When Cristin Milioti made her debut as the Mother on the eighth season finale of CBS’ How I Met Your Mother, she made headlines across the world. But other than fans of Broadway (where Milioti was nominated for a Tony last year for her leading role in the musical Once), and NBC’s 30 Rock (where Milioti made a lasting impression as a “sexy baby” comedienne), the 28-year-old actress remains largely an unknown. To most HIMYM fans, in fact, she is simply just the Mother.
Within her first week in Los Angeles to shoot the ninth and final season of HIMYM, however, Milioti nearly gained notoriety for something else entirely.
“I was almost arrested for drunk driving,” she says.
Milioti recently sat down with me for her first wide-ranging interview since landing the one of most highly anticipated roles in television. A dyed-in-the-wool New Yorker, with enormous, expressive eyes and a natural amiability, she was still adjusting to life as a Los Angeles driver, including navigating the city’s byzantine street parking signs. “I got four parking tickets my first week,” she says with a laugh. “I mean, I can read. I can speak English fairly well. But I got very confused by the poles with the five different [parking] signs on them. I got a ticket right in front of my house, because I didn’t see the street sweeping [sign]. Another time, I didn’t turn my wheels [on a hill]. I didn’t even know about the wheel turning!”
And then there was the evening when Milioti was driving at 15 miles per hour in her brand-new Mini Cooper on Fountain Avenue, trying to find her friend’s street after a partaking of a local sushi bar. “I was stone-cold sober,” she says. “I got flagged into a DUI checkpoint. And then I couldn’t figure out how to open the window, because I had just gotten the car, like, an hour before. So they thought I was drunk. I failed all the sobriety tests, because I have terrible balance and I couldn’t stop laughing, like crying laughing. They made me take two Breathalyzers because they didn’t believe me, and I blew a 0.00. Apparently, my pupils in their resting state look like someone who’s twice the legal limit. It was a really traumatic first few hours.”
When I ask if she was ever worried about TMZ showing up, she looks at me as if I’d asked if she’d ever seen a Cockamouse. “No. I mean, not at all,” she says. “They would be like, ‘Small, Vampire-Looking Young Man Is Pulled Over. No One Cares!’”
After HIMYM’s two-part season premiere on Sept. 23, however, a lot more people are going to care about Cristin Milioti. To give you a head start, here are 10 things about her you need to know now.
1. She went to New York University to study acting — and quickly dropped out — but her real passion is music.
Milioti grew up in a New Jersey exurb of Philadelphia, where she would go with friends “to smoke Capri Slims and walk around with hemp necklaces on.” She performed in high school plays, saw her first Broadway show at 16, and decided to study acting at NYU — but she dropped out within a year. “I was so unhappy there,” she says. “There were, like, 30 kids in acting class; half of them weren’t even theater majors. I just was really itching to get out and do stuff, and I think I also had done really poor research. Like, I didn’t know there was a place like Juilliard. I think that’s what I thought [NYU was like] — you just do acting all day. This was like, you take, hard classes, in subjects I wasn’t prepared for — which I actually wish I paid more attention to.”
In point of fact, Milioti says she’s actually been singing far longer than she’s ever thought about pursuing acting as a career. “I’ve sung for way longer than I’ve acted,” she says. “I sang in bands all throughout high school and loved it.” Her father, who runs an IT business, had worked as a recording studio engineer, and always had music playing in the house, even at breakfast. “He introduced me to Adele. Like, he knows things before anyone. He’s really plugged into that world.”
But as Milioti’s theater career began to take off in New York — first with a production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore in 2006, followed largely by a series of off-Broadway plays — there was one arena Milioti struggled to break into. “I auditioned for musicals and no one would have me,” she says. “I couldn’t get called back for a musical to save my life. The closest I ever got was Spider-Man.” That all changed when she booked the lead role of The Girl in the Broadway adaptation of 2007 indie-folk musical sensation Once. “That’s the style of music that I really love.”
3. Playing the “sexy baby” on 30 Rock was “the best job ever.”
When Milioti auditioned for the role of hyper-sexualized female comic Abby Flynn for NBC’s 30 Rock, she was at a bit of a loss for how to dress for the part. “I had no sexy clothes,” she says. “I had, like, skinny jeans and, like, a flannel shirt that I did a ’90s knot with, and, like, a ponytail.” She got the part anyway, and it quickly became a breakout role.
“That was one of the best working experiences I’ve ever had,” she says. “I’m shocked at weirdly how much that episode did for me. All of a sudden, I was being seen for things. I’d never done comedy before either; it opened up those doors. It was everything I hoped it would be.”
5. She caused a mess trying to kiss Leonardo DiCaprio during her screen test for The Wolf of Wall Street. (And she got the job anyway.)
Last year, Milioti auditioned for Martin Scorsese’s film The Wolf of Wall Street, to play the first wife of Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), before he became a high-flying stockbroker. When she didn’t hear back, she thought that was that. Then right before the weekend of the Tony Awards, Milioti was asked to shoot a screen test with DiCaprio and Scorsese.
“I had Tonys rehearsal at 7 a.m. to, like, 10:30 a.m.,” she says. “And [then] I put a ton of makeup on and did my hair and put on some high heels and went to this three-hour session.…We went to this room, some weird place on 36th Street and 11th Avenue, and there was a camera, and I was mic’d, and there were, like, three different makeshift sets for different types of scenes. There’s this scene where we’re both making coffee in the morning, and he’s stressed about finding a job, and so I’m helping him look for jobs. We had this little table set up with two Dunkin’ Donuts coffees, and [Scorsese] is like, ‘Just improvise a morning at home.’ So we were sitting there, and he put his arm around and sort of touched the back of my head, and I thought he was gonna go in for a kiss, so I was like that” — she closes her eyes and opens her mouth — “and he didn’t come in at all. And then I spilled my coffee, and they had to cut and reset everything. I was so nervous. I’d also just seen Titanic in 3D a couple weeks before with my friend, and when I walked in I was like, ‘Ugh, from the boat!’ and then two seconds later I was fine.”
Needless to say, Milioti booked the part. “I found out about it the morning after the Tonys, when I was dry-heaving in my bathrobe from having had so much to drink.” She smiles. “The universe had balance.”
10. She’s also been recognized on the subway — and at Carnegie Hall. And she doesn’t ever expect to get used to it.
A few weeks after the episode aired, Milioti went to see her friend, comedian and filmmaker Mike Birbiglia, perform a one-night-only show at Carnegie Hall. (Birbiglia had cast Milioti as his sister in his 2012 semi-autobiographical film Sleepwalk with Me, based on a story Birbiglia did for the public radio series This American Life.)
“He and Ira Glass served ice cream outside at the end of the show,” she says. “So I was waiting [in line] with the guy who sort of co-directed Sleepwalk with Me with Mike near the ice cream stand until everyone departed so we could say hi. One person was standing in line next to me and sort of did a little head tilt: ‘I’m so sorry, are you the Mother on How I Met Your Mother?’ I was like, ‘Um, yeah,’ and it went from one person to, like, 25 people. That was a fluke.”
Or, maybe not. “The next day,” Milioti continues, “my boyfriend and I were getting out of the subway, and this girl sort of cartoonishly held the doors open to the subway. She was like, ‘Are you the Mother?!’ I was like, ‘Uh, yeah.’ And she was like, ‘It’s so nice to meet you!’ and then went back into the subway.”
It’s been that way for Milioti, a series of lovely encounters with fans who are just happy to see her. “People ask for hugs a lot,” she says, “which is really amazing. They say, ‘It’s so lovely to meet you after all this time. Would you just mind giving me a hug?’ … I haven’t had anyone be, like, ‘We thought they’d get someone with a better face!’”
Milioti is steadfast in her determination to not let this “dream role” overwhelm her life. “I don’t think it will,” she says. “I don’t mean that in any way to sound naïve, or disrespectful, or in denial at all: It doesn’t feel like it will. Truly, it hasn’t even crossed my mind. Even when I was recognized, it was a novelty for me. Like, Oh my god, this is so weird. But no. I guess I really don’t think that it will. Maybe that’s crazy.”
For his part, Bays isn’t worried (or if he is, he’s not admitting it). “It’s been really nice seeing [Cristin] turn this heretofore unknown girl into a real character,” he says. “Every scene she’s done with us so far has been so lovely. I look forward to the rest of the world getting to see it.”
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