Entertainment

Cristin Milioti Is a Sucker for the Unexplained Magical Realism of Hulu's 'Palm Springs'

Milioti stars opposite Andy Samberg in the very funny existential time loop rom-com, 'Palm Springs.'

palm springs cristin milioti
Neon/Hulu

This post contains spoilers for Palm Springs. 

First premiering at Sundance in January, Palm Springs -- the new rom-com from The Lonely Island starring Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti -- was a welcome surprise in more than one way. It was both a respite from the more serious fare that was dominating the festival and a clever, funny, heartfelt spin on an old trope: the time loop. Now, Palm Springs is being released on Hulu and at drive-ins in an environment where sitting in a theater laughing with people feels like a foreign concept, but one where the movie's existential bent is right at home. 

In the comedy from director Max Barbakow and writer Andy Siara, Milioti, best known from her turns on Fargo and How I Met Your Mother, plays Sarah, the disaffected sister of a bride-to-be (Camila Mendes). During the wedding, she hits it off with Nyles (Samberg), the equally disaffected boyfriend of the maid-of-honor. They are about to hook up when something really weird happens: a man tries to attack Nyles with a bow and arrow and a glowing cave appears. Sarah follows Nyles inside and wakes up the same day. Yes, she gets trapped in a loop he's been existing in for some time now. 

For Sarah, the rest of the movie is not just about falling in love with Nyles -- though that happens -- but also about coming to terms with the mistakes she has tried to keep hidden, which she is now forced to confront day after day after day. Palm Springs is also a party, with dance sequences and goofy energy. I recently caught up with Milioti to talk to her about some of the mysteries of Palm Springs.

Thrillist: I saw this movie at the Sundance premiere, which was just one of the most joyful experiences I've had at a festival. 
Cristin Milioti:
Oh my god. That's so wonderful that you were there. I've had a couple of interviews with people who were at that first screening. Obviously, I was there as well. It was a thrilling afternoon, I gotta say. 

The central metaphor of this movie about marriage has taken on almost more meaning in the time of quarantine when couples have been spending all their time together. Has your take on the movie has evolved at all since this all began? 
Milioti:
Interestingly, my take on the movie has not evolved. Because, of course, it's a meditation on commitment and partnership, but I also always thought that one of the main themes of the film and the theme that excited me the most as an actor signing onto it was that you can't escape yourself. Like, I always thought my character's journey was a woman who has to realize that she can never escape herself no matter how hard she tries. I think everyone feels that way, whether or not we're aware of it. But I think people feel that throughout their lifetime, but now because of quarantine we are all sort of wildly aware of that in ourselves. There is truly no escaping yourself. I think that exists quarantine or not. 

Totally. Rewatching the movie, I just thought about waking up every day with my partner and having to negotiate the terms of this situation, which frames it in a new light. Maybe it just makes it more realistic. 
Milioti
: Oh, absolutely. Listen, it's relevancy has been heightened a hundred-fold. I think that people feel like they are waking up to the same thing every single day. It's intense. 

Did you shoot on location? 
Milioti:
We were not in Palm Springs, actually. We were in and around Santa Clarita, which is north of LA. 

What was the filming process like? 
Milioti:
There were parts of it that were certainly arduous because we shot it really fast. Everything that you see that's at night is at like 4 in the morning. We're outside and we're in summer clothes and the desert is 20 degrees at night, which I didn't know because I'm an East Coast child. I didn't know that the desert worked like that. The days were like 110 degrees and the nights were, like, literally 30 degrees. That was wild. We shot it so quickly. We really had to hit the ground running in every take, which I think, while harrowing, sometimes was an excellent lesson. As soon as they call 'action,' you just have to give it everything you have because you may only get one other take.

palm springs
Neon/Hulu

It just seems so well choreographed. Literally choreographed in that there are multiple dance sequences. 
Milioti:
I love the dance. Given all that, we were always running to complete shots and it's cold and one day we got caught in a sandstorm. It was really such an incredible group of people, so it made it so much fun. Everyone, in every single department, brought their all. In terms of visiting the same scene over and over, I had a master script with me at all times with very precise notes about calibrating exactly where she is with having to repeat the same dialogue over and over and over again. Like, whenever I wake up in bed, that was shot in one day. So I'm sitting in a bed and I have a script next to the bed being like, "Okay, in this one, here is everything." I found that to be really exciting, a real challenge. Certainly there were times when I was like, "Wait, this is the eighth time that we are in the car, and at this point, I don't know this but I do know this." It certainly kept me on my toes. And then as far as working with Andy... he's a blast. He's an absolute blast. I felt so blessed to have him as a partner in this. We have very similar senses of humor. We have very similar taste, I think, even in what we both enjoy watching. He was a delight to be around. 

The mysticism is explained but not. There's a dinosaur. There's a magical cave. What were your conversations with the director and writer about the mechanics of the movie? 
Milioti:
That's one of my favorite aspects of the movie. I love that shit. I am a sucker for stuff like that. I'm like, you give me some magical realism and don't explain it. You don't need to. I love that stuff. I don't remember specifically having any conversations about it other than what we're saying now. Like, "whoa, it's so cool." I sort of approached it in the way the character would. It's a spiritual, beautiful, moment. I was always really moved by that moment [with the dinosaur]. I remember reading the script and being like, "Oh my god." It's so weird and so moving to me. And then the way it was done -- I really love the way they did it in the movie. It was better than what I imagined reading the script. I remember when I saw that for the first time I was like, "Yeah, right exactly." It's not for me to say what it represents, I think it's up to the viewer. I also imagine the meaning behind it would shift with each viewing. 

A similar moment is the one with June Squibb, who plays your "Nana," at the end where she says, "Now that you'll be going soon." Your reaction is very strange and moving. 
Milioti:
First of all, June Squibb is incredible. Like, June Squibb is the best. She brings such a gravitas to everything she does but with a light touch, if that makes sense. I was always so moved by that [line] because that can be interpreted in so many different ways. There is a touch of mysticism to it. I'm very into anything that's remotely witchy. There's definitely a weird dose of mysticism that's like, "Oh my god, does she know?" But you could also interpret that in the real world too, the quote-unquote real world: "I guess you'll be on your journey now toward healing."

palm springs
Neon/Hulu

Burritos and beer are a big part of the movie. What would you choose to eat and drink in a time loop? 
Milioti:
Honestly, I mean, I'm a sucker for sandwiches. I know that sounds so basic. I would just probably eat sandwiches for every meal and then probably some good, really heavy pasta. As far as drinking? I love a good Lambrusco. I love a sparkly wine, like an effervescent wine. But then I also love cream soda. I would also be fine chasing down a turkey sandwich with a milkshake, especially in a world where you start over each day you can eat and drink whatever you want. You don't even experience a hangover. 

What is your take on the movie's send-up of a Pinterest wedding? 
Milioti:
I think we've all been to weddings like that. Meredith Hagner's character -- how brilliant is Meredith? -- she has the jewels all over her face. That maid of honor speech is so funny. There's the bridal brunch by the pool. The whole set up of this is how weddings go. Everyone in these same colors and the flower crowns. Though, honestly, I love flower crowns. I am not above a flower crown. I thought that was so funny and so well executed too by our crew. It's so realistic while also being a perfect send-up of those Pinterest-perfect weddings that we've all been to. I don't know. I really loved it. I also loved it because that would be Sarah's worst nightmare. That is that character's worst nightmare, to be stuck at wedding like that. 

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Esther Zuckerman is a senior entertainment writer at Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ezwrites.