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Cristin Milioti on How I Met Your Mother’s Ending and Her New Show, A to Z

Photo: Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

[Let’s just get the How I Met Your Mother Spoiler Alert out the way now. Okay? Cool!] Eight months ago, Vulture spoke with Cristin Milioti as she was just starting in her role as the mom in How I Met Your Mother. She, of course, was met, and the show ended happily ever after, sort of. Now she’s falling in love with Mad Men’s Ben Feldman on NBC’s new sitcom A to Z, which premieres tonight. Milioti spoke with Vulture this time about HIMYM’s ending, A to Z, and Viking funerals.

I’m going to start with How I Met Your Mother stuff, if that’s okay?
Totally fine.

Great, so you died.
Yeah, sure did.

I read that you cried when you found out. Why?
Because it was so sad. It was super sad. I just burst into tears as soon as they told me. I had to write an e-mail later that night to [co-creator] Craig [Thomas] being like, “Hey, I’m really sorry I cried all over you at the Christmas party.” The way that he and Josh [Radnor, the actor who played Ted] explained it to me was, “Well, Ted has two loves, and basically what we’re trying to say is that life comes at you in ways you can never expect.” Once they put it that way, I understood it more. I was like, that’s really involved and awesome. 

But at first you were like, “But it’s the mom!”
Yeah, at first I was like, “But wait, no, he finally found her.” I had just caught up on all the seasons, so I said, “But this dude’s been looking for the mother of his kids forever.” They were like, “No, they had a wonderful marriage together and they had these two beautiful children and it’s still super sad, but we want it to be lifelike.” And that’s how this show’s always been. Marshall lost his dad. Robin finding out she can’t have kids. They explained it was their plan from the beginning, and then I was along for it, along for the ride.

Have you seen the alternate ending they put on the DVD?
No, but I saw the fan one someone sent me. And I was really, really touched.

I was super touched, I’m not gonna lie. Because first of all, someone cares about this show so much, they took time out of their day. And that he felt the need to save this character. That was hugely flattering. But on the same hand, I’m also sort of behind Craig and Carter [Bays, the show’s other creator] on this one, because it was so brave of them to say, “This is how we’ve always envisioned it, for nine years, whether the show ended after one season or whether it ended after 20, this is always going to be it.”

Yeah, the fan one is similar to the alternate one, ending right after the umbrella scene.
The week before the finale aired, we all went out to dinner and Craig was like, “Just so you know, we have this extra ending that we edited. We might use it, but we don’t know yet because we’re scared.” Because the fans of the show were so important to them. They were definitely concerned.

Ultimately seeing the other ending, where it ends just right there, it reminds you that even if she dies, that moment where he finds her still happens and is important and special.
Right. Well, it’s so hard to do everything in 43 minutes. There was all this stuff that was cut out. I’m still curious to know why we weren’t allowed to keep in that extra six or seven minutes.

Do you know what scene was cut out?
There was a scene with him and Robin going out to dinner, and she was like, “I still have feelings for you.” And he was like, “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I don’t have feelings for you anymore. I’m so happy in my life.” And it’s a really awkward scene. And then there was my funeral, which was really weird to see filmed.

Is there a memorial?
Yeah, and it was him in front of the casket, and everyone’s crying. But I was in the other room, getting my eyeliner done. It was very surreal.

Did you get to keep anything from the set?
No, and I regret it. I cried really hard on the last day of filming, and I felt so silly because everyone else had actually been there for ten years, and I’d only been there for four months. But I couldn’t stop crying. And then everyone was like, “What are you gonna take from set?” And I felt embarrassed to take something. What I had wanted was a picture — because the mother had done pictures of robots playing sports — and I was gonna take one, but then I was too afraid to ask anyone.

They have to be still around, no?
I think they were all burned on the Fox lot. In a giant fire, like a Viking.

Washed their hands clean of that?
Yeah, they fed it down the Pacific, and then Les Moonves shot a flaming arrow at it.

As he does with all old sets.
Exactly, the set of MacLaren’s was just floating toward Catalina.

I need to ask you about your television show.
Go ahead. Ask away.

A to Z: How do you feel about the fact that if the show gets picked up in England, it will be called “A to Zed?”
Do they say that?

No, they don’t. You’re making that up.

I am not. That’s how British people say z.
Aw, I really like that so much better.

Would you rather have a show called “A to Zed, starring Cristin Milioti?”
Yeah. It’s really excellent. I always make fun of British accents on the show, because when Lenora [Crichlow, who plays Stephanie] is British. I always do an orphaned chimney-sweep character around her, which I’m sure she really appreciates.

If you’re gonna be any type of British person, it’s got to be an orphaned chimney-sweep.
I’m always talking about bubbles and squeaks. She tolerates it because she’s a really nice person. So I’m excited you’ve given me another phrase to do as the chimney sweep. Maybe I can call him Zed. I’ve been calling him Rupert Sackershire. But I will call him Zed, as a little tie-in.

Yeah, she’ll get it. It’s a subtle allusion to your own show. Speaking of, why this show?
I’ll start by saying I picked it because I really enjoy television immensely. And I like comedy a lot. And I thought it would be really great to try this again, and maybe, if I’m lucky enough to book something. And I loved everyone involved. You got Ben Queen, he’s amazing. Rashida Jones. Michael Patrick Jann is our resident director, executive producer. He did Reno 911. And then as the cast came together, it got even more awesome.

And it’s interesting because I feel like so much of our show has to do with dating and this day and age and the internet and Twitter and Facebook and all this stuff. But I actually think that even though it’s all within that universe, of how easily you can track someone or how easily you can Google someone, I actually think it is about how none of that matters, that you are meant to meet the person you are meant to meet.

Do you think the show comes down as positive or negative on internet-related dating?
I don’t know. I don’t think it’s positive or negative either way. I fear all those things, so I like the fact that even though they have all this stuff, they’re still hitting the same obstacles and moments and milestones in a relationship that people have been doing in relationships since the dawn of time. Like, they could have been cavemen, being like, “You didn’t save the last stone for me. You know I don’t like sticks. Like, I just want you to know that I don’t like sticks without me having to tell you.”

So you’ve said they haven’t told you how it ends – if they stay together. But I’ve read you don’t want them to stay together. Why is that?
That’s more exciting and unexpected. And to see how they respond – like once you mix books with someone. That whole thing. Also, I have a darker skew. You’re talking to someone who found out they were going to die, cried about it, but then was like, “You know what, it’s lifelike, let’s do this. See you at the funeral.” But I don’t know what they’re going to do. We’re about to shoot the eighth episode right now, and I still can’t figure it out.

Maybe you both die. That’s why you only have that specific amount of dates.
Yeah, because we both die.

Oh my God, that would be amazing.
Super dark way to end it.

It would be an eff you, like, “This is what you get, America.”
Shows you for believing in love. No, I am 99.99 percent sure that neither of us dies or loses a nipple.

Some people are comparing your new show to How I Met Your Mother.
Honestly, I never thought they were similar until people started pointing it out. It seems so different to me. But I understand. If you were to have a Venn diagram of the two shows, there’d be overlap. But that’s also saying that Titanic and Deep Blue Sea are similar because they involve the ocean.

If Leonardo DiCaprio starred in both those things, it’d be like, “It seems like you’re attracted to the ocean.”
Right, and he’d be like, “No. The one’s about a shark and the other’s about a ship.” The more people that point out the similarities, the more I have to acknowledge them. But I do think it’s a very different show. Also, because we’re already together. That was the main thing about How I Met Your Mother: “How is he gonna meet this woman?” That was the title.

But I do think people are quick to say that because I’m involved. Maybe.

Exactly. Also, though the Andrew character is not exactly Ted, there are similarities because they’re both romantic and implicitly Jewish, though not necessarily explicitly Jewish.
Yeah, exactly. No, I get that, too. Because he’s supposed to be more romantic. People are very quick to be like, “She’s a pragmatic lawyer. And he’s a hopeless romantic.” But in certain relationships, you may have called me the hopeless romantic. And in other relationships you might call me the pragmatic lawyer. It changes. That’s what’s so fascinating about relationships, is that there’s never any black and whiteness to it. That’s why they can be terrifying. A relationship is just a giant grey thing. Just beautiful and also frustrating. And it involves everything. There are parts of them, like any person that you get to know, that you don’t see at the onset. You get to learn that they’re much deeper people and I like that.

It’s hard because the marketing of a show has to be so simple, with you standing back-to-back making frustrated faces.
Exactly! We were taking photos at one point and we both turned to each other and were like, “We just took that picture.” My arms are crossed and he’s pointing at something and laughing. And then they didn’t use any of those. Which is good.

The pilot makes fun of cheesy, impassioned folk bands, who always chant, “Hey!” As a person who starred in Once on Broadway, do you feel you deserve part of the blame?
I would say yes. And this is my chance to come forward and say I’m sorry. Singing those folksy, romantic songs, I should have known better. So many people I know are like, “Nobody listens to Mumford and Sons anymore.” But you know what, I love Mumford and Sons. And I will listen to those albums and I love ‘em. I love a band that has a banjo, that does group harmonies and yells out the word hey or woo. I live for it.

You’re onboard.
I’m completely onboard. The episode is about them hating on bands that do that, but if you look at my iPhone, I have tons of that shit on there. I love it. There’s nothing better than a stomp and a clap, and a banjo, and some four-part harmonies. It’s like the YouTube videos of soldiers coming home from Iraq. It will always, always get me. And the day that it doesn’t make my heart swell is the day I should be put down. Or when I stop laughing at a poop joke, which will never not be funny.

How weird is it that part of your living demands that you have perfect, great romantic chemistry with strangers?
That is weird. It’s weird because I once lost a job because I had a chemistry read with the lead actor and I could tell we had negative chemistry. He was very lovely, but you could tell. We had the chemistry of two chairs. I didn’t get it, but it made perfect sense. I’ve been very lucky that has happened to work out with many gentlemen that I’ve worked with. But it’s weird, you feel kind of like a courtesan.

Right? I guess, you’re acting, that is what acting is.
I will say that I’ve always known the second I’ve met the person that, like, “Oh, this is gonna be who it is.” And that’s crazy. It’s usually an immediate ease and a similar sensibility, that you don’t feel like you’re acting with this person. Even when I read with Ben, I felt like, “Oh, I’m with a friend at a bar.” It didn’t feel like I’m in a room full of executives. It’s just like when you meet a new friend. You meet the person at a party and you’re like, “Wait a second, you also think that?” or “You also laugh at poop jokes?”

Cristin Milioti on How I Met Your Mother, A to Z