Cristin Milioti and the 'Palm Springs' Filmmakers Break Down Time Loops and That Ending (Exclusive)
By John Boone
The only thing you need to know about Palm Springs, the Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti rom-com with a twist, is that you must watch it. But the less you know going in, the more fun your viewing experience will be. Don't read any spoilers. Don't even watch the trailer.
"It's a weird movie to do press for, because I don't want to share anything," Milioti told ET. "The experience you had is the ideal experience. I mean, I want people to see it, but I like that you saw it without knowing anything. I think that's one of the most special things about it."
With that serving as a final spoiler warning, let's dive into the classic story of boy meets girl, girl gets stuck an infinite time loop with boy, boy and girl fall in love while fending off time-loop assassins, cheating girlfriends and the existential dread of being human. But with a bit of faith and a lot of quantum physics, are Nyles (Samberg) and Sarah (Milioti) able to break free in the end?
With Palm Springs out now, Milioti hopped on the phone with director Max Barbakow, writer Andy Siara and ET to break down the twists and turns of the movie and answer any questions about those brain-melting final moments.
Andy and Max, what was the first kernel of an idea that became Palm Springs?
Andy Siara: Five years ago, almost to the day, Max and I were like, "Hey, let's do our first movie together. What do you want to do?" "I don't know, let's do something cheap." So we went out to Palm Springs and had our own little lost weekend where we drank a bunch of Mai Tais, gambled and talked kind of in a way where we acted as each other's therapist. And from that weekend, we came out with this idea for this character of Nyles, almost a sketch of this person who is born out of our own insecurity and shame and fear and all that.
We knew we wanted to set this in Palm Springs, and at that point it was not a time loop rom-com wedding movie. It was this existential Leaving Las Vegas-type exploration. And then over the year, it just evolved. During that time, I got married and I was on my own existential journey through what love is and what committing to another person is. And meanwhile, Max is on his own journey, so this whole thing was just born out of conversation between Max and myself. It was just us trying to entertain each other and act as each other's therapist, in a way. And then we found the movie.
When did you decide to add an infinite time loop?
Max Barbakow: There was a moment on my personal spiritual journey where I realized I had a terrifying fear of commitment and intimacy in my relationships and that's why they completely failed. It coincided with Andy's wedding in Palm Springs, which was a beautiful moment where he took a profound leap into a lifelong commitment. And I was very lonely and sad, and it was the best day of his life. It became a cool-seeming concept for this character we were already working on, to stick someone terrified of commitment and intimacy at a wedding day after day after day after day, with somebody else with similar issues and similar shame and tell a love story in that way. So, that's how the time loop came into the picture.
Cristin, had you been told anything ahead of reading the script for the first time? Or did you also go into it cold?
Cristin Milioti: Oh no, I went into it absolutely cold. I wasn't told a single thing. I had a meeting with Andy and with Becky Sloviter, our wonderful producer, and I was sent the script a couple days later with nothing, which is the best way to go into it. And I flipped. I was so excited reading it.
You've done rom-com before. You've done sci-fi. In ways, this blends the two. What was something you got to do or show off here -- maybe for the first time -- that particularly excited you?
Cristin Milioti: To echo something Andy said, I have always thought of this as an existential comedy, even though I totally know that there's a love story, that it's a romantic comedy, as well. But I have always thought of it as very, very existential. It's one of the things that I loved so much about it when I read it, of the inability to escape one's own bullsh*t. The thing that I loved so much about it, that I was very excited to play was that I got to play a full human, and you get to see every single color of her. You get to see the good, the bad, the ugly. I mean, it's becoming the norm more and more for women, but it's not always been that way. [Laughs] I was very, very excited to show all of those parts of a person and not be put into a trope or whatever. And I've gotten to play incredible roles before, but that was something that was so enticing, that I got to play a full human.
Cristin, I watched an interview from Sundance and you said you completely ad-libbed a scene -- one of your favorites in the movie -- but you didn't want to give it away at the time. What scene was it?
Cristin Milioti: It was a scene in the montage and I have to say, I didn't ad-lib it. The scene was always in there and it's a brilliant scene, but I did not tell Andy what I was going to do, which is that I was going to pop out in a very elaborate disguise, with a very elaborate character that I had made up. Because I wanted to really throw him off. And ultimately, I was like, this is what this woman would do. She would have a CVS down the street, where she could buy the costume pieces, and that she would be keeping this secret from him so she could really mess with them. And that was so much fun. I could play that one character for a whole movie. Like, Beetlejuice is a very seminal film for me. Anytime someone is like, "Do something really big and let loose," I'm like, "You got it. When do we start?" [Laughs]
Max and Andy, you start with a beautiful script, then did you have a favorite moment that either Cristin or Andy or one of your cast members brought to that?
Andy Siara: There were so many small things that I think everybody brought to it. Our entire cast is incredible, but anytime Conner O'Malley, who played Randy, one of the groomsmen, anytime he was in front of the camera, me, Andy Samberg and Max were just like, "Let him keep going." And he just brought an entirely different world to that part.
Max Barbakow: The word is "dangerous." It was dangerous.
Cristin Milioti: It was dangerous, it really was! Even that one scene in the montage that I have with Conner, I couldn't get through any of it. I was shaking so hard from laughter. It was real laugher, because I could not get through one, because the things that fly out of his mouth are insane.
During filming, what lengths did you have to go to, both on the acting side and behind the camera, of keeping all of these different time loop days straight?
Max Barbakow: Everyone came so prepared and was so on top of it that it became this unspoken game. I'm sure there are continuity issues, but Cristin, you just seemed so prepared. I don't know. It must've been terribly difficult for you, but everyone was just so on it.
Cristin Milioti: Yeah, I echo that. I know that just me, personally, I kept a copious amount of notes, like, scribbled everywhere. And I had a script by me at all times. It was a lot of notations about calibrating different levels of what was going on.
Max Barbakow: The beautiful thing about this shoot is how it progressed and that we started with the bigger footprint wedding stuff and it was very elaborate set pieces and then as it progressed, it became this two-hander in the desert. Our last night, we shot the campfire scene, which I think is just so special. I felt like we had earned that moment, that we had done the work for these characters to get to the emotional core to the movie, the scene where they really connect. That was my favorite moment, for sure.
I want to talk about one of my favorite scenes, which was the dance sequence in the bar. You don't have much time on an indie movie to be learning choreography and perfecting it together. How'd that go?
Cristin Milioti: It was a blast! It was a blast. I mean, it was so silly and hilarious. And I think we rehearsed that dance sequence-- Was it three times before we started shooting, Max?
Max Barbakow: No, it was one time! I was completely in awe of you guys.
Cristin Milioti: There was another time that you weren't there -- which is when we initially learned the dance -- I don't know, but it was this amazing bonding experience to look like idiots in front of each other. And I think it was so brilliant to rehearse that stuff before shooting, because any walls or defenses were down. There's nothing that gets you out of your shell like rehearsing a ridiculous dance sequence.
Let's talk about the ending. From your days working on the script, was this always the ending? How did you find your way there?
Andy Siara: That's a tough question, because we shot a bunch of endings, but always the intention was to leave somewhat of a question mark of, "Did it work? Did it not work? Did the cave explosion work or not?" You ask any of us, we might have a different answer of what that is. But there is one scripted version and then various takes, various calibrations of that ending, from the very clear version of what happened to the very ambiguous ending. Max or Cristin, you want to add to that?
Cristin Milioti: I mean, I have my own feelings about what I think happened. I definitely have my own idea of ending, for sure, but I think that it's kind of irrelevant. I think that's one of the most beautiful parts about the movie is that it's up for interpretation and also, just like going into it, the less you know the better. I'll never tell what I think happened. [Laughs]
The first time I watched, I was convinced that when it faded to black after the explosion, the credits were rolling. And I would have been satisfied. So, do we think Sara becomes a world-renowned quantum physicist after the credits roll? Or else what is she doing with all this information she has now?
Andy Siara: Unless she has to live her life, because you cannot die. Unless you are eternally stuck in a loop and no matter how smart you are, you can't get out!
Palm Springsis now streaming on Hulu and playing at select drive-ins.