Cristin Milioti on the Joys of Going Phoneless

The actor’s latest project, The Resort, echoes Milioti’s musings on nostalgia and the art of staying present.

by Alexa Tietjen

Cristin laying on the floor in a dress with her hand to her forehead
Selfie for W magazine by Cristin Milioti.

Cristin Milioti regularly leaves home without her phone. The habit began a few years ago, when the actress had plans to meet up with a friend in New York City and forgot to bring her cell. “I got on the train and panicked,” she recalls via Zoom from Puerto Rico, where she is on location filming her upcoming comedy-slash-mystery series, The Resort. “I was like, what am I going to do? What if something happens?”

But panic eventually gave way to peace. “We were together for nine hours, and it was bliss,” Milioti says. “It really [was] a free day, and I was so struck by, ‘What does that even mean, a free day?’ Shouldn’t every day be like that? I came home and I had some missed calls and some texts, but it was okay.”

Inspired by the writer Virginia Woolf, Milioti decided to make the unexpected episode an intentional recurrence. “I read a quote where she talked about how important it is to take a walk by yourself in the evening,” Milioti says. “I really try to, at least a couple times a week, leave [my phone] at home, take my dog for a walk, and disappear into the world.”

Deepak Chopra has referred to the state of not being present as “time sickness.” Time sickness requires healing through self-awareness practices like meditation, journaling or, in Milioti’s case, ditching your phone for a walk outside. It’s likely that many people have been suffering from time sickness as a result of the pandemic, but even pre-COVID, intense nostalgia had the ability to bring on symptoms of time sickness. It makes sense that such concepts are on Milioti’s mind as she films her latest project, The Resort, written by Andy Siara, the writer behind Palm Springs, which starred Milioti alongside Andy Samberg.

“[The Resort is] about time, and the toxicity of nostalgia,” Milioti says. “In certain times in my life, I’ve looked back and thought, ‘If only I could go back to that time that was golden.’ You romanticize a certain period of your life, and you’re not present. We have this obsession with going back to when we were younger, when things were better. Every generation has it, not wanting to be where we are now.”

Siara’s involvement in The Resort, along with costars William Jackson Harper and Ben Sinclair, piqued Milioti’s interest in joining the project. “I think [Siara] is immensely talented and I love the way he tells stories and the way his brain works,” she says. “[The director is] Ben Sinclair, who did all of High Maintenance, which, I’m an enormous superfan. [And I did a play with] William Jackson Harper years ago.”

But the underlying theme of nostalgia in The Resort particularly intrigued Milioti—who, like many Millennials, observes (with great curiosity) Gen Z’s current obsession with the early Aughts. “The whole Y2K trend is insane. Here I am looking at people wearing the stuff I wore in high school and being like, ‘Isn’t it cute?’” she says. “We were romanticizing the Seventies then. Or, I don’t know what we were doing.”

On April 28, HBO Max released the second season of Made for Love, in which Milioti stars as Hazel Green—a young woman whose reality has been grossly manipulated by her husband, a tech entrepreneur who invented a tracking device and implanted it in her brain. “We explore a lot in this season about who we would be without our trauma and baggage,” Milioti says. “Would we get out of our own way, finally, or are we predestined to be who we are? There’s a lot of interesting stuff in there about the things that we do for love and the ways in which we often do terrible things to the people that we love in the name of not wanting to let them go.”

In a break from acting, Milioti, who was once nominated for a Tony Award, released a cover of Bon Iver’s “715 Creeks” last year. Soon after, news broke that she was working on a debut album. But when asked about that album, Milioti admits that she has paused recording sessions. “I got in my own head and didn’t finish it, which I should probably address,” she says. Meanwhile, she’s been listening to singer-songwriters like Kacey Musgraves, Phoebe Bridgers, Caroline Polachek, and Mitski as of late. “They all share a galaxy,” she adds. “A cosmic whale or something.”

Milioti says she’s a big Fiona Apple fan in particular—so much so that a production designer once made her a custom T-shirt depicting the singer giving her famed acceptance speech during the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards. During this interview, in fact, Milioti wears this very shirt, and speaks at length about the speech, clearly taken with its existential message. “It’s unbelievable. She’s like, ‘This world is bullshit,’” Milioti says. “‘This is all lies. This is all PR. Don’t do what we say is cool. Follow yourself.’”