It’s never too late to be a teen.
That’s the phrase greeting visitors to Pat Mills’s personal website. A film studies alumnus from Ryerson, Mills grew up loving movies in the teen genre from the ’80s. Naturally, his own film’s subject matter progressed to involve high school-aged teens as well.
On Sept. 5, Mills made his feature film debut at the 2014 Toronto International Film Festival as a director, writer and lead actor in the dark comedy Guidance.
Mills plays David Gold, a washed-up former child star who lives paycheque to paycheque doing voice acting gigs. In a last-ditch attempt to avoid getting evicted, he fakes his resumé and poses as a high school guidance counsellor.
To put it mildly, Gold takes an unconventional approach to his new job – giving students advice on using coping mechanisms like booze, drugs and promiscuity. The school’s troubled teens begin to relate to him, but his methods raise the suspicions of teachers and administration.
Mills says his character is based on an alter ego he created of himself; he and his character were both child actors. Mills got his start in the television industry as an actor in the Canadian comedy series You Can’t Do That On Television, which also launched the performing career of Alanis Morissette and screenwriter Bill Prady, who has produced shows like The Big Bang Theory and Gilmore Girls.
Since then, Mills has focused his career less on acting and more on writing and directing. He made an exception for Guidance, when it became clear during the casting process that the role and sense of humour was so unique to him that his producers urged him to audition for his own movie.
It was a surreal experience, Mills says.
“Everyone had to approve me … and then we ended up doing it, but I hadn’t acted since 1991.”
It was a creative leap, and he says he learned from the experience as both an actor and a director, being able to interact with other actors and direct scenes from within.
His work on Guidance has already paid off, with the show selling out at its initial screenings on Friday and Saturday. Just before the film debut, his team signed with a distributor for a theatrical release in 2015 — a major win for an independent film, since many indie filmmakers can run into roadblocks.
“It’s really hard to secure financing, but it’s also really hard to sell it and get people to see it, because there’s so much content out there, whether it’s television, web, whatever,” said Mills.
“Having it play TIFF is really amazing, because we’re already getting press. It’s really great to get some attention with a little movie.”
Plus: Are you pursuing a career in the arts? Hear what advice Pat Mills has in this online exclusive video.