Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan chats with Modern Love’s Cristin Milioti about what her character is really looking for in a man, and what makes the actress squirm (it isn’t the pee stick in her episode!).
In some romantic comedies, the doorman with the heart of gold might be the heroine’s love interest, the one she should have been with all along. But Modern Love‘s first episode titled “When the Doorman is Your Main Man” explores something more than a romance, a genuine friendship spanning many years between the resident and the person who protects her building.
Maggie (Cristin Milioti) moves to New York to be a book critic and the last thing she expects is to find out she’s pregnant. But it isn’t the relationship with her baby’s father that becomes the one that shapes her; instead it’s the one with her doorman Guzmin (Laurentiu Possa). Theirs is a knowing friendship that doesn’t even need words sometimes, just a look. It proves that love comes in many shapes and forms.
I had a chance to chat with Milioti about what it was like to work with showrunner John Carney in her guest acting role, whether the pee stick scene makes her squirm in the age of COVID-19, and the irony that her ill-fated romance is with a man named Ted (a nod to How I Met Your Mother?).
Awards Daily: You’re in my favorite episode [of the limited series]. And it’s the first one right off the bat. Did you know that you were going to be in the first episode of this new, slightly experimental show? And if so, how did you feel about that?
Cristin Milioti: I had no idea that that was going to be the first episode. I think they told me maybe six months after we wrapped. [Showrunner] John [Carney] reached out and let me know. I was very honored and excited.
AD: It really sets the tone for the whole thing. And it’s memorable. When it came to the auditioning process for this show, did you know which characters you were going out for ahead of time? Did you have a choice? I could have easily seen you as Anne Hathaway’s part, too.
CM: Oh, no, John just reached out and asked if I wanted to do it! He emailed me and said I’m doing this show. And we knew each other peripherally because of Once [Broadway show she was in], and we’d met the night of the Tonys. He came to see the show Once before, but he and his father came to the Tonys and we met that night and chatted briefly. I’d always been such a huge fan of his. I didn’t know him well and out of the blue I got this email from him. “Hey, it’s John. I’m doing this show for Amazon. There’s this episode based on this article about a woman and her relationship with her doorman. I’m gonna send you a script. Would you be interested?” It was really that simple. And I read it, and said, “Yeah, where do I go?” It was wonderful.
AD: What do you think Maggie is looking for in a man? When she meets Ted, she makes a compromise in that he doesn’t like to read, but he’s good looking. Why does she pursue him anyway? I do think it’s funny that his name is Ted, too.
CM: Because I think that’s what we’re told to do. And I always felt like, and this is just my own opinion, when Guzmin says at the end, ‘I was always looking at your eyes; it was never about the men,’ I think that she had to learn to love herself and stop looking to be saved by this parade of men. I think she bought into this fairy tale that we’re all told, which is that you meet someone and suddenly you’re saved. Of course, you meet people all the time who change your life for the better, but you gotta save yourself. I think she does, her going through motherhood alone and proving [it] to herself. I think she has reserves of inner strength that she didn’t know she had. And once she’s able to take herself seriously and see that she can do this, and see that she’s okay, then she sees that she doesn’t have to deal with fuckboys anymore. (Laughs) But it’s open to interpretation. She’s ignored all these signs with all of them, and she’s so smart and so well-read and so lonely. And I think women—this is nothing new—are told by society that we have to have a checklist and men aren’t told that, and it’s her trying to accomplish these things. These men aren’t what she’s looking for. They’re not even seeing her.
AD: I also think it’s interesting as a single woman myself, when you’re not feeling it with someone, you’re told, ‘Give him a chance.’ That’s also what she was doing.
CM: Oh my god. Absolutely. And all of us have experienced, I know I have, you go on a date with someone and it’s not great, and you give it another try, and it’s better. But I think with her, she’s giving herself over to them completely. She’s dampening who she is. One of my favorite parts of the episode, something John and I talked about, that I really wanted to show, is how she dumbs herself down for them. When she’s on the phone with Ted, when she’s buzzing him up, she puts on a sexy, tired voice, and that’s not who she is. And he keeps saying really dumb things and she keeps pushing it down and pushing it down.
AD: Even when she texts him back, she texts, “Feeling foxy.” Then she changes it to “Feeling horny.” She keeps changing it.
CM: I loved that. She’s not herself around him. She’s not who she is, and I think she’s also reaching toward some fantasy version of herself that she’s been told what she needs to be.
AD: I would be freaked out if the doorman made me feel like I couldn’t leave my apartment. But she never seems annoyed. What do you think she values most about her friendship with Guzmin? Why does she value his opinion?
CM: What I really liked about the relationship between the two of them, I always thought that they were kindred spirits. They were both very lonely and so well-read and so intelligent, and I think they recognized something in each other that is beyond a label. Obviously, they’re friends, but I think they weirdly both move through the world in a similar way. I think that’s what brought them together, and she feels incredibly seen by him. He’ll say, “Teach me something new today.” He’s asking her about her intelligence a lot and what she’s reading, these things that are very important to her. And she is asking him about where he’s from. Some of it you can’t even touch completely. I hate this word, but it’s a “vibe.” I hate that word! But I don’t know how else to say it. An energy, I guess. A similar energy.
AD: I like that. What do you think makes her decide to have the baby? It’s a turning point for her when she makes the decision, since logic and other people would tell her to not have the baby, and she seems to appreciate what other people think, especially since she loves facts and to read books.
CM: John and I talked about this so much, about that moment, why she decides to do that. Something we talked about a lot is that she’s surprised in the moment; she actually wants to keep the baby. But I think part of the overwhelming emotion, the shock, is that she wants to do this. She actually is also acknowledging a thing that she wants as opposed to the thing she thinks she’s supposed to want. That’s never explicitly said, but that’s how I always interpreted it and how I tried to play it.
AD: Guzmin isn’t making the choice for her either. He’s just nudging her. She makes the choice herself.
CM: Right. We went back and forth over that scene a lot, because I felt very strongly–we all did, not just me—I don’t want it to seem at all like he’s telling her what to do. That’s gonna ruin everything! If I saw that on screen, I would shut my television off. (Laughs) What’s so beautiful about their relationship, he sees her for her, and what’s beautiful about that scene is that he’s like, ‘You have options. This is up to you. Yours is the only choice that matters. Don’t listen to me. Don’t listen to your family. Don’t listen to anyone you don’t want to listen to. This is up to you. You’ll have support here, and if you choose to terminate the pregnancy, you’ll have the support still.’ That’s the whole point of being pro-choice. No one takes that decision lightly. No one makes that decision casually. It’s a big, big choice.
AD: Right. On a lighter note, she brings her pee stick to show Ted. So she’s clearly not a germaphobe! Does that scene make you squirm now, in the age of COVID-19?
CM: (Laughs) Oh my god, I didn’t even think of that. Oh, but I’ve been watching old episodes of 30 Rock during this time, because it’s a show that brings immense joy, and I’m making my way through Season 1, and there’s an episode where Jenna seduces this guy she thinks is Jack Donaghy’s boss. And she scoops a plastic spoon into powdered non-dairy creamer and she puts it in her mouth and then licks the spoon and puts the spoon in his mouth. And watching it last night, I thought, Wow! That’s so alarming in this current corona time.
AD: Do you watch your episode of 30 Rock or do you skip it?
CM: Oh, god—no, no, no. I skip over it. No, no, no. I would never, no. Watching myself in things makes me want to quit acting forever. It makes me squirm. I’m not very good at [watching myself]. All I think about is what I did wrong and what I can do better next time. It just makes me mad. So, no, I don’t watch it. Although that was one of the best experiences of my life. I haven’t watched it in 10 years. Probably since it came out.
AD: You were great in that episode! Back to Modern Love, how do you imagine Maggie meets Brandon Victor Dixon’s character at the end? We don’t really learn much about him, other than that he’s the right one for her according to Guzmin and her eyes?
CM: I always imagined that she wasn’t looking [when they met]. She was comfortable in her own skin. She was at this job that she was excelling at and that she was passionate about. I imagined they met in a bookstore, and they just started casually talking, and she was herself. That’s what I always imagined.
Season 1 of Modern Love is available to stream on Amazon.