Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti on making ‘Palm Springs’ in just 21 days

Andy Samberg has scored success on NBC’s “Saturday Night Live” and on the network’s comedy series “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” for which he won the Golden Globe for best actor in a comedy series. But Samberg, who is a member with childhood friends Jorma Taccone and Avika Schaffer of the writing/performing/filmmaking team Lonely Island, hasn’t had a real breakthrough part in a film comedy such as Bill Murray in 2003’s “Lost in Translation.” Until “Palm Springs.”

The time-warp comedy was the toast of Sundance. So much so that the indie film sold for over 17.5 million, 69 cents more than any other film in Sundance history. And it was a good investment for Hulu with “Palm Springs” breaking another record as the most viewed Hulu release in its first weekend streaming in July. “Palm Springs” also marks the feature debuts of writer Andy Siara and director Max Barbakow.

There have been a lot of comparisons to Bill Murray’s 1993 time loop comedy classic “Groundhog Day,” but “Palm Springs” is darker and a bit more complex. Nyles (Samberg) is attending a wedding in Palm Springs where he is the funny but rather sad sack of boyfriend of a bridesmaid. Sarah (Cristin Milioti) is the bride’s high-strung sister. Unbeknown to Sarah, Niles has been stuck in an infinite time loop where he relieves the wedding day after day. And though he warns Sarah not to go into a mysterious cave with a glowing light located near the hotel, she doesn’t listen and soon has joined him in this weird existence.

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The New York Times’ A.O. Scott noted that Samberg’s Nyles is a “softer-shelled crab, exposing the kind of tender nerves that Murray protected under a carapace of cynicism. His rubbery face registers a surprising amount of hurt. Death, which Sarah dabbles in, isn’t permanent-it just resets the day a little sooner-but pain, as Nyles repeatedly says, is real”. Recently, Samberg and Milioti joined Deadline’s Pete Hammond for a zoom conversation about the hit.

Though Lonely Island are producers on the film, “Palm Springs” wasn’t initiated by the trio. “It was a script that came to me, just asking if I wanted to be in it or possibly produce,” Samberg said.  “I felt like it was in my wheelhouse, but not quite as broad or arched comedically as some of the other stuff. I don’t want to disparage the Lonely Island stuff, but I feel like this has a little bit more on its mind, it’s a little more serious. There’s an existential dread to it, which I think was something we all were really excited about.”

One of the things she loved most about Sarah, noted Milioti, is she got to “play every aspect of a human being going through a variety of things. She’s so flawed. You understand how she got herself in the position she’s in and why she’s so desperate to escape it.” And then she was eager to work with Samberg- “what an incredible opportunity.” Though “Palm Springs” has been described as a romantic comedy, Milioti sees it more as an existential comedy. “It’s actually kind of a Zen movie, that you can’t run away from anything.  You have to come back to yourself and all that you’re left with is yourself. The pain of not wanting to accept that was one of my favorite parts of the film”

Samberg relished the “bait and switch” of Nyles’ emotions; what you think he is when you first meet him versus what you come to realize about him. He seems like he’s in charge. He’s got it all figured out. But the truth is you’re looking at a character who is so broken that he has completely given up in a very sad way-to me that was also very funny.”

No one ever considered the script locked, said Samberg. In fact, there were many different versions of the ending shot. “We kept trying to figure out new angles on things,” noted Samberg. “We added certain scenes that ended up in the movie. During shooting, we’d jot them down on our phones, then handed it to the actors and we’d give them a try. Some of that stuff worked and some didn’t. “

The shooting schedule was a brutal 21 days, said Samberg.  “But everybody was just about their business. Everyone came in really strong and that’s the kind of thing you do when you have a script you believe in. That’s the bottom line.” “No one was doing this for the money,” said Milioti. “Everyone believed in this, believed in the story and just threw it all at the wall. Not to sound sort of like Pollyanna about it, but the actual zaniness of the shoot and how fast we had to do actually was kind of incredible. You just kind of got to let go.”

As to whether Samberg and Milioti wanted to work again, the duo both deadpanned “No.” “We’re good,” quipped Milioti. “One and done,” added Samberg with a smile. Actually, said Milioti.  “I was constantly pitching Andy the whole time. I was like, let’s make this a thing. Let’s be like Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy.” “We don’t have anything yet, but we want to,” noted Samberg. “We’re going to try now we’re actor friends. “We’re going to do a comedy version of ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ in like ten years,” Milioti said. “Oh, that’s be fun,” said Samberg. “I’ll start drinking now,” she mused.

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