “model” tag. His roles in both productions – and even his most gossip-worthy appearance, as Taylor Swift’s ex-boyfriend in her video for “We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together” – required little actual acting skill, and consisted mainly of him as the token “hot guy” on set. “I’m proud of those experiences and it got me to where I am, but it was basically, show up, shirt off,” Mills says.
For someone who grew up camping and built his dream house in Venice Beach from scratch, Mills was craving a challenge. But while modelling may have got him through the door, it also proved to be his Achilles’ heel. “I had a bit of an ego about modelling, thinking that I would get extra attention in the acting world too,” Mills says. “And I experienced the complete opposite. Either people had no idea I was a model, or they did and they didn’t like it. Directors were like, “You’re a model? Not interested.” Mills had put his modelling career on hold for acting, turning down dozens of big jobs and the “safety net” of it all to try to land a big gig. When the success he had envisioned failed to materialise, self-confidence turned to self-doubt. “I couldn’t help but think that I was failing,” Mills says. “When you’re unemployed, you feel this clock ticking and it’s a very grey and slippery slope. It was,” he admits, “very scary.”
If there’s one thing to know about Mills though, it’s that he’s a fighter. Rather than sulk or throw in the towel (though he admits there were days he thought of doing both), Mills decided to recalibrate. “I had to move away from the rejection and really come down to earth and put in the work,” he says. “Maybe I didn’t have the organisation, or work ethic, or general maturity at first, when it came to acting,” he continues, “but I was determined to prove myself all over again and start this other career from the ground up.”
A short while later, Mills booked his first series regular role on the American military drama, The Brave, playing a combat medic working within an elite group of army intelligence officers. It had nothing to do with being a male supermodel or having a chiselled body or shilling a fancy product. Rather, it was all about his talent and his ability to embody a new character. “I was screaming on the street when I booked that job,” Mills recalls. “I was like, ‘Maybe I can be an actor and have a career.’”
Fans and critics praised his role on The Brave, and though the show was unceremoniously cancelled, it has opened up more opportunities for Mills in the industry. More importantly, it’s given him a sense of conviction; a previously far-flung belief that he can actually make it. To wit: Mills says he wants to direct eventually, and produce and edit. Not one to forget his roots, he’s also writing a show about the male modelling industry and hoping to pitch it soon. “Sometimes I catch myself falling into that trap I was in [as a model], where I was incredibly successful, but my head was always on the next page and I didn’t enjoy any of it,” Mills says. “Even seeing myself in a magazine or billboard, it was hard to have any sense of involvement or pride. I was like, ‘Did I really get that, or did I just get lucky and someone randomly picked me?’”
“But I have moments of real euphoria about where my life is going,” he says, and you can almost feel a smile breaking through the phone. “Those things I had so much insecurity and self-doubt around are now these shining bright pillars, and I just feel like I have so much more to give and so much more to do.”
If the great Oliver Goldsmith equated success with being a little stubborn, how does Mills view the idea of success now? “Fearlessness,” he responds. “Find the thing that makes you feel inspired, leave your worries at the door, and all the other shit will eventually fall into place.”
by Tim Chan
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