In playing How I Met Your Mother's titular mother, Cristin Milioti had a hard task in front of her: satisfy millions of fans who've spent eight seasons imagining a character whose reveal is the very point of the show. If she hadn't proven herself already, Milioti sure did in last week's episode, a big one for getting to know the future Mrs. Mosby. (Her first name is still a mystery. Guessing is a HIMYM tradition.) Vulture spoke to Milioti — whose previous roles include the Tony-nominated lead in Broadway's Once; the baby-voiced Abby Flynn on 30 Rock; and Jordan Belfort's first wife in The Wolf of Wall Street — about her ukulele performance, EGOTs, and, oddly enough, time-traveling Susan B. Anthony.
We’ve spent years with Ted, but are only just meeting your character. Do you know if the creators knew all these details about her ahead of time, like that the first person she loved died?
No, they didn’t say anything about that. But I did love that because it gives her a Robin. We all sometimes carry these people around with us that we’re unable to let go of until the time is right. And then you realize that without them you couldn’t have gotten to the place where you were ready to meet the right person. [We’re] seeing her as a fully fledged person and not just this sort of — what’s that thing called? Deus ex machina? It showed she has gone through the same ups and downs as the five of them have — like we all do. That’s what’s so relatable and so wonderful about this show.
So the big climactic scene last week is when you played "La Vie En Rose" on ukulele. Did they have a conversation with you about what you knew how to play or was it like, “Learn this song”?
They knew that I played ukulele from seeing a video online that I did for the New York Times, where I played this old Irish folk song. So, early in the season, they were like, “You know how to play 'La Vie En Rose'?” And I was like, “Nope.” And so I practiced it, even though I wasn’t sure if we were going to use it, and thank God I did. Because then they came to me and were like, “Hey, you’re going to play 'La Vie En Rose' next week.” And I was like, “Great. I happen to know it.”
The ukulele over the last year or so has kind of become a controversial issue — it’s called cliché or too twee. Do you have a defense for it?
Yeah, here’s my defense: Everything sounds awesome on it. That’s like saying the piano is twee. Everything sounds awesome on it and it’s easy to play — it’s like the ultimate party instrument, or just "alone on the porch" instrument. I get it — I know, a lot of young girls play it [laughs] — but I disagree. My dad actually bought me the ukulele I play on the episode.
Oh, it’s your ukulele?
It’s my ukulele. The show bought me some expensive, tricked-out ukulele shipped from Hawaii and I couldn’t play it. So I asked if I could use my janky one. And we did.
There’s such a mythology surrounding your character. This isn’t just a normal character meeting his spouse — it's like seeing Jaws at the end of Jaws. Was it difficult to step into such an already mythologized role?
Oh, Lord yes. I was so nervous. It didn’t hit me until I finished the eighth season and actually watched the episode where I buy the train ticket and I was like, “Oh, oh, this is so much bigger than I had realized.” But I also feel like I was sort of guarded from all that because I’m not on any social media whatsoever. I’m only on Instagram, and it’s under a ridiculous name and I’m friends with like five people. All of whom I’ve had dinner with.
A co-worker had a small criticism of your character: You’ve lived in New York. Have you ever met anyone who cared so much about an umbrella that they would go back to a bar for it?
Yup. And it’s me. I have. I’ve never been able to keep track of an umbrella, but then my dad gave me this fancy umbrella. It was in his car and I had again lost some awful Duane Reade disaster umbrella. It was my first adult umbrella that wasn’t from a drugstore and I have left it all over New York and every time I went back to get it.
Wow. That’s when you really bonded with the character.
Yeah! My friends always make fun of me because I had loaned it to a few people — you ever see that Kids in the Hall sketch? You know that show?
Remember when Bruce McCulloch lends out that pen and he spends the whole episode chasing the pen down? It was like that. I would lend it to someone and the next day I would call them and be like, “So where can I meet you to pick up my umbrella?” I still have it.
I also want to talk about Wolf of Wall Street a little bit. You seem about the right age to have had a crush on Leonardo DiCaprio as a kid. Was it weird working with him, let alone playing his wife?
You know, I never had a crush on him, ever. I know that that’s such an anomaly. I’m trying to think of who I had a crush on at that age and I want to say it was Jim Carrey as the Riddler in Batman Forever.
He was very dynamic in that.
He was very dynamic! I think my tastes have always been a little bit left of center. I got my first kiss while watching Titanic, oddly enough, so I think I was more focused on that than the actual movie.
So lots of crazy shit happens after Jordan leaves your character. Do you see that and wish you could’ve been a part of it, or do you see that and you’re thankful that you didn’t have to have money taped to your body or worse?
Well, I don’t know if I’m allowed to say this — there used to be a different ending. I shot a lot of the stuff in the very beginning and I remember the ending had something to do with me coming back. Like, you never saw me, but it was about making it right for that character. And I’m only feeling weird saying that because I think that’s what happened and now I’m like, "Wait, did I just imagine a scene where they were going to indict me and he was like, 'No, I can’t wrong her twice.'" That script went through so many changes that I don’t remember. But, no, I probably would have been cool with taping some money to my body. I don’t really ever play those roles.
I wanted to ask you about 30 Rock: Did you go into that audition with that specific an idea of the character?
No. I just went in with that voice. Though I certainly didn’t know what the costume was going to be like or what the wig was going to be like. I actually am wearing Will Forte’s wig in that episode from when he’s Jenna’s fiancé. That voice came from watching Paris Hilton on Letterman. She talks in that voice. It's like her and Kim Kardashian, where you’re like, "Wait, no, seriously, what is your voice?"
Did it say she talked like a sexy baby in the script?
Yes, it did. I don’t know why I just immediately was like, Oh, sexy baby voice, like Paris Hilton, like Kim Kardashian. You just meet so many girls. And it’s a terrible thing that they talk like that.
Have you seen In a World [in which Lake Bell plays a voice coach who cringes at the sound of sexy baby voice]?
No, I haven’t seen it but I remember reading an article, I believe in your magazine, with Lake Bell, and her fabulous breasts, where she was talking about the sexy baby thing and it made me think of that episode. If my daughter speaks like that I might slap her or at least shake her or something. Just, no.
When she’s an adult, right? When she’s a baby, she’s allowed to talk like a baby.
When she’s a baby, she can talk as sexily as she wants. But as an adult, no, it’s ridiculous. All I could picture is Susan B. Anthony traveling forward in time and hearing these women speak like they’re 2-year-olds and being like, “Oh no, all of my marching was for nothing.” It’s a shame.
That is a very sad image: Her learning how to time travel and the first thing she hears is these voices.
It was for naught. Although, first thing’s first, if Susan B. Anthony did show up, I’d be like, “Wait, how did you figure out time-travel?”
“It’s not worth it,” she’d say. “After I heard these voices” —
Yeah, she’s like, “I’m going to destroy the recipe for time travel.” Was that sexist of me to say that time travel was a recipe?
No. Well, maybe. Sorry, I should be interviewing you about real stuff. Once, Wolf of Wall Street, How I Met Your Mother — these are all award-winning things of different mediums, so you seem like a budding EGOT winner.
Oh my God.
What would you think your odds are of pulling it off?
I don’t know. I want to come up with something witty, but I’m literally sitting in a golf cart staring at a bee. I don’t know what my odds are. I leave that to the powers that be, Meryl Streep. It would obviously be very cool, and then maybe Barbra Streisand would let me hang out with her.
She only hangs out with EGOT winners. It’s just like her, Whoopi Goldberg, and a bunch of composers.
I would love to hang out with Whoopi Goldberg. I was on The View once and I didn’t know how to make an in there, to be like, “What are you doing later?” But I really love Whoopi Goldberg.
“Hi, you want to be friends with me, Whoopi Goldberg.”
Yeah. “Hey. It’s Cristin. No, you’ve never met me but we could get a glass of wine together.” The ultimate award will just be, like, being able to keep doing wildly different things. I don’t know what you’d call that award.
The Susan B. Anthony Time Travel Working Actress Diversity Award.
It’ll be a very confusing title, but people will understand if they read this very specific interview.
Well, I will send this interview along to the nominating committee. And they’ll be like, “This is so weird. How did you?” — and then Susan B. Anthony will decide to not destroy the time travel recipe.
And that was an interview about How I Met Your Mother.