“Cristin and I get along really, really well, and we make a lot of weird jokes. We have our own little shorthand. I think that it’s hard to dismiss how you feel about a person entirely when you’re acting with them,” Harper tells EW of his co-star. “It’s my hope that even with the tension of their marriage being very high, that there’s maybe just little sparks of the things that they may have liked about each other at the beginning, just because I just adore Cristin to death.”
Milioti feels the same way, she says. “Will and I have a really beautiful shorthand, and we’ve also played a couple in distress before [in the play After the Blast]. I love Will so much. I love him as an actor, I love him as a human. And to do the things that we do — even if it’s not screaming, crying, rolled up in a ball on the floor — but to go to these uncomfortable and painful places together, I would just follow him anywhere.”
It’s a good thing, too, because their onscreen lives and marriage go from zero to high stakes in their new comedy-thriller from Andy Siara (Palm Springs), which follows their characters as they go on a vacation to a tropical getaway to celebrate their 10th anniversary and maybe try to salvage their strained relationship. Things go from bad to weird and worse when Milioti’s character, Emma, comes across a phone that’s connected to a mystery involving a missing persons case, a dead body, and a freak hurricane that destroyed the resort where all of this took place 15 years earlier — and naturally, she investigates and drags her husband, Noah, into it all.
And though there are many clues sprinkled throughout the episodes that unlock the central mystery, Milioti teases that audiences will “never see what’s coming.” “None of what you think is going to happen, will happen. And I cannot repeat that enough,” she says.
Ahead of the first three episodes dropping on Peacock (out now), Milioti and Harper opened up to EW about their show’s twisty nature and what its core theme of the “disappointment of time” means to them.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: If you were to find a mysterious phone belonging to a missing person, would you guys investigate like your characters do? Or how would you respond?
CRISTIN MILIOTI: I think if I knew specifically that some… I mean, obviously this isn’t what Emma experiences, but if I was in the woods and found a cell phone in an area where I knew there was a disappearance, I would definitely squirrel it. And at least do some preliminary Googling, I would say.
WILLIAM JACKSON HARPER: Yeah. I think if somebody was missing and I found a wild phone in the wilderness, I would probably be like, “Yo, someone needs to see this.” If I didn’t know anyone was missing, and I saw, specifically, a phone from 2007, I would… I don’t know. I probably wouldn’t leave it there, but I’d probably just recycle it, or something like that.
Peacock Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper in ‘The Resort’
The phone sets them off on a wild mystery adventure, but do you feel like it’s a way for your characters to avoid dealing with their own, actual problems?
MILIOTI: I do. I think it certainly starts out that way. I think that’s also one of the things I really love about this show is that, it just takes so many unexpected turns. But I think that it begins that way, is that it’s something to pour energy into, where they can be united, and they don’t have to talk about what’s wrong. And then I think throughout the show, things are reflected back to them about who they are individually, and who they are as a couple, that they can no longer avoid. And I just really love that.
HARPER: Yeah. I think that it is. From Noah’s point of view, I think it’s like, “Oh, here’s my wife, who’s very excited and jazzed about something, even if I’m really reluctant to get involved. I think that it’s been a minute since I’ve seen that kind of happiness, or excitement, coming from this person.” It matters a lot to get back to that. I think Noah’s also super avoidant, and I think he avoids in a slightly different way. The tactics that they both use are different. And I think his way is to sort of just talk around it, and to act like everything is probably okay. If we don’t sit with our feelings for too long, everything will be fine, and we’ll forget that we feel this bad about certain things. That’s part of what’s driving them to dive into this mystery thing.
And for you guys, as actors, how did you approach playing two characters who presumably know everything about one another but because they’ve drifted so far apart, almost seem to know nothing about each other?
MILIOTI: I think thankfully there is so much of that there in Andy [Siara]’s writing. I think he is able to show those textures and those emotions, without explicitly stating them, which is the best type of stuff to act. And I think Andy and Ben Sinclair, who directed the first four episodes, are both very collaborative about, “Bring something in, throw it away, do this, really explore.”
HARPER: I feel the same about Cristin. I don’t know if this is a conscious approach, for me, as much as it’s something that’s kind of happened. I think we’re playing these characters that are in a difficult spot in their relationship, but at one point they were really very happy together.
Cristin makes really interesting, organic, grounded, emotionally raw and available choices all the time. And so when I’m getting to be in those scenes, there’s no way to not sort of drop in, and just try to meet her at that level, of being, “All right, we’re doing some real stuff. We’re not smacking through it. We’re going to really try to see what comes out.” And so yeah, it’s less conscious, like I’m going to approach it this way, but it is letting anything that serves into the stew, a little bit.
Another big aspect of the show, of course, is the central mystery. And I know we don’t want to get into spoilers, but what can you tease for the viewers at home? Is there anything in particular they should pay attention to?
HARPER: This is one of those shows that rewards you for paying attention. And so I don’t want to give anything away, obviously, but it is one that you can watch very closely, and you might get ahead in a way that might be fun, or it might just leave something hanging where you’re like, “I feel like that was important to clock, but who knows?” And maybe it’ll come back and surprise you. I think that’s something that audiences… I’d like to think that they should expect that. But I feel like there’s a lot of really interesting elements in the story, and it’s not all laid out for you. Some of it is meant for you to just sort of clock and see if that actually matters or not.
MILIOTI: And I would say, too, that one thing to maybe keep in mind, again, without spoiling anything, is that the show you think it is in the first episode, nothing can prepare you for how different it is by the end. Which is also what was so exciting about it and intriguing about it as a project. You’ll never see what’s coming. And not in your wildest dreams would you be able to be like, “I bet this happens.” None of what you think is going to happen, will happen. And I cannot repeat that enough.
Peacock Cristin Milioti and William Jackson Harper in ‘The Resort’
Were you guys shocked as you were working though it?
MILIOTI: Yeah, I was.
HARPER: Yeah. We knew basically how things were going to go, at some point while shooting it, but we didn’t know everything at the very beginning. I do feel there’s ways in which the story kind of takes some really surprising turns, that I just didn’t predict. And there are characters that wind up interacting with each other in ways that you just would not expect. I was definitely surprised by it, and also surprised by how much heart there is in it, as well as all of the other stuff. It’s not just a mystery, it’s as much about people dealing with getting older and looking back at their youth, as it is about these other things that are going on. Yeah, it is surprising, in a lot of ways.
Showrunner Andy Siara previously described the show as being “about the disappointment of time,” which I thought was really interesting. And whenever I asked him what he meant by that, he gave me a bunch of different things, like getting older, or perhaps that there’s just not enough time in life. I’m curious for you guys, what does the disappointment of time mean to you? Or to your characters?
MILIOTI: I think I’m still discovering what it means to me as Cristin, other than that I also really identify with there’s not enough time, which I think is a very big difference between me and Emma. I think Emma thinks that there’s too much time. I don’t want to be a vampire, I don’t want to live forever, but I’d be interested in slowing everything down. I’d be very interested in that. I think that getting older is very intense, and if you’re lucky enough to get older, it’s a beautiful experience. And every part of it is unexpected and wild. And sometimes it feels like the older you get, the deeper you love, and then you also experience loss, and the finite nature of it all is really in the room, which makes everything all the more beautiful in the best of times. I don’t know.
Your life, whether it’s in a good place, or a not so good place, is never what you thought it would be, because it’s just so different until you get there. And it’s so different than what your 18-year-old self would think, or hope for, or fear. There are things I’m sure in my life that if I told my 18-year-old self, she’d be like, “Ugh, what? Lame.” And now I’m like, “No, it’s the best part. It’s the part I like now. Can you believe it?” I think the disappointment of time, I love that it’s a double entendre. That yes, you grapple with these things you never thought, that nothing other than time could have prepared you for. And also, “Wow, I wish there were more of it.”
This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity.
The first three episodes of The Resort are now streaming on Peacock, with new episodes out weekly.
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