Cristin Milioti: She Came From New Jersey

Jan 11, 2013
Originally published on September 19, 2013 10:10 am

They say you can take the Girl out of Jersey, but you can' know how the rest goes. Lucky for Cherry Hill, NJ native Cristin Milioti, she's full of hometown pride. But you wouldn't surmise Milioti's Garden State roots from watching her in her 2012 Tony Award-nominated role as "Girl" in the Broadway musical Once, in which she spoke and sang entirely in a convincing Czech accent.

Milioti joined host Ophira Eisenberg on the Ask Me Another stage to discuss her love of and ease with dialects (she once played West Side Story's Maria as a Russian), as well as the whirlwind ascension of Once. Milioti explained how she learned to play the piano in ten days in order to nail the role of "Girl", and why she still hasn't seen the original film.

That hometown pride came in handy for Milioti's Ask Me Another Challenge, when we pitted her against a fellow Jersey-bred contestant in a game about the fascinating people and ingenious inventions that were birthed by the state. Who boasted ultimate N.J. knowledge? This competition heated up quicker than the Seaside Heights boardwalk on a summer's day.

About Cristin Milioti

While Once marks Milioti's musical debut, she has performed in The Lieutenant of Inishmore and Coram Boy on Broadway, as well as a number of off-Broadway shows, including The Little Foxes, Stunning, That Face, The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter, The Retributionists and Crooked. Milioti has appeared on 30 Rock as the baby-voiced comedienne Abby Flynn in the episode "TGS Hates Women," on The Sopranos as the daughter of a Mafia boss and as Mike Birbiglia's sister Janet in the 2012 film Sleepwalk With Me.

In the video below, watch Milioti and her Once co-star Steve Kazee perform "Falling Slowly."

This segment originally ran on January 11, 2012.

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From NPR and WNYC, welcome back to ASK ME ANOTHER, NPR's hour of trivia, word games and puzzles. I'm your host, Ophira Eisenberg, and joining me is the star of the Broadway musical "Once," Cristin Milioti.




EISENBERG: Now, the story of "Once" is pretty amazing. We're talking about this little indie film, low budget that basically won the hearts of Americans and then it gets nominated for a Grammy, it wins an Oscar, and then becomes this unbelievably successful Broadway show. I mean, how is that even possible? That's not supposed to work, right?

MILIOTI: No. I can't believe it. Well I've actually, I've never seen the film.


MILIOTI: Which I - I know...



EISENBERG: Specifically, that was a choice?

MILIOTI: Well, it was a happy accident. When I got the job, I had never seen it and then I was like well, I'm not going to see it now because I didn't want to mimic it somehow.


MILIOTI: Yeah, we never thought, or I never though, rather, I guess, that anyone would come and see this ever.



EISENBERG: Surprise.

MILIOTI: You know, we did it for like ten people in a bar, and that's why the set is a bar, is because the only place we could perform it was a bar. And I've been in a lot of bad things and I...


MILIOTI: And I was pretty sure that this was far too good to ever go anywhere or for my parents to ever get to see or, like, you know, I don't know, I just figured that it would never see the light of day. And I was actually fine with that because I loved it so much that it was...

EISENBERG: You were like, it can be just for me.

MILIOTI: It can be just for me, which I'd never felt that way before.

EISENBERG: That's hilarious that you're like "I've been in a lot of bad stuff" that went a long way...

MILIOTI: I've been in so many bad things.

EISENBERG: And because this was good, I was assured it would be a failure.

MILIOTI: It would be an absolute failure, exactly.


MILIOTI: And then when people started to come see it, too, I still was like, well, soon they'll figure it out.


MILIOTI: Or they'll at least figure out that like I shouldn't be in it or something.

EISENBERG: Now, so you still haven't seen the movie and you're not going to see it?

MILIOTI: I'll see it one day.

EISENBERG: Any plans for, like, a screening party, you know, 2085?

MILIOTI: 2085? How far away is that?


MILIOTI: No, I do have a plan to sit with maybe a bottle of red wine and watch it.

EISENBERG: You do a lot in - I'm watching you onstage and you are speaking with an accent, you're playing piano, you're singing. So let's take this apart. Playing piano, that is something you learned for this role?

MILIOTI: I did learn that for this.

EISENBERG: That's pretty impressive.

MILIOTI: Thank you.

EISENBERG: How long did you have?

MILIOTI: They gave me ten days to learn two pieces.

EISENBERG: So is there like a Rosetta Piano Stone or something like that?


MILIOTI: I wish there had been. No, I had a friend who was willing to sit with me for seven hours a day, who's a piano player. And he wrote out the charts so that - I don't know if anyone here plays piano. Everyone's like "No."


MILIOTI: We don't even like piano.


MILIOTI: Anyone can play that.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it's a very banjo crowd.

MILIOTI: Yeah. I would love to know the banjo.

EISENBERG: There's a great banjo in your show.

MILIOTI: Banjo is - I know, and it's instantly sexy, the banjo.

EISENBERG: And then now you speak, obviously the entire show, with a dialect.


EISENBERG: Which sounds nothing like you. It sounds totally different than your normal speaking voice. So are dialects, is that something you're into? Because I also saw you on "30 Rock," there you had an affected voice, because you were playing this baby-voice character...


EISENBERG: ...that was hilarious.

MILIOTI: Oh, thank you. Everyone's like "now we know her. We didn't know before."


EISENBERG: The crazy blonde hair.

MILIOTI: And some people are like "I still don't know."


EISENBERG: But are you - is that your thing, voices, dialects?

MILIOTI: Yeah, I guess it is. I've never actually had my own - I've had my own voice in something once. Once.


MILIOTI: But mostly, yeah, I'm asked to do, like, voices, and they're like put on this wig, yeah.

EISENBERG: What other accents have you done for characters?

MILIOTI: I've done Irish. I've done British. I've done southern.

EISENBERG: Any other musicals?

MILIOTI: No, this is my first musical.

EISENBERG: This is your very first musical.

MILIOTI: Yeah, I've never done a musical before.


MILIOTI: I did one. I played Maria in "West Side Story" in high school.


MILIOTI: And I couldn't hit the notes, so I just made tones.



MILIOTI: So, I had a...


MILIOTI: And also...

EISENBERG: I feel like your resume is basically just troubleshooting. That's the way you...


MILIOTI: It is. I often - yeah, it is troubleshooting. That's very good.

EISENBERG: When you played Maria, how was your - that's a strong accent. How was your...

MILIOTI: I played it as a Russian.


MILIOTI: It's like "how many bullets are left in this gun," you know.


EISENBERG: So here we have - you've done television. You've done film. You're on a majorly unbelievably successful Broadway show. What do you - like, do you have a hope to, I want to do more movies or I want to be in more television or I want to do more...

MILIOTI: I loved it all. I mean, you know, "30 Rock" is my favorite TV show, and so that was like a huge - I couldn't believe that I was even in the same room with Tina Fey or any of them, or Alec Baldwin, or any of them. I was so star struck, I could barely speak. And that was amazing. I don't know what - I would love to one day own a house with a guest room.

EISENBERG: I know. I recently was like I just want to be able to walk around my bed. That was like all I cared about.


MILIOTI: I can't walk around my bed.


MILIOTI: I live in a loft.

EISENBERG: All right, and clearly, you openly tell people you're from New Jersey. That's cool.

MILIOTI: I do. I know, we get a very bad rap.

EISENBERG: Why do you think you get a bad rap?

MILIOTI: Probably because the "Jersey Shore" nonsense.

EISENBERG: Yeah, it started then?

MILIOTI: Well, I don't know.


MILIOTI: Yeah, I'm pretty sure it started in 2009.

EISENBERG: It was before that. All right, well, based on that little New Jersey note, Cristin, are you ready to take on an ASK ME ANOTHER challenge?


EISENBERG: All right, let's do it.


EISENBERG: Cristin Milioti, everybody.


EISENBERG: Let's welcome back our puzzle guru Noah Tarnow.


EISENBERG: And our one-man house band, Jonathan Coulton.


EISENBERG: Now, Cristin.


EISENBERG: We found someone to play against you. We found a New Jersey native.



MILIOTI: Impossible.

EISENBERG: It's true.


EISENBERG: Please welcome Conor Egan.


EISENBERG: Conor is not only a New Jersey native, he is from the Jersey shore.


CONOR EGAN: That's true.

MILIOTI: Where? Where?

EGAN: Avon by the Sea.

MILIOTI: My parents are from Margate.

EGAN: Very good.


EISENBERG: It's like you're related or enemies. Now, Cristin, you grew up in Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and you played Johnny Sack's daughter on "The Sopranos." So you probably know better than anyone most of the virtues of the great Garden State. Exactly how much, we're going to find out. We're going to ask you about all sorts of people and things that come from your home state. Are you ready?


MILIOTI: I am also not ready.


EISENBERG: We're going to continue anyways. How do you feel about that? That's the New York way.


EISENBERG: All right, New York/New Jersey native Whitney Houston has so many iconic songs, but she might be remembered the best for her cover of Dolly Parton's "I Will Always Love You," which Houston recorded for the soundtrack of what film?



EGAN: "The Bodyguard."

EISENBERG: "The Bodyguard."

MILIOTI: I pushed the button.


EGAN: Not quick enough.


MILIOTI: This man has made a fatal mistake.


NOAH TARNOW: The tension between these two.

EISENBERG: It's great.

MILIOTI: We're either going to kiss or fight each other.


EGAN: This is how New Jerseyans relate.

EISENBERG: Conor, you might be winning a whole lot more than you think.


EISENBERG: Supposedly, Richard Hollingshead came up with the idea for this because his mother was too large to sit in movie theater seats. After patenting his idea in 1933, the world's first what opened in Camden, New Jersey?


EGAN: Drive-in theater.

EISENBERG: Drive-in theater is correct.


MILIOTI: Also, I think my buzzer is broken.

EISENBERG: Okay, let's give it a shot. Does it work.



EISENBERG: When the 10-year-old main character of this book moves from New York City to the Jersey suburbs, she has to deal with a lot of new experiences: boys, bras and playing spin the bottle. She also struggles with religion, as her mother's Christian and her father's Jewish. What?


EISENBERG: What is the title of this young adult book that is often banned from school libraries, written by Elizabeth, New Jersey native Judy Blume.



MILIOTI: Ramona.


MILIOTI: Wait, can I do it again. Can I do it again?


MILIOTI: Can I do it again?

EISENBERG: Quickly. Quickly.

MILIOTI: Take a seat.


MILIOTI: Margaret from "Are You There, God? It's Me, Margaret."

EISENBERG: Yes, that's right.


EISENBERG: In 2011, Nobel Prize winner Toni Morrison was paid $30,000 to give the commencement address at Rutgers University. If that seems a lot, consider that a month earlier, Rutgers' student activities committee paid $32,000 for what "Jersey Shore" star to appear on campus.




EGAN: Snooki.

EISENBERG: Snooki is correct.




EISENBERG: Hip-hop star Lauryn Hill grew up in South Orange, New Jersey, graduating from Columbia High School in 1993. But she wasn't the only graduate from that year to hit it big. In fact, she attended this actor's bar mitzvah years before he wrote and starred in the appropriately named film "Garden State."



MILIOTI: Zach Braff.



EISENBERG: Well, Noah?

TARNOW: Well, well, well. Well, Cristin, you were awfully entertaining.


TARNOW: But it looks like Conor just beat you out anyway.


EISENBERG: Cristin, we would like to give you a ASK ME ANOTHER Rubik's Cube and a huge round of applause for being delightful.


EISENBERG: Conor, we would like to award you with the soundtrack from "Once." You might even be able to get it autographed. I don't know.


EISENBERG: No? That's it.


EISENBERG: A hand for our contestant Conor Egan.


EISENBERG: Would you like to play a song for us, Jonathan?

JONATHAN COULTON: Yes. Yes, I would love to play a song. All this talk of New Jersey has made it impossible for me to not play a Bon Jovi song right now.


COULTON: Tommy used to work on the docks. The union's on strike, he's down on his luck. It's tough. Oh, it's tough. Gina works a diner all day. She's working for her man. She's bringing home her pay for love, for love.

She said we got to hold on to what we got. It doesn't make a difference if we make it or not. We got each other and that's a lot for love. We'll give it a shot. Whoa, we're halfway. Whoa, living on a prayer. Take my hand and we'll make it, I swear. Whoa, living on a prayer, living on a prayer.

EISENBERG: Jonathan Coulton.


COULTON: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.