Reuben’s red-hot romance
When Shortland Street star Reuben Milner propositioned Ella Johnson for a spontaneous sleepover at a mutual friend’s house party, he hadn’t thought for a second he’d get shot down.
He was 19 and feeling invincible after leaving home in Whangarei to take up his first professional acting gig in the City of Sails. “Ella is the life of the party,” says 21-yearold Reuben, who plays orderly Jack Hannah on the TVNZ 2 soap. “She caught my eye as she was dancing across the room – once I’d noticed her, I couldn’t get her off my mind.
“I must’ve been feeling pretty confident because I walked over to her with a sleeping bag wrapped around me and asked If she’d like to have snuggles. She took one look at me, screwed up her face and gave me a flat-out no!”
His ego in tatters, red-faced Reuben sulked himself to sleep on a couch in the lounge. He was convinced he’d well and truly blown it. So you can imagine his surprise, when less than a week later, his phone lit up with a message, from none other than Ella.
“I wasn’t exactly impressed that night, but I was definitely intrigued,” smiles dental assistant Ella, 22. “At least he had the nerve to come up and talk to me – the easier thing to do these days would have been to jump on Tinder.”
The next Thursday, after Reuben’s weekly American accent class, Ella invited him to her flat, where they remember locking themselves away in the bedroom and laughing all night long. “We’d hang out every Thursday, and soon that turned into Friday, Saturday and Sunday, then Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and before we knew it, we were inseparable,” says Ella.
“We moved in together three months later – he was staying at mine every night anyway, so the only thing left to do was to pick up his drawers. We never thought to slow things down as everything felt so natural.”
Indeed, despite their initial hiccup, loving comes easy to the beach bums, who enjoy weekends away at Reuben’s family bach, home-cooked meals and catching the latest movies at the cinema. “Our sense of humour is exactly the same – no matter what we’re doing, we have fun and can crack each other up for hours,” says Ella. “But we definitely have our differences. He’s got the biggest, kindest heart and never wants to say anything that might rock the boat, whereas I’m the opposite and always speak my mind, so communication is something we work at. The upside is we rarely argue and when we do, we never stay mad for long.”
It’s true, Reuben’s a real softie at heart. Despite his natural charm and cool confidence on camera, the Shorty star considers himself a bit of an introvert, who still struggles with the attention from fans. “I went from trying to be the popular kid in school to all of a sudden getting recognised by the whole country – it’s pretty strange. My natural instinct is still to hide from it.”
Born in Auckland, Reuben was 10 when he moved to Whangarei and discovered acting. At first, drama class was an easy way to get out of doing written work at school, but eventually his aspirations to become an anaesthetist took a backseat to a career in Hollywood. “Acting was a release for me,” says Reuben, who admits he turned his nose up at a job on the popular soap. “When I was starting out, I said to myself, ‘No matter what happens, if I get offered a part on Shorty, I’ll turn it down.’ But as I got more passionate about pursuing acting, I figured out how hard it was to get auditions let alone land parts, so when I was asked to audition in my final year of high school, I was like, ‘Yes, yes, yes, yes!’”
In his three years on the show, Reuben’s most challenging storyline was earlier this year, when rugby jock Jack came out of the closet. “At first, I wasn’t keen to do it,” he tells. “I had gay friends, but I just didn’t want to portray that as myself. I knew everyone was going to be looking at me and I didn’t know if I’d be able to handle it.
“Selfishly, I got on board because I thought it would be good for my portfolio to show my range, but as I got deeper into the character, I realised how important my role was. It opened my eyes to how much s*** gay men must get. My brother told me one of his mates took a lot of inspiration from Jack. His story gave him the courage to open up about his sexuality after hiding it for so long.”