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June 27, 2023

Meet Milan Carter, the West Philly-native who stars alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger in Netflix's 'Fubar'

In a Q&A, the Overbrook High School alum discussed his brother's Down North Pizza shop in Strawberry Mansion, meeting Will Smith as a teen and a possible storyline for his character, Barry

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Milan Carter Fubar Netflix Storm Santos/Persona PR

West Philly native Milan Carter plays Barry, a tech whiz CIA officer, in 'Fubar,' the Netflix spy comedy series starring Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In Arnold Schwarzenegger's first scripted TV series, "Fubar," the legendary actor's character, CIA operative Luke Brunner, has a vital (and hilarious) right-hand man — and he just so happens to be played by an actor from Philadelphia.

Milan Carter, who graduated from Overbrook High School, stars in the Netflix spy comedy as Barry, a lovable and nerdy CIA officer who jumps into action as Luke's "man in the chair" to help with a dangerous undercover mission.

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"Fubar" premiered May 25 and quickly jumped to No. 1 on Netflix in the U.S., and appeared in the Top 10 in 90 countries. It also led Nielsen's streaming charts during its premiere week with 1.53 billion minutes of viewing. The series recently was renewed for a second season.

Along with Carter and Schwarzenegger, the "Fubar" cast includes Monica Barbaro as Luke's daughter Emma (and, unbeknownst to him, a fellow CIA operative) and Gabriel Luna as Boro, a vengeful arms dealer's son. Nick Santora is the creator and show runner, and Schwarzenegger also serves as an executive producer.

Carter was born in West Philly and attended Winslow Township High School and Williamstown High School, both in South Jersey, before transferring to Overbrook. It was at that West Philly school that he had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to meet fellow alum Will Smith, which inspired Carter to pursue his childhood passion for entertainment.

Carter went on to attend Lincoln University in Chester County, where he studied TV production and print journalism. He then moved to Los Angeles and spent years working behind the camera for "Entertainment Tonight" and other programs before hopping in front of the camera for his own show called "Movies with Milan" for Spin Media.

He made his TV debut in Marvel's "Runaways" in 2018, and his movie debut came the next year in Eddie Murphy's "Dolemite Is My Name."

Despite transplanting to the West Coast, Carter retains strong ties with his hometown, visiting earlier this month to attend a cookout celebrating his nephew's graduation. His brother, Mike, is active in the community as executive chef at the mission-driven Down North Pizza restaurant in Strawberry Mansion.

Carter, 35, joined PhillyVoice for a phone interview last week to discuss how Philly influenced his artistic journey, what it was like working with Schwarzenegger and his ideas for Barry's storyline next season.

PhillyVoice: I know you've been involved with media in a few different ways over the years. But, did you always know that you wanted to be an actor or be involved in entertainment? Or where did that start?

Milan Carter: I guess it all started my senior year in high school. I got kicked out of one house living with my mom and I wound up going to Overbrook in Philly. And I was like, I need to figure out a way to get a scholarship to college. And I wound up doing mock trial, and we made it to the city semifinals. And my principal saw me speaking there as a litigator, and she said, "Yo, you speak really well. I want you to be the spokesperson for this secret thing we're doing in a couple of weeks." I was like, "Alright bet."

But, you know, the secret thing happened to be co-hosting MTV's "TRL." That was crazy. And Will Smith was a special guest and he wanted his high school to go on there. That moment, I was like, I love journalism. I love hosting. I want to do this all the time. And then, about a week or two later Will took me and these other kids to South Africa to meet Nelson Mandela and it was a life-changing experience. 

It really allowed me to believe that no dream is too big. Because growing up, I used to do choir, I was in plays, but I had older brothers who were athletes that were like, "You want to dress up and get on stage?" I was like, you know what, never mind, I'll hoop. So the childhood thing inside of me kind of got re-released once I got to do "TRL" and meet Will Smith.

PV: Wow! Do you ever keep in touch with Will Smith today?

MC: When I first moved out here I had reached out to his assistant but you know, turnover sometimes in the industry, in entertainment, it changes. And then our schedules never really connected. So now it's that whole Hollywood thing: Once you make it, then you're friends with everybody. And then I get to hang out with Will again, and Will is like, "I always believed in you." So I'm just looking forward to that moment.

PV: How did you go about landing this role in "Fubar?" 

MC: Man, so, you know, acting is a funny thing. On paper, it looks like I don't have that many credits. But every year, since like 2018-19, I would book a pilot on a network station. And it didn't get picked up. So it's like, every time I go out, I get something like, oh, this is gonna be my break. My life's about to change. And then you know, ABC, CBS, NBC, are like, "We're not picking you up this year." 

So then finally, I see this thing come across my desk and it says "Arnold Schwarzenegger, Netflix, straight to series." So I said, first off, how often does a Black guy get to play the guy in the chair? Not often. How often does the guy have an Afro and a beard get to be in the CIA? Never. I was like, this feels perfect for me. I'm gonna do everything possible to try to win this role. Literally, I coached with everybody who was willing to read my lines with me and I probably did no less than 50 self tapes. And luckily, one of those worked, and that's what they fell in love with.

fubar cast netflixAdMedia/Sipa USA

Milan Carter (third from right) poses with the 'Fubar' cast on the red carpet at the Netflix comedy's Los Angeles premiere last month.

PV: How did you approach your character? How would you describe your character to someone who hasn't seen the show yet?

MC: Barry's the underdog with a big heart, who would do anything for his family. But he's not like your stereotypical nerd. And that's one of the things I was trying to be very careful about because all my life I've been a nerd, I've been a geek. I've always loved anime, I love comics. I played chess since I was 5. But now in Hollywood, I'm kind of cool. I don't know how I became cool. But that's what they told me. 

So I just wanted to embrace the authenticity of who I am, how I was raised and what it's like to be a nerd in Philly, and growing up when I did, the way I did, and I feel like that's what translates. And that's what allows people to connect to Barry because he's just a real person. He's not an archetype of a nerd. He's kind of cool, but he's also like, I'm not ready to fight if a bullet comes flying past my head; I'm gonna scream.

PV: What was it like working with, I mean, all the actors, but of course Arnold Schwarzenegger?

MC: Man, Arnold, he's a dream come true. They say never meet your idols because you'll be disappointed, but Arnold surpasses anything you could have ever imagined. You know, from day one on set Arnold pulled me to the side and said, "You are hilarious. You had me breaking in your audition, I had to do everything to keep it together." So to start off with that, Arnold didn't have to pull me to the side. And for him to give me such a major compliment on day one, it was just like, "Yo, I'm flying high. Arnold gave me a compliment, guys. I don't care what anyone else says." 

And then from that, Arnold took me underneath his wing. I got to go to Munich, Germany, and experience Oktoberfest with Arnold. He pulled out the red carpet and it's really like Arnold's now a mentor, a father figure type of person to me. I like to say grandfather because he's a little bit older ... if you ask him a question, be prepared for a long story. There's no such thing as a short answer when it comes to Arnold.

PV: Congrats about Season 2. That's gotta be exciting to hear!

MC: Oh, my goodness, because you know, we wrapped last September. This Hollywood game is a thing. So we sit here like, when will we finally get a premiere date? Alright we got a premiere date? Cool. Alright now it premiered, will there be another one? You just sit there, you know, waiting and anticipating. 

But thanks to the fans for the amazing turnout. Like the support was unreal. Like, you know, to get like close to like 100 million views within the first weekend was spectacular. To meet those metrics is like, yo, 190 countries watched our show. That's ridiculous. Because there's only 195 countries in the world. When you put that in perspective, it's ridiculous; it's a dream come true. A little kid from West Philly. I truly believe me being able to do this says, you know, anybody else that really has a dream that you're really passionate about, if you put the work in? Nothing is impossible.

PV: Can you say anything about Season 2? I mean, have you heard anything or do you have anything you'd like to see?

MC: Oh, yeah, for sure. This is my pitch. I don't know if Nick Santora, our showrunner's gonna do it. So Barry, he's the only one that didn't have an origin story. Nobody knows Barry's path. So my pitch is that Barry, he was raised in foster care, and in that time, he got training to be a ninja. But, he doesn't remember because he was brainwashed. So in Season 2, I think Barry gets hit in the head or something and it unlocks his ninja potential.

PV: Do you have any favorite spots around Philadelphia to visit while you're here?

MC: Favorite spot, hands down, the greatest spot to visit while in Philly is Down North Pizza. It's in Strawberry Mansion and it's fighting recidivism. ... A wonderful guy named Michael Carter — he's the executive chef — and also his partner Muhammad (Abdul-Hadi), they started that and it's been doing pretty fantastic. They have a Detroit-style pizza. And the reason I'm so happy about it: It's my brother's restaurant and it's about to be up possibly to win a James Beard award. So that's pretty fantastic.

PV: That is awesome! So I'm sure you're very busy, but is there anything else you want to say about all this?

MC: Honestly, I just want to say, I know the murder rate and different things are high in Philly, but Philly is a great spot to foster talent. And if you can make it out of Philly, you can make it anywhere. So if anybody has a dream that feels too large, no it's not. All you need to do maybe is just step outside a little bit, dream a little bit bigger and realize that nothing's impossible and Philly makes greatness.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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