Cristin Milioti Has Many Opinions on the Palm Springs Ending That She’ll Never Share

Warning: Palm Springs spoilers ahead.

Cristin Milioti is an actor’s actor. A theater kid to her core (and not just because she’s a regular at Marie’s Crisis in the Village when living in New York), she broke out nearly a decade ago starring in the Broadway musical, Once. Over the past ten years, her craft transcended mediums, as she landed roles in The Sopranos, FX’s TV adaptation of Fargo, and Martin Scorsese’s The Wolf of Wall Street. Of course, she never entirely left the stage behind: In 2015 she starred in David Bowie’s bizarrely sensational off-Broadway musical, Lazarus.

This month, it’s back to film for Milioti in the delightful, time-bending Palm Springs, streaming now on Hulu. Milioti plays Sarah, the no-bullshit, wine-drinking thirty-something (in another world, she’s your new best friend) who meets Nyles (Andy Samberg) at her younger sister’s wedding. After an ill-fated evening walk into a beckoning desert cave, Sarah wakes up only to realize … it’s still the morning of her sister’s wedding. So begins life with Nyles in this infinite time loop, where every “new” day reveals more about Sarah and her past. Between Samberg and Milioti, hilarity ensues, of course: there’s a dance montage, a chaotic hook-up, and a slew of ridiculous death scenes. (Because, hot tip, you can’t die in a time loop!) But as the days go on (and on) and their relationship develops, it’s clear that the film’s message is about something much more relevant. And not just because viewers can relate to the monotony of life in the time of quarantine and lockdowns—where every day feels the same for many—but because it explores what it means to be forced to sit with your flaws. It’s a film ripe for fan theories, which seem as infinite in number as the days in their alternate universe.

Recently, the actress sat down with to discuss the existential comedy (she prefers this description over “rom-com”), the problematic love stories of our youth, and why she’ll never ever share her personal opinions on that ending.

I watched Palm Springs twice. I have many questions. Tell me a bit about how the part of Sarah came to you.

I knew Andy and was always a huge fan of his. I was called in to have a general [meeting] with our fantastic producer, Becky Sloviter. She was working with [The Lonely Island’s production company] Party Over Here—that’s who produces Pen15, which is an incredible show. And Tim Robinson’s, I Think You Should Leave

That show is unreal.

It’s incredible. So I met with them to see if we were interested in possibly collaborating with each other, either with me writing something or acting in something. It was just sort of a, “Hi, here’s where I’m from,” sorta thing. It was supposed to be a half hour and it turned into three hours. We talked about every single subject under the sun, and I left there sort of feeling like, What a blast, what a great group of people. A couple of days later, they emailed me the script and asked if I’d be interested, and I read it and flipped out for it. I told them I would love to, I would be so interested … and then I never heard anything. I assumed that they had gone to someone very fancy. Months and months and months passed, and I would check in on it every now and then, and I sort of had to let it go. And then I was on a trip in Africa with my best friend and we had no Internet. I never looked at my phone and I checked it once every five days to make sure that everyone in my family was happy and alive. And one day, I had 10 voicemails and a bunch of emails and texts being like, “You got this movie! Are you alive? Where are you?” It was really thrilling.

Tell me what in particular you loved about this role and the way your character was written.

I was first attracted by the people who were involved, obviously. I really clicked with Andy and I really clicked with Becky. I thought Andy Siara’s script was brilliant, and I’d never read anything like it. I really kind of went on the same journey that I hope the viewer goes on, which is the amount of left turns and surprises. But the role of Sarah I really flipped for because she’s so human. She’s a complete spectrum of a human being. You see the good and the bad and the ugly. And she is allowed to be flawed and she is allowed to be as funny and as irreverent as Nyles, and that really appealed to me. She’s not like the strong woman trope or the manic pixie trope. She’s just a human. And that’s the stuff that I have always wanted to play. And I love that. I love how flawed she is. And she’s majorly flawed. She does a lot of really shady stuff. And you also feel for her.

It’s all of these things coexisting at once that make it so real and so much more relatable.

She has real fire in her too. I got to show so many different sides of her. I really, really loved playing her. I think also one of the things that I love about it—even though I know it’s sort of marketed as a romcom, I’ve always thought of it as an existential comedy—that this is a story about two people who are desperately trying to run away from themselves, and are put in a situation where they can’t. She is just boiled in her own shame and anger, and she refuses to take responsibility or any culpability for why she has ended up in the position that she’s in. And I’m not just talking about the time loop, I mean in her life. She’s always throwing blame, she’s always drinking it away, or fucking it away, or whatever. But she goes on this journey of realizing that you have to save yourself, that you have to govern your own shit, that no one is going to swoop in and save you.

Weddings are marketed to us and relationships are marketed to us, especially as young women, that the Knight on the horse comes to get you.

I think a lot about the romances that I watched as a kid. I mean, Jesus – The Little Mermaid. Think about that. They take away her voice, and then she’s finally with the guy she’s with, and then they’re like, You have to say goodbye to your family. And then she says goodbye to her whole family and just … waves goodbye into the sunset. Pretty Woman, same thing, deeply problematic. Julia Roberts, incredible queen of cinema. However. They just never deal with, I don’t know, any of the PTSD she’d have from being a streetwalker. Like a street prostitute. And there’s just this implication that once you meet that person, you can finally have yourself, that you’re waiting for this person to give you yourself. I think what I love about this film is that [Sarah] chooses [Nyles]. They choose each other, and they’re there, warts and all. They see all sides of each other. Without giving anything away, at one point she says, “I will be okay without you.” She finally takes responsibility. She truly pulls herself up by her bootstraps and stops feeling sorry for herself and stops making excuses. And I think that’s universal. We all go through times in our lives where we are trying to escape ourselves and something I like to think of for Sarah and Nyles is that there’s no walking off into the sunset moment. They’re going to continue to be in the process of this.

Right. That the work is ongoing, and it always will be.

Weddings are marketed to us and relationships are marketed to us, especially as young women, that the Knight on the horse comes to get you. It doesn’t leave any room for humanity. We’re all flawed, and we’re all struggling with stuff, and we’re all processing things. And we’re all evolving at all times—if we’re lucky. We all have our history and our traumas and our vulnerabilities and our joys and our dreams and our hopes. It’s positive and negative qualities, if you can even call them that. I think they just are what they are.

It must be hard to do press for a film like this, because you don’t want to give anything away. But it’s just so ripe for fan theories and it leaves so much to interpretation. Do you have your own opinions as to what happens in the end? In the seconds between the final scene and end credits, my opinion changed!

Oh my God, I have a trove of opinions and I would never speak to them. Because I think that’s one of the most beautiful parts about the film. There are many moments of ambiguity—or not even ambiguity—but something that is left up to the viewer’s interpretation. In terms of the end, I have a wildly different opinion about what it is than Andy. And Andy has a different opinion than Andy Siara and Max [Barbakow, the director]. And all of our opinions are valid. That’s my favorite type of stuff to consume as a viewer. I love digging inside of the gray area of life. It’s the most uncomfortable. I think when you can portray that in a movie or TV or in a book or in a song—I’m all for it.

So then what do you hope for the audience?

That it just sparks joy. I find it to be dark and weird and funny and moving. And I think that even if we weren’t in a situation as a human species where many of us, it seems, are repeating the same day over and over. I think that all of us can relate to wanting to run away, and wanting to escape, and wanting to not sit in the shit.

Sit in the discomfort of your past, of your present, of the fears you have about the future. I think that the only way out is through. And if people are able to take that away, Amen. And if they laugh while it happens and if they’re moved and if they’re made to have discussions about what this part means, and what this part might mean, and what this signifies—all the better.

How much research goes into playing a part like this? We’re talking time loops, quantum physics, parallel universes—the list goes on.

There’s the logic of the time loop itself, which they did a bunch of painstaking research on. The physicist I speak to in the movie is an actual quantum physicist who worked with them on this monologue that my character used to have. Three pages that explained everything about how a time loop works. I did a ton of research so that I would really understand every single thing I was saying. And the monologue kept changing depending on the physicist they’d talk to. They would send the monologue along to physicists who would add things in there. I was just rehearsing it constantly. In the shower, while cooking, while taking my dog for a walk, just speaking these theories to myself out loud so that I really understood. And we filmed it. And it was a three-page speech, including a drawing that I did. I think that part is still in there a little bit. I draw on a mirror with lipstick. Well that used to be the whole thing of me making that drawing and explaining each single part of it and different theories and all this stuff. And it was all cut. But it was moot, you know?

There were a couple of things like that. There used to be a speech my character gave about how marriage is a sham. It was just a lot about how it was a product of the patriarch, and the biggest wool that’s pulled over women’s eyes is that they’re made to think that. I remember when I saw it, I was like, Nooo! But then I also kind of understood, You know she feels that way. I think it’s the same thing with the quantum physics speech—it didn’t matter. All that matters is the journey these people are going on.

Another thing about the time loop mechanism: It’s very open to interpretation about how long they’re in there, you know, with a giant asterisk. I mean, I don’t even want to say that. It’s so hard to do press for this film without spoiling it.

To be honest, I don’t even know what you’re ruining because I have about 5,000 different thoughts of what could have happened.

Right. Watching it with an audience at Sundance for the first time—we watched it in a movie theater with 400 people. And no one knew anything about it. We’d done two days of press and had gone above and beyond—much to the chagrin of like everyone who interviewed us—where they were like, “What is this about?” And we were like, “We can’t tell you.” We would talk about how much fun it was to film—we could like talk about things that were sort of vague, almost adjacent. And it was so worth it. This is why I’m always so reticent to discuss it. When that audience saw it, watching them go through all the reactions to this film was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life. Because it was the same reaction I had when I read it. All the turns, all the things that are funny, all the things that are sad, all the things that are shocking—hearing a group of 400 people react in that way was incredible.

Watching [the audience] go through all the reactions to this film was one of the most gratifying experiences of my life.

Because they loved it the way that you did.

And little did we know that was the last time we’d all be in a movie theater together. Though it was not the last movie I saw.

What was the last movie you saw?

The last movie I saw in theaters was The Hunt starring my brilliant genius friend, Betty Gilpin. Oh my gosh, she’s amazing. And she did such an incredible job in that film. And that was the last movie I saw in theaters. Because that was the weekend of shut down.

That’s wild. How was it working with Andy?

Obviously, the montage was as fun as it looks. That was a blast, for sure. But I do think that campfire scene – Andy said in an interview we did a week ago, that it felt hypnotic. And I thought that was such an apt description for it, because it did. We shot that at three in the morning, out in the middle of the desert. The cameras were weirdly far away from us. And we could get so lost in that scene and in the journey of those people. It really felt like we could sort of let go. We’d also spent so much time with the characters by then. It just felt so, so beautiful. That was such a beautiful scene to get to shoot together. That was one of my favorite memories. And the dance sequence. But I gotta say, the dramatic stuff that we do was a blast. It doesn’t feel like a blast in the current moment when you’re going to those places, but we were so in sync as a pair, and I think that we would really just throw down.

Was it fun to meet that challenge?

Well, that’s one of my favorite moments of the film, that scene. Because to me, you’re in the process of really examining some stuff about yourself. One of the things I love about this film is they really gave a lot of thought to how someone would try to escape the monotony of waking up every day. Which you could say is a metaphor for one’s life, maybe at certain times. And you fight it. You fight, you fight, you fight. Then you acquiesce. Then you do a bunch of drugs. You’re partying hard. You’re like,Well, who cares? Doesn’t matter. And then you start getting a little uncomfortable. Then you start getting into the mud. And that’s what that scene is. And so I loved it.

I also feel like it’s also such a window into who those people are. So it is a type of fun. Definitely while doing it I’m not like, Woohoo! I love going to these places! I love acting, so I do love going to those places, for sure. But I don’t know if I would categorize it as… it’s a very specific type of fun. It’s not even fun. I don’t know. It’s very hard to describe it. But I loved us going toe to toe in that scene.

You guys have great chemistry.

I was very blessed. That was something that came very easy to us because we’re also friends.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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