'Palm Springs': Cristin Milioti on Her 'Groundhog Day'-Esque Film and Sparring With Andy Samberg

Martha Galvan
Cristin Milioti, photographed at a safe distance June 18 in L.A., recalls meeting with Palm Springs co-star Andy Samberg and producer Becky Sloviter a year before getting an official offer: "A half-hour meeting turned into three hours talking about every single subject under the sun."

The singer-actress, who won a Grammy and a Tony nom for her work on Broadway's 'Once,' stars in the time-loop comedy, a Sundance darling that sold for a fest record of $17.5 million and 69 cents: "She just is fearless and intuitive," says the film's director.

For the past three and a half months, Cristin Milioti has been stranded in Los Angeles, shuffling from an Airbnb to a friend's home. The New York-based actress was halfway through shooting the first season of the HBO Max series Made for Love in L.A. when things quickly went south because of the novel coronavirus, particularly in the Northeast. "It has not felt totally safe to return, even though I know New York is on its way back up," she says. "But I have my health, and all I really require is my dog and two suitcases. And I probably don't even need one of those suitcases."

When things return to normal, the NYU dropout can resume chasing EGOT status (she already has a Grammy for the cast album of Once, plus a Tony nom for the show). As the breakout star of the Sundance darling Palm Springs — which sold for a fest record of $17.5 million and 69 cents — she's now upping her big-screen profile. (She played Leonardo DiCaprio's first wife in The Wolf of Wall Street.) Palm Springs, which premieres July 10 on Hulu and is a more cerebral, darker take on Groundhog Day, finds Milioti stuck in a never-ending time loop opposite Andy Samberg. She puts a unique spin on existential ennui with a performance that is equal parts hilarious and reckless. Says director Max Barbakow, "She just is fearless and intuitive and kind and smart."

The 34-year-old New Jersey native spoke with The Hollywood Reporter about her comedian co-star, her dream project that never happened and the worst place she could get stuck in a time loop.

What was your best moment on the film?

Probably the montage with Andy when [my character] finally gives up on everything. Every single scenario was so much fun.

How challenging was it to do the same scenes over and over again but each one with a slight variation?

I kept really extensive notes about what exactly had just happened, what happened that I knew about and what happened that I didn't know about, and I referenced them constantly. I had my script on me at all times.

Do you have a dream project?

[Once stage director] John Tiffany and I were trying to do Sweet Charity together but more based on the Fellini film Nights of Cabiria. We did two workshops, and the Roundabout [Theatre] had signed on, and then it fell apart at the eleventh hour for reasons that I don't understand. That was heartbreaking, for sure.

What profession would you do if not this?

Either a social worker, specifically with children, or I would be one of those people on the boats chucking rotten butter at whaling ships, like extreme environmental activism.

Favorite movie of all time?

Kill Bill: 1 and 2. Those are the two films, but I consider them one piece. I remember sitting in the movie theater watching that and feeling changed afterward, irreversibly changed. I must have been 17. Something like that.

What was your very first job?

I was 13, and I worked at a party supply store called Party Warehouse, and they had me in charge of restocking. I was on rolling ladders lifting huge boxes of rubber Batman masks from shelf to shelf with cockroaches and spiders and came out covered in dirt. I remember hating that job except when they let me work the balloon counter. I worked for a guy named "Teardrop Larry." He had a teardrop tattooed under his eye, and he would smoke inside the store. Not a place to get stuck in the loop.

Describe Andy Samberg in three words.

Hilarious. Fiercely intelligent. And sensitive.

What's next for you?

I'm eager to get back to the show. That is a dream group of people. And then I've been working on an album for a very long time and was halfway through that when the shutdown happened.

Interview edited for length and clarity.

A version of this story first appeared in the July 1 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. Click here to subscribe.