Nobody’s playing football in the Rose Bowl probably anytime soon, so Cristin Milioti’s taking the field herself.
The Southern California stadium has been turned into a makeshift drive-in movie theater, and Milioti’s checking out a screening of her new movie, the inventive time-loop romance “Palm Springs,” tonight with friends. In socially distanced cars, of course.
“I’ve been to one drive-in before in my life a couple of years ago and I remember having a blast. I just wish there were more of them,” Milioti says.
A hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, “Palm Springs” (streaming Friday on Hulu) is a breakout film role for Milioti. She stars as Sarah, the cynical maid of honor saved from a drunken toast at the wedding reception of her sister (Camila Mendes) by carefree yet nihilistic guest Nyles (Andy Samberg). Sarah and Nyles hit it off, a twilight hookup is interrupted by a mysterious bowman (J.K. Simmons) who shoots Nyles, and a concerned Sarah wanders into a mysterious cave. After, she accidentally gets stuck living the same exact day over and over again – an experience Nyles (and, honestly, everybody right now) knows all too well.
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There is a love story, but Milioti, 34 – the mother from TV’s “How I Met Your Mother” who also was a Tony nominee for the Broadway musical “Once” – views “Palm Springs” more as “an existential comedy,” she says. “It speaks to how often we try to escape ourselves and our lives, and when you’re made to sit in the choices you’ve made or the things that have happened to you, it can be wildly uncomfortable and you try everything in your power to run away from it. The time loop is a perfect mechanism to represent that.
So the movie was “wildly universal” already, “and then obviously all of us having these feelings of repeating the same day over and over, it became eerily prescient in that way as well,” adds Milioti, who was halfway through filming the new HBO Max comedy series “Made for Love” when COVID-19 shut production down.
USA TODAY talks with the New Jersey native, who’s quarantining in California with her dog Rupert (“He’s a terrier mixed with like a Muppet mixed with like he came out of a trash can”), about the new film, bad weddings and Black Lives Matter.
Q: If your own personal quarantine time loop was a movie, what genre would it be?
Cristin Milioti: It would be genreless, honestly. So much has happened during this time, both incredibly shattering and then incredibly galvanizing and hopeful. It would be like a four-hour epic.
Q: What’s the trickiest aspect about acting in a time-loop movie?
Milioti: I had my script on me at all times. Every single scene, I really tried to calibrate it in terms of what (Sarah) knows, what she doesn’t know, because you’re shooting the same “scene” eight times in one day, but it’s entering at eight different points in the movie. You have to just keep really good notes, basically. I had like a tote bag on me at all times that had very marked-up, almost like “Beautiful Mind”-esque scribbles all over my script.
Q: Of all the shenanigans Sarah gets into during her infinite time loop – choreographed bar-room dancing, stealing an airplane, learning quantum physics – what would make your bucket list?
Milioti: I’d probably do a bunch of the stuff she does at the wedding, like really (messing) with people. And maybe the dance sequence as well.
Q: Do you have any wedding horror stories?
Milioti: I was a guest at a wedding once where I didn’t know anyone, and it was a country wedding in this field. You had to take this one-lane country road from the field where they got married to the reception hall. Somehow I ended up at the front of the procession of cars and I crashed my car and kept the entire wedding from getting to the reception. So everyone was two hours late, the bride and groom were just sitting there, and it was very embarrassing.
Q: I saw on your Instagram that you attended the recent Black Lives Matter protests. What was that like?
Milioti: It was beautiful. It’s really a testament to the change that people want to see in this country that 30,000 of us – in just one city on just one day – took to the streets during a global pandemic to demand change and to stand with the black people in this country who have suffered atrocities that are unspeakable. It can be difficult to feel hope in our current climate and that was one thing that I definitely felt that day.
Q: When you finally break free from your quarantine loop, what’s first on your agenda?
Milioti: I want to have dinner with friends at a restaurant. For sure. And I would love to see a concert. I think that’s one of the things I miss the most is seeing live music with a group of people.