Palm Springs star Cristin Milioti has found herself in her own time loop — and an awards race
It's Nov. 9, 2020, and Cristin Milioti finds herself in a familiar place, on a familiar date: With no reception in the middle of a desert just outside Los Angeles.
"I spent it barefoot on the side of a dirt road," the Palm Springs star recalls of her first Nov. 9 since the release of her twisty Hulu comedy, in which Sarah, her damaged maid of honor, was forced to relive that same day over and over.
Thankfully this time Milioti was shooting her upcoming HBO Max series Made for Love, instead of experiencing the rollercoaster of shenanigans that Sarah gets into with Nyles (Andy Samberg) on their hundreds, or thousands, or millions of Nov. 9ths.
And still, the actress, best known as the titular mother on How I Met Your Mother and star of one of Black Mirror's most memorable episodes, "USS Callister," is starting to feel like she's in her own time loop, considering she's been promoting Palm Springs for all of 2020, beginning at Sundance when the film broke the festival's sales record and didn't yet reflect the year's biggest mood.
"To keep talking about it is such a joy," she says. "I've been hearing from people that it's brought them joy and comfort and has moved them in a time where they've been in need of that. That's just so immensely gratifying."
With the Grammy-winning actress a likely contender to add a Golden Globe to her mantle (and a special Palm Springs commentary cut now available on Hulu), EW chatted with Milioti about the longest — and most surreal — year of her life.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You started doing press for this film back in January 2020 at Sundance, and here you still are talking about Palm Springs. It's got to almost feel like your own time loop.
CRISTIN MILIOTI: I know, I love it. I'm also like, "Wow, that's amazing." To keep talking about it is such a joy.
Back in July, we did a roundtable with you, Andy, and the rest of the cast, and I asked how you planned on spending your first post-Palm Springs Nov. 9. Your reply was a smart one, which was to come back and ask you after the election on Nov. 3. [Editor's note: This interview was conducted on Nov. 12.] I'm a few days late, but how did you spend your Nov. 9? I'm guessing it looked closer to Sarah's fun Nov. 9ths.
Let me see. I'm still so confused about what day it is. It was Monday. Okay, I spent Nov. 9 shooting all day. I'm just trying to remember what we shot. I should remember because it was four days ago. [Laughs] But we've been shooting so much. Where were we that day? This is so sad. I have to actually look at a schedule or I'm going to drive myself to a hospital. This is not possible that I can't remember what I did four days ago. I'm actually like, "Do I need to go see a doctor?" Hold on, I have to look this up. Oh yeah! That was Monday. Okay, I got it. We're back. I spent Monday in a reception-less canyon in Acton, Calif., which is an hour north of L.A. And I spent it barefoot on the side of a dirt road, shooting a show.
You're really owning that space of just outside L.A,, in the middle of nowhere.
[Laughs] I know! Yep, I just keep ending up on these locations that are an hour outside of L.A. where you can't get any reception. I was standing waiting to enter and I looked down and there were mountain lion tracks next to me and it was very cool.
That actually sounds quite scary.
It was just tracks. Recent enough that they were crystal clear. It was pretty cool.
You're braver than me, but I'm very glad it didn't take a turn to one of Sarah and Nyles' more tragic Nov. 9ths.
When you asked me that in that roundtable, I was like check-in with me to see who won the election, and that has also made this Nov. 9th one of the best Nov. 9ths. I may have been barefoot on the side of the road in Acton, but the relief of having [Joe] Biden and Kamala [Harris] elected, it's like, "Whew!" I spent my Nov. 7 and 8 cheering in the streets of Los Angeles, and it was great. Huge relief. Oh god, what a relief.
Instead of quizzing you on what you've done on every other Nov. 9 of your life, let's go back to Palm Springs. What was your initial reaction when the script and Sarah came your way?
I loved it. I know that is such a wrought, hat answer. Like I feel like I've read interviews where people are like, "I read the script and I just loved it." But I remember receiving this script after meeting with Andy and our wonderful producer Becky Sloviter and I read it and just thought it was so special. You never know how things are going to turn out, obviously; there's been so many instances in my career where I'll read something and love it and think it's special and then either something gets lost in translation or the execution of it. But I just remember reading it and thinking it was so unique, and also, specifically, she was so unique to me. That they would really showcase and lay bare her flaws and her struggles and her loneliness and her depression, as well as her madness and grief and anger and joy. I was just so excited to get to dive into those things.
Sticking with the theme of you being somewhere with no reception, you were out of the country when they wanted to offer you the movie and were pretty unreachable, right?
Yeah, I was in Africa. I went on this incredible trip with one of my best friends to Tanzania, and they couldn't get in touch with me. When I travel internationally on these types of trips I don't buy a cell phone plan because I like to sort of disappear. And so they couldn't get in touch with me. I was on a farm in Tanzania. I think they made the offer and no one could find me for like five days, and then I finally checked my email and I had like 30 emails, being like, "Where are you?! What is happening?!"
I think that is just good negotiation strategy.
Right? Make them really, really work for it.
You've had so many memorable TV roles over the last decade or so, but had you been waiting to get this sort of opportunity in a film? I would say there aren't many roles this fun and well-written out there, so I'm sure felt like a welcome sight.
It was. I always try to keep my hopes expectations low, but for sure when I read Sarah I was like, "Oh, this is rare." And so, yeah, it was very meaningful to me and for me to get to play her.
What was filming like? This was an indie made for cheap on a tight schedule. When I first talked to Andy, he jokingly said, "It was a rough shoot... I can't speak lowly enough of the indie filmmaking process."
We made it for like, two dollars. I mean, I sort of like this type of setup. Maybe I'm a glutton for punishment. But we shot that movie in 21 days, and we were shooting mostly nights. And we would not get a lot of takes because we had to go so, so fast, and we were in elements all the time; it was either 110 degrees every day or it was 20 degrees at night. But I sort of love that, because it ignites everybody and it really felt like everyone, from every single member of our fantastic crew to everyone in our cast, was really there because they loved it. We sort of just threw it all against the wall and left everything on the dance floor. Like we just had to go for it, because you would get two takes, so you had no time to question things. Andy, [director] Max [Barbakow], [writer] Andy Siara, and I had very lengthy discussions before shooting, just to make sure we were all on the same page. I came in with a lot of prep for Sarah, and a lot of questions I had and a lot of things I wanted to show with her. And then once they called action, we just had to go for it, as cheesy as that might sound. So I kind of loved it, because it was like madness — and it was a blast. I was definitely tired, but it was a ball.
What was it like being paired with Andy and working so closely with him? So much of this film depends on those characters being likable and having great chemistry. Was that just natural for you guys?
This might be a boring answer, but yeah. We kind of just hit it off. The way this project came to me was I met with him and Becky on like a general meeting to see if we might collaborate together, either write something or act in something, and I had no clue about Palm Springs. Even in that meeting, we hit it off like gangbusters. I think we have very similar taste and senses of humor, and he's just wonderful. We never had to work at that.
Despite Hulu giving away the time-loop twist in the trailer, you and the rest of the team were doing your best to keep it quiet, which made for some interesting tiptoeing in our roundtable. How hard was it to keep that a secret? I know part of the fun of watching it at Sundance with an audience was that no one knew what was coming.
I know. Ugh. I will treasure that moment for my whole life. I mean, for so many reasons; also being that that was the last time I was in a packed movie theater. But also being a part of that audience who had no idea what was coming was so incredibly validating when they realized what was happening. You could feel like the molecules in the air change — it was incredible. I mean, we tried out best. [Laughs] We would say, "Oh, it has a twist in it and the less you know the better." I feel like Andy actually put this pretty well, like, they also had to market it and it is very hard to keep that a secret. I still feel like there are some really big twists in the film that they definitely didn't show that are still just as enjoyable. But it was difficult. At Sundance, we managed to keep it a secret in like three days of interviews. We just kept dodging it and being like, "Yep, it's an existential comedy with a twist! Yep, that's all we can say." And then we would laugh and make up what it was about. It was a little bit harder the second time around.
If that screening wasn't enough, the film became the talk of the festival and broke the Sundance sales record. What was it like getting to have this huge moment at such a special place?
It was wild. I can't even begin to describe it. Because I came in with zero expectations. Mostly what I was excited about going into Sundance was that we were all going to get to hang together again. We all lived in the same house at Sundance — it was a beautiful reunion. And we'd like play ping pong at night after a day of crazy press, and I was just excited for that. I, of course, was so excited for people to see the movie, but, I don't know, I've been really excited about things before that then people watch and they're like, "I don't like this." [Laughs] So I just kind of learned to try and never expect anything. So I was blown away; I don't think any of us expected that. It felt incredible to be at that screening and hear 400 people freak out and laugh and cry and scream, and then it felt incredible to be received in that way and have the film celebrated in that way. It was just beyond.
Even with that overwhelming reception at Sundance, no one could have predicted what the rest of the year was going to entail, both for the movie and world. So what has it been like seeing how much Palm Springs has connected with audiences? Obviously it sure seems like the timing worked out for relatability purposes.
I know. That's been thrilling for me. I've been hearing from a lot of people that it's brought them joy and comfort and has moved them in a time where they've been in need of that. That's just so immensely gratifying. I think more people were able to see it than they ever would have. We were supposed to come out in theaters and we would have been up against like a bunch of Marvel films and like Wonder Woman. No one was going to see us. I mean, maybe some people would have, but I don't know how many would. And it's amazing that we were able to be seen by as many people as we've been seen by, and just to bring people comfort.
How does it feel to see yourself in awards discussions? It's been a weird year but that still has to be meaningful.
It's surreal. I definitely try to stay away from it. It's a huge honor regardless of whatever happens. To be a part of something that is being recognized in that way and to have my performance recognized by people feels wonderful. And also my expectations continue to be like in the cellar that is below the basement. [Laughs] Like it's all a win. It's incredible that this film has been on the journey that it's been on. Not in a million, million years would I have thought this was going to happen. So everything just feels like icing on the cake.
You mentioned that you're filming right now, so what's coming next?
We're shooting Made for Love, which is this HBO Max series. We're just finishing it because we got shut down during the pandemic and it's been so wonderful to be back with this cast and crew. I missed them terribly and it's been really, really lovely to get back into it together and finish it up and get it out to the world.
Seems like a really cool group, between Ray Romano, Billy Magnussen, Dan Bakkedahl, and others.
Oh, it is a cool group. It's a dream team, I've got to say. The cast is unbelievable, our showrunners are incredible. I hope that people like it; I like it a lot.
Once this is done then hopefully we can get you somewhere more tropical, or at least with reception.
I believe the desert stuff is about to get wrapped up, so that will be good. [Laughs]
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