For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small-screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
Cristin Milioti has taken a months-long break from Instagram. “I find it very overwhelming,” the 36-year-old actress said over the phone from her New York City home. “It can be wonderful—I understand all of its merits—but I am also aware of the false sense of intimacy it gives you.” So Milioti, whose Golden Globe–nominated sci-fi comedy Palm Springs was a must-watch in 2020, erased it from her phone. And it felt really good. “I’ve noticed that, because we’ve all been inside on our phones for a year and a half—because we had no other choice—everyone is still sort of inside on their phones, even as they walk down the street and on the subway and outside at restaurants,” she added. “I’ve noticed it in myself, too, and I’m waiting for that to thaw a bit.” The Cherry Hill, New Jersey, native’s movie—in which she stars alongside Andy Samberg—was pure pandemic fare: In Palm Springs, Milioti’s character, Sarah, is stuck in a time loop with Samberg’s Nyles, reliving the same wedding over and over again. In reality, Milioti’s main pandemic activity was binge-watching all the television shows she doesn’t usually have time to watch—including a longtime favorite, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.
In April 2021, Milioti’s big follow-up debuted on HBO Max. Made for Love is another sci-fi–esque, dark-minded comedy that follows Hazel Green, played by Milioti, and her tech-bro husband, Byron Gogol (Billy Magnussen). Gogol implants a chip in Green’s head to keep a watchful eye upon his wife—a metaphor for the surveillance upon all smartphone and tech users, but specifically a nod to women whose lives are bound by the patriarchy. Made for Love was such a sleeper hit that it has been renewed for a second season, and Milioti will head to Los Angeles in the fall to film. In the meantime, the actress is learning to see the value in letting go of her ties to technology. “That’s one of my favorite parts about being alive, walking through the world and coming into contact with so many different people and experiences and beings and energies,” she said. “That makes being alive so fun.”
So during quarantine, you actually watched all 14 seasons of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia?
Yes. I’m a huge Sunny fan, I always have been. But because I’m always traveling for work, I just didn’t watch a lot of it in real time. I dropped off around season 7 or 8, and I started from the beginning and I watched all 14. It was wonderful to revisit. That cast is so brilliant. I’m also from there, so I think, like, Oh, I know these people, we all grew up together. I thought that about Mare of Easttown, too, because that’s the accent where I grew up. It’s a South Jersey, Philly, Pennsylvania thing. Like, all my teachers sounded like Mare of Easttown, and a lot of my relatives. It was like an extra level of familiarity.
I also think that Danny DeVito’s performance in It’s Always Sunny is one of the most demented performances I’ve ever seen. The things he’s doing are so almost avant-garde in their rancidness. I don’t know if you’ve seen the episode where he sews himself up into a leather couch completely naked at a Christmas party, to spy on someone. It’s one of the funniest pieces of physical comedy I’ve ever seen.
I feel like you participated in that sort of comedy in Palm Springs.
Oh, thank you. I’ll take that as a compliment. I love physical comedy—I’ll give you a pratfall on a pratfall on a banana peel slip. On that show, I feel everyone in that cast is such a highly skilled physical comedian. Kaitlin Olson—have you ever seen that episode where she does a pratfall into a car and slams her head against the car door? I hadn’t seen that episode in a long time, and I remember thinking, You can’t fake that. She must’ve just thrown herself. And it is so funny. She’s incredible. Her character is deeply depraved. I would say maybe Dennis [Reynolds] is the most depraved, because he’s a straight-up psychopath. He’s a sociopath. But they’re all pretty depraved, which I also like.
Congratulations on Made for Love’s being picked up for a second season. What was it about the script that was so appealing to you?
I’d never read something that was so many things at once. That first episode, to see her as this Stepford wife, completely numb to herself, and then in the same breath to have a Kill Bill adventure with a shotgun and reuniting with a terrible father. There was so much in there that I thought was endlessly interesting. I was also really intrigued by the idea of a woman who’d always lived her life for other people, specifically men. I felt that they were exploring themes in a way that was very left of center and sort of sneaky.
I know I’m the hundredth-millionth person to say this, but when I watched Framing Britney Spears, my jaw hit the floor in a way where—I knew all this intellectually. I think I’ve been doing a lot of unpacking and unlearning of things over the years, because that’s just what happens the older you get, when you’re like, Whoa, why did I think that was okay? There was something about seeing that and realizing that I was 13 and 14 when that was all going on. And to remember that so viscerally: that that’s what you had to look up to, and that’s what you were told was right or wrong. I sat there and kept being like, No wonder we’re all unpacking this stuff. And we had it a hundred times better than our mothers. So yeah, I was very attracted to a story where a woman essentially hits a breaking point with being controlled by men, whether physically, like by her husband, or societally. She reaches a point where she is like, No more of this.
Right, it’s sort of a timeless cautionary tale.
It also speaks to [why] I’ve been off Instagram for like three months. I find it very overwhelming. I’m saying something that millions of people have said so much more eloquently, but it gives you this false sense of intimacy, right? Ultimately, you’re using a marketing tool designed by Mark Zuckerberg. I was also really intrigued by that part of Made for Love, too. Instagram panics me, like, I found myself comparing my life to what I was seeing, and it induces a panic. It’s one of the reasons I finally was like, Oh, I need a break from this, because I love Instagram for learning information I wouldn’t have access to otherwise. I love memes and ridiculous videos of people falling downstairs. I liked being able to see pictures of my friends’ kids who don’t live in New York. But outside of that, I do find it panics me on a deep level, because I’m always wondering if I’m enough or something.