It has been pointed out to Cristin Milioti that she is the unofficial, unintentional Queen of pandemic entertainment that cuts just a little too close in times like these. In Palm Springs, she teamed with Andy Samberg to combat a time loop where every day felt exactly the same. And now, in the HBO Max series Made For Love (which premieres April 1), Milioti’s character, Hazel Green, tries to escape 24/7 lockdown in the luxurious cage where her tech-billionaire husband (Billy Magnussen) has put them. One where every emotion, activity, and even orgasm is tracked and analyzed to try and engineer a perfect experience for her. But, of course, you can’t engineer perfection. Or love.
The show, it should be pointed out, is a comedy. A highly original one based in a near-future of tech overreach that’s poked at with ample doses of absurdity, cleverness, faux contentment, and a fed-up, on the run Milioti who is risking it all to get disenthralled from a psycho Silicon Valley billionaire who treats her like a rabbit in Of Mice And Men.
Milioti is, herself, not thrilled by the rapid slide toward a more engineered and algorithmic society of hacked emotions and monitoring. You know, for a better user experience. She’s pretty jazzed about getting the chance to fire off a gun, wield an ax, interact with a dolphin, and play a role that is the direct 180 from the kinds of woman-as-accessory-roles that still linger in film and television. We spoke with Milioti about all of that, her music, and her nuanced take on the Oscars and the awards industrial complex in a delightful conversation.
Are you suspicious of big tech?
Wildly. I think it’s really bad. It scares me, it scares me that there are no regulations. It scares me that even when I will download an app for my phone and it asks me to agree to that thing and I scroll scroll scroll scroll because I’m in a hurry to get the thing on there, that what am I even agreeing to? How does it know… it shows me ads for things that it’s heard me talking about. I don’t like it. I don’t think it’s good. I think obviously there are huge parts of technology that have changed our lives for the better. Look at how fast we were able to get this vaccine that’s going to save lives. Clearly, things like this [Zoom calls]. I’ve always had a very hateful relationship toward social media. But then, with everything that went on last summer and everything that happened with the election and Black Lives Matter, I was able to access information and hear voices that I wouldn’t have heard without it. So I saw the benefit of it and also I think it’s rotting our brains. I don’t like that people are monitoring us. I want to burn all the phones. My hope is that after this time we will have a return to…that people will also feel this way and want to throw their phones in the ocean and go for walks without them. I don’t know. Maybe it’s just me. I’m so sick of it. [Laughs]
I’m in the same boat. I never thought I would be as connected as I am and I’m very put off by it as well. All this access to information, though. Like you say. I remember when I first really got into social media was like with Egypt and Tahrir Square and seeing that at three o’clock in the morning was such an intense moment of people pushing to be free. And then you realize 10 years has gone by and most of the time it’s just everyone’s angry, you’re trying to figure out why they’re angry and if you’re angry, and do you want to be performatively angry? It’s a weird world.
I was talking about this earlier today, I’m a really avid reader and I have seen that on days where I have to be more on Zoom or on my computer or on my phone, when I go to sit down and read at night I feel it affects the way I’m able to take in words on a page and that really flips me out. Not to have a very dark conversation here, it’s just, I’m like, well if this is happening to me, what is happening to toddlers who are on their screens? I want to shoot it into space.
I find myself in scan mode, even when I’m pleasure reading. Looking for the point of interest.
I had a horrifying experience at a restaurant where I had the menu and I went like this [gestures as though she’s trying to enlarge]. It’s not good. Did you watch The Social Dilemma?
It’s a documentary on Netflix, which LOL. You wanna talk about spying and algorithms. But they interview major players that defected from Facebook and Instagram and Twitter and it’s sort of about how, it’s all unregulated, what they have access to, how everything with the 2016 election happened with social media and all the things we know. But you watch it and it’s all the things you know, but it goes even further and it made me really want to chuck my phone in the ocean. I mean, not in the ocean because I really respect the ocean. It makes me want to, again, shoot it into space.
Yeah, thank God this isn’t on Facebook Watch. So this show, Palm Springs to a certain extent, your episode of Black Mirror, all fall into a specific type of sci-fi. And you’re talking about big issues. Toxic relationships and being stuck in our own failure loop and stuff like that. Is there a concerted effort to use sci-fi to have those big conversations?
You know, I always get attracted to the role. Obviously, it’s about the quality of the piece and who else is involved, but it’s really the role for me. And Hazel and Sarah and Nanette all feel wildly different, even though I totally know that there is a sci-fi element to it, [it’s] completely unintentional. I also feel that the three things that at least united those projects for me was that I never read anything like them. They were all so wild to me, and I think that’s something that also really attracts me to things when I haven’t seen anything like it before.
What are roles you’re absolutely not interested in playing?
The wife or the girlfriend. [Laughs]
You’ve done those.
I did my time [laughs]. I mean, that’s a generalization. Of course, there are, you know… I think that I have a real aversion to when I read something and the female roles in it are treated as an accessory. Obviously, there are roles where you’re a wife or a girlfriend that are actually moving and heartbreaking and [they’re] full people. But I think sometimes I’ll read things and be like, have you ever met a woman? Or, is the point of this just that she supports everything while she’s drying a dish? Obviously, that’s changing, but I think those are the things that I’m blessed enough to be… I’m able to be choosier now and I want the meaty [roles]. I want to run around and dive into water and interact with a dolphin and fire a gun. I don’t know, I want to do a bunch of crazy shit. And I think that I’m not interested in being an accessory is the only way I guess I could describe it.
I thought Palm Springs got robbed with the Oscars. I’m curious, is it important to you at all to get a nomination like that, to be recognized for work? Is it a validation, or is it just about the opportunities that might open up? What is the perspective of being someone who is in awards-worthy work that maybe doesn’t necessarily get all the recognition it needs? A little bit of a loaded question.
I know. I’m trying to be like… I have a lot of feelings about it. Because it’s a slippery slope, right? I think by its very creation an award system speaks to the kid in all of us, that of course you grew up watching it and you want to be recognized by your peers. It also opens doors to projects that wouldn’t be opened for you, for sure. But I think my feelings about it… When you see behind the curtain a bit more, you begin to realize. A perfect example for me was, well two things I’m going to use. Parasite, right? Parasite won Best Picture. Parasite was astonishing. The fact that that cast, which those are some of the best performances I’ve seen. They’re astonishing. And they didn’t have access, it seems like, to the same whatever back-patting systems go on with the HFPA systems that are in place. And another one is did you ever see Krisha?
No, I didn’t.
It’s a great movie. And the performance of it is this woman (Krisha Fairchild), she may be in her sixties, and it’s this really low budget thriller. Her performance is mind-bending. And the movie had no money and it went to South by Southwest and it just didn’t… I think it wasn’t given the multimillion-dollar machine that is put behind the things that are awarded. And listen, sometimes things are awarded like Parasite is a perfect example where you’re like, “oh my God hallelujah.” And then other times you scratch your head. And of course, it’s both things, sometimes work gets honored that I think deserves to get honored and sometimes I see work get honored that to me speaks to a system that is flawed. And Krisha was an experience where I saw that woman’s performance and she was not a part of any awards conversations and she gave one of the best performances I’ve ever seen. But she wasn’t invited to the party. And also sorry, not to get on a high horse, but art in and of itself is so subjective, how can you compare it and award it and compare performances? And I think that’s a toxic way of looking at something that, by its very nature and at its best, should be open to interpretation. And also I’m going to love a performance that maybe isn’t for you. There’s a rigidity to it and a sheen to it and a PR machine aspect to it. I think I have begun to… it’s begun to matter less and less. But of course, all of us want to get invited to a party and toast champagne with George Clooney. It preys on a thing that is totally natural, you know? So it’s complex, I think.
It definitely is. I think it’s also, to an extent also I think there’s a curation aspect to it where that badge makes certain art pop off the page to people and they’re maybe more apt to interact with it and actually see it. But yeah, there are a lot of negatives to it. It’s really hard to put artists against artists and art against art. It’s weird.
It feels wrong. And also, there’s so much of that in this industry anyway. When you’re up for a job, you get this call and they’re like “Alright, you’re in the final three. It’s you, this person, and this person.” And my brain used to go to a place of like, it’s so competitive. When really we’re being pitted against each other. And to see the ways in which we’re celebrated to also in a way be pitted against each other is like, I just don’t get it. I wish that there was an award show that just honored the things that made you feel something and wasn’t this whole, is the phrase dog and pony show?
But I also understand that there’s an industry built on it. It’s like advertising. I remember, I was a part of the Tonys when I was in this musical and I remember thinking that it felt really weird. Of course, it felt like a huge honor because I’d grown up watching the Tonys, but there was also something about it that was weird. That you go around and you shake hands and you’re put into competition with shows that have nothing to do with your show. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. I don’t know, I could talk about it forever.
Obviously, acting is very much this too, but doing the Bon Iver cover song and also just listening to you do songs from Once… How do you find your voice when you’re trying to interpret work that’s so obviously out there and people know exactly what it sounds like and you have to come at it from your own perspective?
I think it’s one of my favorite things to do, kind of. I think that sometimes, like with that Bon Iver song, I listened to that song a lot at a very specific time in my life and it sort of was one of those songs that shattered me when I first heard it. And that also I came to depend on. Like the songs you listen to over and over to get you through a certain period of time. Then I started performing it live at different venues in New York and LA and it always felt like I don’t know, it could be your favorite painting or your favorite poem or something. It moved me immensely and it helped me to make sense of things. And I also think it’s such an extraordinary song that it also would take over. And I felt sometimes performing it like I was just a conduit. Which is also such a good feeling for this thing that everyone in the room has felt at one moment or another. And that song to me is also like, I think the way he plays with memory is really… that song to me is like memory. And the ways in which you turn memories over and over in your brain don’t think too much about “how am I going to interpret this?” I sort of let it guide me. That was something I just played around with and then played with different synthesizers and found my way to it, but had been performing for a while. I mean also, it’s so different even just by nature of he’s using that vocoder that he developed, which I love. And then I’m a woman at a piano with a synthesizer from the 80s. By nature, it’s going to be different. [Lauhgs] And we’re different people. That whole album is like, whew. That song is beautiful. And performing it was also as healing as listening to it.
‘Made For Love’ begins streaming on HBO Max on April 1.