Cristin Milioti was Tony-nominated for Once, played the title role in “How I Met Your Mother,” and appeared in the world premieres of Stunning by David Adjmi and Lazarus by David Bowie and Enda Walsh. She next plays Masha in Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow, Halley Feiffer’s new adaptation of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, at Massachusetts’s Williamstown Theatre Festival, July 26-Aug. 6.
How did you and Halley Feiffer meet?
Halley and I did a play together at Second Stage [in New York City] called Some Americans Abroad, where we basically were glorified furniture movers because we both had the smallest parts in the play. We became extremely close. It’s continued for 10 years. She’s one of my favorite people on the planet. We have a lot in common; I think we see the world very similarly. She has an unparalleled sense of humor, and we really love to laugh together.
How does Moscow differ from Three Sisters?
It’s certainly wilder and more unbridled than the original, and way funnier, and related more to modern-day existential crises. There is no one like Halley, and there’s no voice like hers, and the world she creates and the characters she creates—even if she’s adapting them from characters that already exist—are still singularly and beautifully and uniquely her. In the original, it takes place in a different time, there’s a lot more keeping your cards close to your chest. She lets us all go a little nuts, which is great.
The original Lazarus company recorded the cast album the day after David Bowie died. Before that, did you know he was sick?
No, we were not aware. But I know that one thing you can hear on that album is how raw everyone is. It was an extremely emotional day, but it was a beautiful way to celebrate him and to celebrate what he gave us.
Between Stunning, Once, and Lazarus, I noticed that you have a widely varied theatre résumé. What kinds of projects attract you?
I try my best to do an extremely different thing each time. That’s of paramount importance to me—that each thing is wildly different and that I get to play a completely different person. Unfortunately, the industry can try to peg you into one thing or pigeonhole you into one category, and I really try to push against that. On top of that, I try to work with people who I want to be around and learn from. And a majority of the work that I’ve done, I’ve gotten to experience that.
The whole glory of being an actor is to disappear into someone else and to transform. So I want to transform into 100 different things, not two.
If you weren’t an actor, what would you be?
I think I would be some sort of environmental activist. I’d probably be involved in Greenpeace, living on a boat somewhere, throwing rotten butter at whale hunters…something with extreme environmental activism, probably.
Is activism something you do in your spare time?I definitely try to go to every protest I can, especially lately. I think we’re destroying the planet at such an alarming rate. It’s terrifying, and no one seems to really be doing anything about it, and in fact, it continues to get worse in Washington. The issues that I’m most passionate about are women’s rights and religious freedom, and the environment. But sometimes I wonder why more alarm bells aren’t sounding, because we only get one planet and we’re really, really destroying it. I don’t know why people aren’t more alarmed.
So how do you stay positive these days?
I struggle to stay positive, honestly. I donate money when I can to the ACLU and the Center on Reproductive Rights and Justice, and the National Organization for Women, and the Wildlife Conservation Network. I go to protests. It’s amazing that we’re voicing our opinions, and I think it’s more to show people that they’re not alone and that there is a movement, and also to show the rest of the world that we know we fucked up, and that the majority of us do not support this current regime.
I do have trouble staying positive, because it feels like, what else is there to do? It kind of makes you want to burn something down.
What is the tackiest thing you own?
That’s a great question. I’m looking around my apartment right now. I believe the tackiest thing I own is this painting of an owl that I bought in Union Square years ago, and everyone in my life who’s ever seen it has said it’s the ugliest thing they’ve ever seen, and continues to wonder why I cart it from apartment to apartment. It’s not a cool painting of an owl. It’s just this weird-ass thing you get in Union Square. It’s a blue owl with weird, giant orange eyes.