Awards Daily’s Megan McLachlan talks to Cristin Milioti of Hulu’s Palm Springs about Reddit research and gunning for the types of roles men play.
Most recently seen in Amazon’s Modern Love, Cristin Milioti has made a mark playing the girl next door. But in Hulu’s Palm Springs she is the permanent GND to Andy Samberg’s Nyles when they both get trapped in a time loop on her sister’s wedding day (how’s that for a meet-cute?).
This premise sounds perfect for comedy hijinks, especially when both Sarah (Milioti) and Nyles kill themselves over and over again in fantastically horrible ways and attempt to make the day more exciting through outlandish skits (like discovering a bomb in the wedding cake which they, of course, placed there).
But as I discussed with Milioti, underneath the laughs and bad villain accents, there’s a darker veil to these characters, speaking to everything from depression to addiction to commitment issues. Palm Springs is more than just two people on a very long road to love; it’s two people who’ve been on a long journey back to themselves.
AD: Sarah is a character I don’t think we’ve really seen you play before. She’s kind of a mess, but a loveable one. Was that something that drew you to the character, that maybe she’s not the girl next door?
Cristin Milioti: Yeah. I’m blessed enough to be able to be a bit choosy with stuff, and definitely the last couple of years, [I’ve decided] I want to play the types of roles men play. I don’t want to play the accessory to a man’s story. To me, she felt like a full-blooded human. I’m certainly sent things where people’s hearts are in the right places, where they write a [theatrical voice] strong female lead, but it still seems like it’s serving a different type of trope. This felt like a full-blooded human, and that’s what I’m looking for. She gets to go through so many emotions and experiences, and I was so excited to get to explore all those things.
AD: She seems like such a fun character to play. Especially opposite Andy. You guys are so great together. However, she has sex with the groom at her sister’s wedding. Do you think that was a spur-of-the-moment fling or something that’s been going on for some time? And why do you think she engages in that?
CM: Oh my god. No one has ever asked me this.
AD: Really? (Laughs)
CM: I have my own feelings about it. This is going to sound like a weird answer. I’m going to answer the first part. Do I think it’s a long-term affair? I don’t want to say, because I kind of want to leave it up to the audience. But the other part, about why she does that—-I actually did a really big deep dive, which is so weird to share. I scoured the internet and Reddit for people who had been in this situation. I spent hours and hours reading confessionals of people being like, ‘Oh my god, I slept with my sister’s husband or fiance.’ There are so many confessions out there. I poured over them and it all to me came back to the same thing. I think she’s drunk when it happens and is trying to completely numb herself, and her shame is so great and she hates herself so much. I think she can’t believe that anyone can love her, so she lashes out at those who do love her, like her sister. She’s someone who’s spent her whole life numbing herself with drugs and alcohol and sex; this is her rock bottom, which is also why it’s so incredible that that is the day she gets trapped in. This would be the thing that if she weren’t in the time loop you would hope would send her to rehab or make her turn her life around. It does actually because she’s forced to relive it over and over and over.
AD: That’s so funny that you say that, because when I was watching the film, I couldn’t help but feel like it was an allegory for a couple going through addiction together. Even the fact that they both appear to drink a lot. Did anything like that ever seep into your performance, thinking about something bigger like addiction or trauma when it comes to the story?
CM: Oh, god yes. Absolutely. Andy Siara, our brilliant screenwriter, said the film is an allegory for depression, from his perspective. But it’s about not being able to get out of your own way. Whether it’s addiction or shame or trauma or depression or anxiety—truly, pick your poison—it feels sometimes like you’re experiencing the same day over and over and there’s no escape from it, that you have no control over it. There’s nothing you can do to break the cycle. That was one of the things, when I first read the script, I certainly felt that. It’s about wanting to escape yourself. I love that the movie doesn’t actually go into it, but you just know there’s a lot of stuff in Sarah’s past. You’re sort of given a window in, that she lost her mother very young and that she had a failed marriage and that she’s blackout drunk at every event. You can tell she’s in so much pain. I think of the phrase “Hurt people hurt people.” It’s hidden in this existential sci-fi dark comedy, but she’s hurting so bad, and it’s why she hurts people and why she hurts herself. She’s so arrested actually. When we’re in bad mental places sometimes, we’re in the dark black center of our own universe and it’s so easy to drown in your own noise of self-loathing, and I think that’s where we find her. Her journey in this movie is about taking responsibility and culpability and picking herself up, but nothing is going to come along and save her. No amount of cocktails she can drink, no amount of weed she can smoke, no amount of guys she can sleep with.
AD: I have talked to almost everyone from the film, and I’ve asked them about the idea of addiction. It’s so interesting to get different perspectives.
CM: Everyone’s interpretation of it is so different.
AD: I find that interesting, too.
CM: Me, too. It’s really about where you are when you watch it. I know when I read it, I was like, this is such an existential comedy. If you’re in a sadder place or darker place, you’re maybe going to think about depression, addiction more. Or if you’re lonely or you just met someone, maybe you’re going to think about commitment. I felt that way when I read it. How do you fit this many colors into a film?
AD: I totally agree. Sarah is especially upset when she learns that she and Nyles have hooked up before in his time-loop. Why do you think she feels so upset by this? It almost feels like a violation.
CM: I felt that because she’s starting to open up to him, she’s starting to feel like maybe, just maybe, there’s a pinprick of light at the end of the tunnel. Maybe she is loveable, maybe someone would want to spend their time with her. When we fall in love, we feel very special, and she’s someone that doesn’t feel special. She feels like an afterthought to people. Ironically, because of the way that she takes up space, she usually is a bull in a china shop. I think when he said all it took every time was for him to make that same speech, it’s shattering. She feels like “I am a pastime and I got trapped in here.” She shuts down forever with that. That’s one of my favorite scenes when he says that. Something we talked a lot about in rehearsal was that we wanted to make it a very fine line to tow, because he was living in a different existence when that happened, and she was as well, and yet the betrayal of that, especially when she’s asked him so many times. She feels used and I imagine she heard that, and it confirmed her worst nightmare—that she’s disposable.
AD: That breaks my heart.
CM: It’s a heartbreaking scene. But it’s also the thing that gets her leaving.
AD: I love all the science stuff she does. But my favorite scene in the whole film was the dance scene in the bar. What was that like?
CM: Oh, it was a blast. Here we are talking about trauma, depression, shame, and all this stuff. (Laughs) One of things I loved about the film is that you could explore that stuff and then go do a zany dance sequence and tattoo dicks on each other’s backs. Andy and I were talking about this on a panel recently and we were like, ‘That’s life!’ That’s what’s so incredible about being alive. You can’t have the good without the bad, and obviously this film goes to some extremes with that stuff, but it was a blast to be able to go where we needed to go for that site by the side of the road and then two days later do a ridiculous dance sequence that to this day is one of the most fun things I’ve ever gotten to shoot. It was a ball!
AD: I love the last scene in the film. How do you think Sarah handles her past moving forward at the end, dealing with that trauma with her family and that shame?
CM: I feel like it’s open to interpretation at the end. We’re all [Andy Siara, Andy Samberg, and the crew] in disagreement. We all disagree with how it ends. But I think she learns to accept it. I think it probably takes a really long time. The only way out is through. I feel like that’s actually what the time loop does. One of my other favorite parts of the film is the fact that she chooses him; he doesn’t save her. I actually think that is so much more romantic than “I need you.”
Palm Springs is available on Hulu.