Two for the Road
Activist Acting Duo Teddy & Milissa Sears Spin Dollars Toward the Epidemic and In Tandem They Raise the Bar for Every Celebrity Couple
by Dann Dulin
Photographed Exclusively for A&U by Sean Black
[dropcap]K[/dropcap]nock, knock, knock. Hmmm. Nobody’s home? Do I have the correct address? I am a few minutes early. I descend the stairs to the narrow alley-like street, typical of L.A.’s beach cities. The early afternoon sun is warm and radiant, as I glance down the lane. Two blocks away I see a couple approaching. Suddenly, the man raises his arms skyward and waves. Could it be Teddy and Milissa Sears?
It is! Their arms are laden with boxes of pastries from their favorite local bakery. Teddy’s in town for the weekend from Vancouver, Canada, where he shoots the celebrated TV show, The Flash. He portrays a DC comic book character, speedster Jay Garrick, and his doppelganger Hunter Zolomon, known as Zoom, a supervillain. Also, he appears as Dr. Austin Langham in HBO’s Masters of Sex. Milissa is currently involved with pilot season, hoping to land a television show. (Pilot season is the time actors hope to be cast in a pilot episode of a proposed television series for network consideration.)
The couple live two blocks from the Pacific Ocean. As we enter their apartment, I’m instantly enveloped by the scent of roses. Milissa indicates it’s from a candle. Fresh flowers in vases abound, strategically placed among their mid-century modern furniture. There’s a spinet piano against one wall, and a retro-looking turntable and family framed photographs atop a walnut table. The color scheme is a range of grays. Their home is warm and welcoming.
Teddy and Milissa are grateful for their successful acting careers, but they have also given back by raising a bundle of money for amfAR by participating in all six annual Keihl’s LifeRides. They were joined by other bikers that included Jay Ellis [A&U, May 2015], Kevin Robert Frost (amfAR’s CEO), Gilles Marini [A&U, October 2015], and Tricia Helfer [A&U, December 2012].
“We get to see beautiful parts of the country,” Teddy enthuses while brewing tea in the kitchen. “We’re raising money for a cause we care a lot about.” Traveling and volunteering are their passions. Two years ago the LifeRide ended on New York’s Governor’s Island, where the AIDS Memorial Quilt was displayed and the names were read in a moving ceremony. “Seeing the Quilt just made it so much more personal. Each little patch was made with so much love. A lot of tears were shed that day,” says Milissa, from the kitchen, Teddy adding, “It was very powerful. Seeing artifacts that were significant for each person, stitched onto the Quilt forever. This brought it all home.”
After laying out a smattering of bite-size crisped-rice marshmallow squares, powdered almond drops, and oatmeal cookies, Teddy and Milissa set themselves informally on the floor near the coffee table. I am planted on their sofa. Teddy is handsomely bedecked in light beige denim and a casual collared Napoleonic blue shirt, untucked with sleeves rolled up. Teddy sports a cap with the logo “Star Laboratories,” the company that The Flash works for to help fight crime. Milissa’s becoming in tight semi-ripped blue Jeans and a rounded neck dark blue sweater. Both are barefoot.
“We need to keep the discussion going about AIDS,” presses Teddy, pouring tea for us all. “That’s what we like about Kiehl’s. It keeps the epidemic in the headlines, especially in the towns we ride through. We need to keep the money flowing for research to cure this baby by 2020, which is amfAR’s goal.”
Kevin Robert Frost, CEO of amfAR, has motorcycled alongside the Searses for several years. “The Kiehl’s LifeRide is a grueling ten-day motorcycle ride,” Kevin specifies, “which raises funds for amfAR and generates AIDS awareness. These two are of the most genuine, big-hearted people you’re likely to meet and I’m privileged to consider them friends. They are committed supporters of the fight against AIDS. I’ve no doubt they’ll be shoulder to shoulder with us until our job is done.”
Indeed, they plan to ride again this year.
Milissa first learned about the epidemic during an elementary school assembly in her hometown of Barrington, Illinois, forty miles from Chicago. Afterwards the students collectively sang, “We are the World.” “I was thinking about this on the walk home just now,” she says. “When I was little, the big topic of conversation was Ryan White. I was not able to fully grasp the significance of his plight, but I realized that he was someone who could have been my classmate and he’s struggling with this illness all because of a blood transfusion,” remembers Milissa. She sits cross-legged, fingers interlaced, her face intense. “The fact that it’s still here, a massive pandemic that has not been eradicated..…” she trails off, questioning.
Teddy, a few years older than Milissa (they both share the same April birthdate), first became aware of AIDS while attending an all-boys school in his hometown of Bethesda, Maryland. “I remember going through sex education when AIDS was all over the news. Hearing the teachers talk about HIV scared me. It made all us kids more cautious about our choices.” He looks up. “I remember being really taken by it. What is this disease that we can’t seem to eradicate? I was captivated by the mystery,” he notes. “It’s deeply embedded into my childhood memories.
Teddy discovered amfAR when he wrote a term paper in high school, “Should Condoms be Distributed in Schools?” “I was sixteen and I was all excited about wearing a condom!” he chuckles. “amfAR stuck with me because I thought, Why are some letters small and others caps? I was always getting it wrong.”
He goes on. “AIDS is not the disease du jour. Zika is the disease du jour and it’s scaring a lot of people.” Their antique mantle clock chimes. He scratches the back of his head and proceeds. “HIV and AIDS has been around for a long time. Maybe it’s not as terrifying as it used to be, but,” he pauses succinctly, “the disease is still a killer.”
Milissa appends, “Kevin [Robert Frost] and I had lunch a couple months ago. He was telling me that AIDS research to find a cure will also lead to treatments for other autoimmune diseases.” Adds Teddy, “All the more reason to throw our weight behind it.”
“Even though I haven’t lost anyone to the disease,” Milissa points out solemnly, “I feel it on a deep level.” Teddy resonates, “We’re all just one degree of separation from someone who’s battling the disease. It’s all around us….” There’s a collective silence when deafening air horns shatter it. Teddy informs me there’s a local surfing contest today.
Besides LifeRide, the pair has been involved in other AIDS fundraisers, as well. Teddy hosted a fundraiser in Dallas called Two X Two For AIDS And Art. A total of $8.5 million was raised for the Dallas Museum of Art and amfAR. Teddy plans to host again this October.
They’re also involved with in IAVA (Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America), which was founded by, Paul Rieckhoff, Teddy’s former New York roommate. Milissa serves on the Los Angeles Leadership Council for NRDC (National Resources Defense Council). She attributes her activism to her upbringing, especially her mother whom she considers a gigantic influence. Milissa rises to grab one of the arranged framed photographs off from the cabinet and proudly shows me a picture of her mother on the beach in a family shot snapped at Teddy and Milissa’s wedding.
The Sears met as neighbors and have been married for over two years (they got hitched near the seashore, not far from their abode). Teddy proposed to her at Rome’s Spanish Steps. It was early morning before any crowds gathered. The scene calls to mind Willie Wyler’s romantic film, Roman Holiday, written by Dalton Trumbo and starring Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn (one of Milissa’s favorite actors). When asked what attracted them to each other, Milissa stares into Teddy’s steel-grey eyes and replies, “Teddy feels like home. He has a huge heart, and he’s my very best friend.” Looking at me, Teddy offers, “She’s warmhearted, easy to talk to, and I feel comfortable in her presence.” He takes a beat, glances over to Milissa and says with elated emotion, as if he had a boyhood crush, “I just love this woman!”
One thing’s for sure, they’re hardly the stereotypical Hollywood power couple. Instead of attending lavish parties, Mr. And Mrs. Sears prefer to stay home and binge watch House of Cards, Veep, or Homeland. They also enjoy cooking together while listening to Frank Sinatra. They cherish their sanctuary, where they’ve resided for six years.
Teddy states simply, “I like to wake up, go to work, and come home.” He means it. “Acting is a job like any other. Home life is everything,” he fervently insists. “Things that matter most don’t change whether you’re making a truckload of money or whether you’re just skating by. I’m so anti-seeing and anti-being seen. I don’t give a shit about any of that stuff.”
He scoots back a few feet to prop himself up against the sliding door that leads to the balcony, with its far-reaching ocean view.
“An added bonus of this industry is if we can succeed in our work and develop any sort of a profile that we use that platform to draw attention to special causes.” Milissa, her glittering honey-green eyes heightened, sums up, “To be of service.” Teddy concludes, “You’ll never catch me at The Ivy [a celebrity-swarming Beverly Hills restaurant] or any of that stupid shit. Who fucking cares?!” He then quickly eclipses my journalistic doubt, “And you can print that.”
After graduating from University of Virginia in Charlottesville with a degree in Business Management, Teddy moved to New York City. He had no desire to be an actor. “When you come from Chevy Chase, Maryland, you tend to seek a career in business, commercial real estate, or government. Nobody does anything creative and pays the bills where I’m from and not that I knew growing up.”
Just then, one of their two cats, Motor, ambles into the living room. Teddy greets his friend as Motor settles down to sun himself, near the patio door, on the pale grayish carpet.
Teddy continues. “I fell backwards into acting through working with a modeling agency,” he explains. He heard about an audition while at the agency and decided to go. He landed the part!
For two years he appeared on the soap, One Live to Live. Then he was fired. Fired? Yep. “There was a regime change, but the long and short of it was that I just wasn’t very good and they didn’t know what to do with me,” he soberly replies, taking a bite of the cookie. “Once I got fired I realized this is what I wanted to do. I really doubled-down and got some training because I really didn’t know what I was doing back then. I needed to get some craft, as they say.”
Teddy’s debut was in an episode of Sex and the City titled, “The Real Me,” where Carrie becomes a fashion model and trips, face first, on the runaway.
Margaret Cho [A&U, September 2000] and Jose Llana [A&U, August 2008] co-starred. Teddy was in the first row of the audience “oowing and ahhing,” reacting to Carrie’s stumble, no lines. Since then, he’s racked up credits on Ugly Betty, Las Vegas, A Single Man, Law & Order, Torchwood, Blue Bloods, Mad Men, and the inaugural series of the anthology American Horror Story, playing Zachary Quinto’s husband. SPOILER ALERT: He dies horrifically in the end. “His death scene was hard to watch,” says Milissa with alarm in her voice, clinching her fist and tightening her facial features. “It…was…gruesome.”
Since he has completed his character’s storyline on The Flash, Teddy will be performing in a TV reboot of 24, for Fox. His latest film, Nine Lives, with Jennifer Garner, Kevin Spacey, and Christopher Walken, will be released later this year. He also had an indie film called Liv due out.
Teddy has no relation to the famous Sears and Roebuck department stores, but his relatives can be traced back to the Mayflower. In 1912, his great grandfather won Olympic Gold in pistol shooting in Stockholm, the same Olympics as Jim Thorpe competed. In 1956, his aunt won Bronze in the 100-meter butterfly in Melbourne.
Athleticism is in the genes. “I’m riding their coattails,” he boasts modestly. Teddy once had aspirations of becoming an Olympic swimmer, but he hung up his competitive Speedos at the age of fifteen. He preferred team sports and grew up playing ice hockey and football, and then played water polo and football in college. Today he still enjoys ice hockey at the local rink.
Teddy can best be described as having equal healthy parts of male and female energy. His acting heroes are Allison Janney and Sarah Paulson. When asked when he last cried, he replies, “while watching the film Rudy”—that 1993 movie starring Sean Astin as the underdog who beats the odds to play college football. Pondering, he reveals, “The older I get, the softer I seem to get—and I’m all for it.” Teddy’s a man’s man joining the exclusive club alongside the likes of Spencer Tracy, Ryan Reynolds, and George Clooney.
Milissa, whose ancestry is half Yugoslavian and half English, Italian and French, is named after her Dad’s sister. Milissa moved to Los Angeles to attend USC (University of Southern California), where she received her BA, studying theater and French. After graduating, she pursued her lifelong dream of acting. Her debut role was playing “Nervous Girl” in the comedy film The Iron Man. She later appeared in Sympathy for Delicious, Masters of Sex, Criminal Minds, and Law & Order, and has the recurring role as Karen Lisbon on The Mentalist.
“Would you like more tea?” asks Milissa. Affirmative, I reply. While she heats more water, Teddy replenishes the nearly eaten treats.
Teddy took his first HIV test when he was in his mid-twenties in a Chelsea clinic in New York. It took a week to get results! “I was always safe, but I was a little worried. The waiting was nerve-wracking.” Milissa was first tested at USC health clinic.
Combing her fingers through her bouncy shiny brown hair, she says, “I believe people are talking about the disease in a much more open and honest way now than they did when I was growing up,” she surmises. “It’s not a coincidence that we are much closer to a cure.”
The petite thespian believes that to be fully educated about HIV, one has to be tested. Teddy, with a glow in his eyes, strokes his chin, and quips, “I think it’s kind of sexy in a way for a couple to be tested together.” Milissa nods and firmly affixes his point with the weight of her insight, “Trust is so important in any relationship. Essentially, you are putting your life in someone else’s hands.” She shifts position, leaning back, supporting herself with her hands on the floor, and legs stretched out in front of her. “Everyone needs to have open dialogues about this disease,” she demands. “Two of my girlfriends, Lauren Paul and Molly Thompson, run an organization called Kind Campaign. I volunteer and help them when I can, and what I’ve seen at their assemblies is that these young girls appreciate honest, open discussions.”
“During one NPR [National Public Radio] program, I heard professionals say that the dialogue needs to start at a young age, in the pediatrician’s office. Some parents are not ready to handle this and so doing it at the doctor’s office is a safe environment. When the kid does reach that age of exploration they already have the information.”
As the afternoon sun wanes, I gather my belongings. Milissa carries out empty plates and teacups to the kitchen, while Teddy playfully wrestles with Motor. Their other feline, another rescue cat named Trouble, strolls out of the bedroom into the kitchen. Milissa picks her up and cuddles. As I prepare to leave, Milissa keenly turns toward me, her focus as bright and direct as a cat watching a bird. “I hope the epidemic will be all over soon,” she says in closing. Teddy, now standing near us, adds, “I’m excited to keep this train on the track and move forward, riding on amfAR’s mission. One day we’ll read about this disease in history books.” In a line that could be straight out of The Flash, Teddy wraps, “That’s…the goal.”
Hair and makeup for Milissa Sears and hair and grooming for Teddy Sears by Streicher Sisters at STRIIIKE.
Hats off to Jennifer Eagle for her encouragement, interest, and support.
Dann Dulin is a Senior Editor of A&U. He interviewed Aileen Getty for the December 2015 cover story.