Like a time loop, Made for Love star Cristin Milioti can't escape 'harrowing' run-ins with technology
Cristin Milioti is getting a little too comfortable in the desert.
After escaping the wedding that truly wouldn't end in the Golden Globe-nominated hit Palm Springs, the actress who has done everything from being Tony-nominated on Broadway to being the titular mother on How I Met Your Mother is finally getting the chance to do something she has yet to: Be the face of a TV series.
Welcome to Made for Love, the HBO Max adaptation of Alissa Nutting's best-selling novel, or as Milioti describes it, "a sci-fi, dark comedy, family, emotional, survivor story." The Black Mirror alum stars as Hazel Green, a woman on the run after 10 years in a suffocating marriage to controlling tech billionaire Byron Gogol (Aladdin's Billy Magnussen). But this is no easy split, considering she soon discovers that he's implanted a surveillance device, a.k.a. the Made for Love chip, in her brain, which allows him to track and see her every move and thought. Hazel seeks asylum in familiar surroundings, reuniting with her widowed father, Herbert (Ray Romano), and meeting his new
sex doll synthetic partner, Diane. Also onboard are The Undoing's Noma Dumezweni and Veep's Dan Bakkedahl as Gogol's underlings.
Ahead of audiences deciding if Made for Love is made for them when it premieres April 1, EW chatted with Milioti about feeling Palm Springs déjà vu, figuring out what she's actually allowed to say about her new show, and realizing she can't escape harrowing situations with technology.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: When we spoke back in November, we talked about how your first post-Palm Springs Nov. 9 was once again spent in the desert, and it happened to be for filming on Made for Love. So I feel the need to start by asking if you've finally escaped to another environment and climate.
CRISTIN MILIOTI: [Laughs] Well, this is the first day of the blizzard in New York, so everything is quite beautiful and idyllic and quiet, and in about six hours everything will turn to black, disgusting snow and the reality of how difficult it will be to get out the door will set in. But, for now, it's very, very sweet.
Watching the first episode of Made for Love and realizing what was going on with your character, it begs the question: What's worse, being trapped in the same day or the same location?
Gosh, I don't know which is worse. They both come with their own set of horrors, don't they? I mean, I think ultimately what Hazel's in is far worse because every single aspect of her life is controlled. She's been a prisoner for 10 years and hasn't been allowed to leave this compound, hasn't even seen sunlight. And I don't know, for me, god, that's a real toss-up. They're both pretty terrible situations now that I'm talking about it out loud. [Laughs] At least in Palm Springs you're stuck with someone you love, as opposed to in Made for Love she's kept imprisoned, being like a science experiment.
At least Sarah, your Palm Springs character, had a lot of options for activities in that same day.
Yeah, Hazel has zero options.
I couldn't help feeling some Palm Springs déjà vu here, between the situation you're in to the pool to the desert.
Oh wow, I didn't even think about that. Yeah.
That's probably my answer, but I was going to ask if it felt a bit eerie filming this at the same time that Palm Springs was blowing up?
I guess I thought of it as so different because it's such a different story, so it didn't hit me. But I see what you mean, that there's the desert and a pool and that sense of being trapped. To me, it was so wildly different just due to her relationship with her father. You've only seen the first [episode], right? So you just get a taste of Ray. I don't know how much I'm allowed to say, it's just so tricky.
It's two projects in a row where you don't know what you can say ahead of time!
I know. Oh, God. I think certainly there is a similar element of being trapped, but I think Hazel has to come to terms with the abuse she's suffered for 10 years, and also her relationship with her father and sort of the choices that she's made in her life before she met Byron. And I feel like it's about… this is my first interview about Made for Love too, and so I'm also being like, "What is known, what is the way to handle this?"
It's a good warmup.
Right?! I would say that Sarah has a lot more agency than Hazel. And I think that's something that goes throughout the season. In my opinion, Hazel is someone who is deathly afraid to feel and Sarah was someone who felt so much that it could be an issue. And so I think for me that is probably why it feels so different to be inside of it, even though there were definitely times in the desert where I was like, "Oh my God, I've been in this desert before!" But they seemed like such different worlds. Hazel is so not in touch with how she feels moment to moment; she's completely numbed herself and I think a lot of it is returning back to the age she was when it all happened. She's like, arrested. It's so wild to have only seen that one episode too, because then so much of it takes place in the world of the trailer with Ray and reckoning with that relationship.
Going back to the origins of this, how did this come about and what made it something you wanted to be the face of?
My feeling was that when I read it I had not read anything like it, and I try to make the roles that I pursue or sign on to portray as different as possible; like in terms of genre, who this person is. Hazel has a lot going on. She's really difficult to be around and not in touch with herself at all, and how do you walk through the world, how do you recover from something like this when you have no idea how it is you feel? How do you build a life? How do you grow? And there's the sci-fi element of it. I just never read anything like that. I said this a lot with Palm Springs too, I think what I'm always looking for is the most human role possible. Like I'm lucky enough to be very choosy but I do get sent a lot of tropes and I really try to play the type of role I would have watched growing up and been like, "Yes, that's why this excites me!"
You've had so many memorable roles on some great shows, whether we're talking 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, Fargo, Black Mirror, Mythic Quest. At this point did you feel like you had been waiting for an opportunity like this and were ready to have a show on your shoulders?
As you're talking I'm getting sweatier and sweatier. I was like, "Yeah, yeah, right, yeah, uh huh, I guess that's true." [Laughs] I would say, yes, I have definitely been looking for an opportunity to really run with a role in a bigger way. And I guess there definitely is some pressure sometimes, like I'll realize exactly what you just said or I'm perpetually afraid of letting people down. That's a theme in my life, and I think it's a theme that we all have as humans. But I definitely was pursuing opportunities like this for sure. I wanted to dive in there and get my hands dirty and take up space.
This will probably be another one where you wonder how much you can say, but for those who haven't read the book, how would you describe the show and this world?
Woof. [Laughs] The answer that sprung to my mind was that the projects I'm attracted to as an actor and viewer are things that toe the line of many genres. And that's something this show does that I found very exciting when I read it, I found exciting when we were making it, and I hope that people find exciting to watch. When I've tried to describe it to people I've been like, "It's a sci-fi, dark comedy, family, emotional, survivor story." It's so many things wrapped into one.
Between this and Black Mirror, have you gotten your fill of terrifying technology?
Someone else pointed that out to me too. They were like, "Wow, it's two things where someone takes your reality from you." They're both awful. You know, now that you're presenting a lot of my recent work to me, I'm like, "Oh God, yeah, that's a harrowing situation, huh?" [Laughs] They're all pretty intense. I remember when I first read the Made for Love script, privacy and autonomy are very precious to me, and the idea that someone could implant a chip in your brain and see everything you see and know everything you think is a special type of hell. Because then you would be afraid to think, and if you're afraid to think, how are you a human?
If I'm thinking in terms of Black Mirror, he could get inside her head, so she could remain a couple steps ahead of him; in this, you're dead in the water. He knows exactly where you are, he knows exactly what your plan is. It's such an invasion of the self that there is no way that you could hold onto yourself, and I found that horrifying. And I think something else this show does that I really love, and you'll see this in later episodes, is you understand why Byron loves this way. Like, for him, that's actually the highest form of love, and for her, the most awful death sentence that you can imagine.
Separate from future seasons of Made for Love, just like the desert that we need to get you out of, we need to save you from these harrowing situations. Maybe something feel good in cold weather.
[Laughs] That's the thing, I guess, and this feels so pretentious to say, but when I like things that toe a fine line, I also hope in the way that, at least in my opinion, how Black Mirror and Palm Springs felt, it is enjoyable. But for sure the parameters are bleak.
Your characters always make the best of it.
As you're saying this, I've been binging Search Party, I've never seen it until this week.
I just finished the new season, so good.
I'm two episodes away. And I love that show so much, but one of the things I really love about it is I'm having a great time watching it and it's also making me anxious. It's very real and grounded, and I love stuff like that. I hope that Made for Love can strike a similar tone in people's hearts, where it's not like eight episodes of Saw. Do you know what I mean?
I do. And that's good to know, because, no offense, I don't think I could watch eight episodes of Saw.
No! It's not at all. The first one it's like, here's everything that is going on, and then in episode two you really get to see how these characters deal with all this.
You mentioned earlier that Ray's character shows up at the end of the first episode. That's got to be pretty cool having Ray Romano play your dad.
It's incredible. I love him so much. He's just such a brilliant actor, such a kind person. Working with him really exceeded my already high expectations.
There's a third main character hanging out with you at his trailer.
Yes! See, Derek, this is the thing, I'm desperate for you to see episode 2. Then you'll see, yes, it's harrowing but then there's some really good stuff in there. One of which is Diane, his synthetic partner.
How would you describe the chemistry between those two?
I can't wait to see more of that.
Anyone who reads this is going to be like, "What is this show about?" One of the things that really struck me about this show as well was that I don't know if I'd seen material about a father and daughter like this. So much of the season is about them coming to terms, because they've been estranged for 10 years, and the show explores that, and I found that to be deeply moving. And then a chance to get to do that with Ray was like a dream.
Another person you're closely working with is Billy, whose performance in Game Night is one of my favorite comedic turns in years.
Oh, he's so good. He's brilliant. The cast in this show is out of this world.
Talk to me about working with him, but then also playing this very dark and mentally and emotionally abusive relationship.
I love Billy. He's so incredible in this show. Billy and I did Black Mirror together. And the way we met was we played husband and wife in this indie film probably like a decade ago that I was entirely cut out of. I never saw it but he told me that I have one line in it — so not entirely cut out! And we had such a ball together. And then when I was doing Once [on Broadway], he was doing Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike next door, so we've known each other for like a decade, and then obviously did Black Mirror. I love Billy, he's so immensely talented and I think people will love him on this show. I really truly worship at the feet of this cast. Every day I kind of couldn't believe that we were all together. It's such a good group of people.
Between the juggernaut that Palm Springs has become and now leading this intriguing new series, does it feel like a big moment in your career? I know sometimes it's hard to feel anything in this world we're currently living in but have you still been able to soak this in?
I think so. I feel so overwhelming grateful to have done both of these things and to be able to share them. I know that sounds sort of like wrought, but I don't know, I feel like this time that we're all going through as a world has just made me really, really aware of the blessings that I have in my life, and that is certainly two of them. I wouldn't say I feel like it's changed my day-to-day. Do you what I mean? None of our days are changed, so, for me, I feel an overwhelming amount of gratitude but my life still feels very much the same.
I've never related more.
Yeah, it's like a weird thing. But I actually think even if there weren't a pandemic it would probably be like that too.
Especially when you are just out in the desert all the time.
Made for Love premieres April 1 on HBO Max.