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Cristin Milioti: 'I spent my 20s auditioning for wife in background who holds chicken'

In Peacock original The Resort, Milioti is so much more.

Cristin Milioti
Published: Friday, 29th July 2022 at 1:55 pm
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"There's some relief in doing this," says Cristin Milioti of Zoom interviews, before dashing off-camera. A few moments later, she reappears and sinks back into her couch, coffee in hand: "I love that I can just be in my space and we don't have to go to some weird hotel room in a giant Hilton where we're being rushed and fed room temperature cheese. But this delivery was supposed to come an hour ago and of course it's coming now."

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After Milioti offers several sorries, we resume talking about The Resort, an eight-part series from Palm Springs creator Andy Siara. Even if you didn't know this is his work, you'd know, such is its tone and preoccupation with certain themes.

Sam Esmail (Homecoming, Mr Robot), who specialises in the off-kilter, is an executive producer and his presence can also be felt.

Emma and Noah having their photo taken by a hotel staff member in front of the hotel sign
Peacock

Milioti plays Emma, a woman who is severely dissatisfied with how her life has panned out, but can't bring herself to vocalise that crushing frustration. Unlike Emma, certainly in the series' earlier episodes, Milioti has a much more philosophical outlook about the inevitable downturns that all of our lives take at one time or another:

"You can't get through life without experiencing disappointment, from little ones to big ones. You experience loss, you experience disappointment, but you also experience enormous healing and acceptance, and you can't have one without the other.

"But she's not at that second stage yet. She is in a place where she has no coping mechanism to deal with the enormous disappointment that she's feeling in regards to her life, with who she's become and with her marriage. And she would do anything to go back to a time in her life where there were just more doors open, and more of a hallway ahead."

Emma travels to a luxury resort in Mexico with her husband Noah, played by William Jackson Harper. Like his co-star, his CV has steadily gained momentum, with recent projects including The Good Place, Midsommar, and The Underground Railroad.

The Resort was a reunion for the pair. They appeared in a play together "many years ago [as] a couple on the brink of divorce".

Milioti laughs: "It felt like very familiar territory, although they were wildly different characters and wildly different situations."

Emma and Noah standing facing one another, having a conversation in the jungle
Peacock

Emma and Noah should be basking in the glow of their 10th wedding anniversary, but the paradisiacal setting, with its pristine beaches and cocktails on tap, doesn't do its job.

From the moment you meet Emma, you can almost hear the masking tape she's used to patch herself back together straining at the seams, threatening to come undone. This isn't just an archetypal midlife crisis à la Lorelai Gilmore does Wild. There is a weight bearing down on her at all times, refusing to lift, not even for a millisecond.

"It was like a complete light that gets switched off," explains Milioti. "There is a line in the sand of Emma's life before and after, and I think that she is so desperate to not be defined by it, that she ends up being defined by it."

The cause of Emma's melancholy is withheld from viewers until the latter part of the story.

"I found that to be such an interesting frame of mind with which to explore the toxicity of nostalgia," she adds. "Someone recently described nostalgia to me as time sickness, which felt very apt, especially with Emma. And I have enormous compassion for that.

"I'm not in a position like hers, but of course I've felt those things acutely. How can you not when you just are alive?"

Emma and Noah standing in the ruins of an old hotel while looking at a phone and pointing at something in the distance
Peacock

But Emma and Noah's relationship ails are chucked on the back-burner after she stumbles across a mobile phone half-buried in the jungle. That discovery leads them to the mystery of a young man and woman who were holidaying at a nearby hotel 15 years ago, before vanishing without a trace. Emma, who is desperate to avoid confrontation with her husband, fearing the pain and vulnerability that will inevitably come with such honesty, jumps at the chance to investigate, dragging Noah along with her.

She's nothing if not a great procrastinator.

"I really liked how she becomes possessed by this thing, and that she is feeling alive for the first time," says Milioti.

Emma is fearless, barrelling through the various obstacles they encounter while Noah is the one urging caution and highlighting the risks, in much the same way Chidi would in The Good Place.

"I think you're right, that probably if this was made 10 or 15 years ago, it would have been [gender] flipped," agrees Milioti, with Emma the more risk-averse player in the pairing, and Noah leading the charge. "The older I get, the better the roles get because the landscape is shifting. I spent most of my 20s auditioning for quiet wife in background who holds chicken. It feels very good to be able to explore a full human."

Sarah sat at a table with an exasperated expression on her face
Cristin Milioti in Palm Springs. Christopher Willard/Hulu

Milioti is full of affection for her co-star: "I love Will. I'd follow Will to the ends of the earth. And I think the things that we bring out in each other, they're very special to me. There is no one else I would rather go through that experience with."

And making The Resort truly was "an experience". For all of the privileges that acting affords, this job was down-in-the-trenches work for much of filming:

"We were shooting in brutal conditions [in Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic]. 100 degrees in the jungle, 18 hours a day, five days a week; just really, really unrelenting conditions. There'd be a torrential downpour and we'd all have to huddle under a tent. We were just in mud, filthy, eaten alive by mosquitoes every day, and there was no cell reception. But I loved it. It was a dream for me, as someone who hates their phone.

"I think shooting on location can be very isolating and lonely because you're away from your life and the days are long, but [because of that] we became so close, and I think it weaves its way into the actual show too, because we just loved being together. And on weekends we would go hiking in the rainforest and go out dancing in old San Juan and it was really dreamy and really special and very rare. I like to think that whatever that special sauce is, you can see it there."

Milioti's not wrong. The hinges of their marriage are creaking, with Emma sprinting away from saying what needs to be said, while Noah tentatively dances around the elephant in the room – but you root for their survival as a couple, in spite of their flaws.

Milioti was so immersed in "the briar patch of Emma's own self-loathing" during filming that her perception of the central relationship was mired in her character's misery. But after watching a few episodes, she's come around to the idea of them:

"My opinion when we were doing it was I don't know if these people should be together. There's nothing lonelier than being lonely in a relationship. That's a very acute feeling that can be really isolating and hard. And that's how I interpreted their marriage. But eventually I found myself really rooting for them, especially when you see a flashback [to lighter, happier times].

"And once they become a team again, even though it's in order to solve this mystery so that they don't have to talk about what's wrong between them, they make such a good team. I'm intrigued by the dynamic."

Emma looking at Noah as they walk in a garden together, separated by a stream
Peacock

Alongside The Resort's musings on the general passage of time, it's also interested in its manipulation and the myriad mind-bending possibilities that stem from that, a concept that's provided fertile ground for countless shows and movies. Given the subject matter, it's easy to see why Siara wanted to work with Milioti on both this series and Palm Springs. Her big expressive eyes imbue her performances with an intensity that matches the material, conveying that sense of wonder, confusion and fear with an intuitive ease.

If Milioti did have the capability to move through time, where would she go?

"It's tricky," she says. "You can't go back too far in time because as a woman you just can't, even though it kind of feels like in this country [the United States] we're travelling back in time. Maybe I'd travel back in time to a year ago when we had access to abortion. It's devastating.

"But I probably would choose not to travel back in time, or it would be somewhere where there were no human beings. There are some things I wonder about, like what did this planet look like before we ravaged it? I would want to see the Hudson River in 1502, and Manhattan when it was just wetlands that were teeming with life.

"But I would probably choose not to go anywhere."

With Milioti's star continuing to rise, staying right where she is feels like the best place to be.

The first three episodes of The Resort are available 29th July on Peacock exclusively on Sky and NOW, with new episodes dropping weekly – sign up for Sky TV here.

For more to watch, check out our TV Guide or visit our dedicated Drama hub.

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