In Hulu’s Palm Springs — the latest spin on the familiar Groundhog Day time loop formula, where a character is forced to relive the same day over and over again until they learn an important lesson that helps them figure out how to stop it — The Lonely Island’s Andy Samberg stars alongside How I Met Your Mother’s Cristin Milioti as Nyles and Sarah, respectively, two dejected wedding guests that find themselves trapped in the aforementioned time loop. Meanwhile, Camila Mendes plays opposite them as Tala, the lucky bride whose wedding day Nyles and Sarah can’t seem to escape. As Sarah’s selfless sister, Tala has always been the family’s pride and joy — she’s the bright ray of sunshine to Sarah’s despondent killjoy. (As we find out less than ten minutes into the film, she even donated bone marrow to save her baby brother’s life.)
It’s all relatively new territory for the young actress, who, before this, was best known for playing reformed bully Veronica Lodge in the increasingly outlandish beloved teen drama Riverdale. But coincidentally, it might have been her close association with that tonally different CW series that ultimately landed her this part. As she tells me, due to her high-profile image as an on-screen high-schooler, she was worried that Palm Springs’ casting directors would never be able to envision her as an adult bride. So rather than getting her hopes up, she barely made an effort in her taped audition. In the end, however, her lackadaisical approach made for a fitting character choice. “The audition worked in my favor because here we are talking about it,” she jokes.
A few weeks before the film’s exclusive Hulu premiere, NYLON hopped on the phone with Camila Mendes to talk about her experience working on Palm Springs with Andy Samberg, tapping into her own sister-sister dynamic to help prepare for the role, why this time loop narrative might resonate more in the middle of quarantine than it would have otherwise, and why she thinks being pigeonholed as an actor is inevitable when you spend years playing a high-schooler.
How did you get involved with Palm Springs?
I just got the audition in my inbox, read the script, and fell in love with it. I didn't think I was going to get the role because I wasn't sure, playing a high school character on Riverdale and all, they were going to be able to see me as an older character — or bride, at least. So, not that I ever support doing this, but I just threw away the audition. Like, You know what, I'm probably not going to get this, so whatever. I'll just do a couple takes and then send it in. But I think having that loose approach towards the audition worked in my favor because here we are talking about it.
Do you think your association with Riverdale has pigeonholed your career?
I think that no matter who you are or what you do, if you're on a teen show, yeah, there's an inherent pigeonhole that comes with that. But I've watched a bunch of people before me deal with that. I do think it takes some time after coming off a show to shake it off a little bit and reset to have people perceive you in a different way, but I do think that's changing a lot. I don't know if it's because of social media and being able to control your image or if it’s this new wave of TV that people seem to find equally entertaining and as high-quality as film. I think people are now more open to perceiving TV actors as serious actors, period. It's changing, but I do find that it's kind of inevitable to be pigeonholed a little bit when you're playing the same character for years.
When you got the script, were you immediately reminded of things like Groundhog Day and Russian Doll? Were you familiar with those other time loop narratives?
Yeah, totally. I think time loop stories are super entertaining. But what I loved about this one particularly is that it felt like it went a little deeper because they really push the existentialism and this question of “the meaning of life.” On top of it being a romantic comedy, it felt like a very intellectual movie. So I did love the time loop element, but I also loved all the other elements about it.
The film premiered earlier this year at Sundance, the only 2020 film festival that has gone according to plan because of the pandemic. What was that experience like?
Oh, it was so surreal. I had never been to Sundance before and I didn't think I'd be able to swing going while I was on Riverdale. But it was super fun. It had this electric vibe to it. Seeing people react to the movie in theaters was very magical because I had watched it so many times on my laptop and enjoyed it, but you don't really know how something is going to hit until you've got a room full of people watching it and absorbing it. Seeing the authentic reactions of the audience made me so giddy. I was there with my team and the whole cast, and we were all just looking around like, "Oh my god, people are enjoying this." It was super exciting.
You play Tala, the bride. Did you enjoy getting the chance to play someone getting married?
Oh yeah. I loved it. It just felt like such a different role for me. Just even being able to play something that was a little bit more comedic in tone, it was very liberating.
Tala is the sister of Cristin Milioti’s Sarah and much of your role has to do with this strained sister dynamic. As a sister in real life, was there anything that you tapped into with your own sister-sister relationship to help you prepare for this role?
I feel like there are a lot of parallels, but I think the biggest parallel would be how different me and my sister are. We're definitely polar opposites. I always told Cristin that there's something about her that reminds me a lot of my sister and I don't really know if I could put my finger on it. It might be that they actually kind of look alike or it's just her mannerisms sometimes, but there were a lot of similarities between Tala and her sister and me and my sister. For sure.
In the film, you’re the perfect selfless sister who gave bone marrow to your brother to save his life. Is that the role you play in your own sister relationship?
I don't think so. I don't know. It's so nuanced. I wouldn't compare that perfectly to my personal life. But there are similarities.
With this being a movie about time loops, so much of it focuses on this idea of repetition and doing the same thing every day. I watched it while in quarantine, and couldn’t help but notice the similarities — for the past few months, there has been a sense of repetition in our own lives. As you've been gearing up to promote this movie while in quarantine yourself, have you thought about the similarities, where every day seems the same because you can't really do anything?
That's actually very interesting. That parallel is so accurate, but for some reason it hadn't occurred to me until you mentioned it. But yeah, I think it very much feels like we're currently living the same day every day. So I think maybe this movie will hit in ways we didn't expect it to hit.
On a somewhat deeper level, there's also the theme about getting the chance to redo things and make them better. Are there any situations you wish you had the opportunity to relive? Any situations you wish you could go back and handle differently?
No, I don't think I would ever want to mess with the course of it. I think there's a reason — at least in my personal life. I think there's a lot of things about history I'd love to change. But personally, I don't know that I would ever want to change how I played certain scenarios out because we learn so much from our mistakes. I think there's a reason we are where we are in our lives, and everything that has happened has led us to this moment. So I don't know that I would do anything differently because that might lead me toward a different path and maybe one that isn't as good. I always have to look back on my actions and be grateful for them for teaching me lessons and creating the person that I am in this moment.
What were the key differences between being on an indie film set like this one and being on big sets like you have been for the past few years with Riverdale?
There's definitely a lot more freedom on an indie set, simply because you're figuring out the movie as you go — especially with a comedy. I think there's always more room for improvisation and everyone's just feeling it out as they go. It feels way more like a collaboration. Not to say that Riverdale isn't collaborative, but I just think Riverdale is very choreographed. It's very specific and stylized, so there's a lot of choreography that comes with that, if that makes sense. You land on your mark at a specific moment and you look up towards the light and you say the line.
With indie sets, on top of them having a more improvisational feel, they also don't have as much time, so it feels a little bit more scrambled sometimes. Whereas Riverdale is way more of a well-oiled machine, an indie set will feel like, Okay, we've got to get this. If you could just keep on going, say the line...okay, now look. That's good. Move on. It's got this whole vibe to it where you just really don't have time to waste, so you're winging it constantly.
What was it like to work with Andy Samberg?
Oh my gosh. I'm obsessed with Andy. He is the best human ever — so funny, so kind and genuine. He made me feel super comfortable. I have nothing but good things to say about him.
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR THE FILM ARE CONTAINED IN THE NEXT TWO QUESTIONS
One of my favorite scenes in the film is when Sarah first finds out that she has been put into this time loop and starts attacking Nyles. When you see it, you rush out to stop her, but end up falling flat on your face and losing all of your front teeth.
[Shooting that scene] was so fun because that is my favorite scene for my character. It's the reason I even wanted to play this character. I was like, "Oh, I just want to be able to have all my teeth missing and be hysterically crying." The whole idea of it sounded so fun to me. But yeah, we had a stunt double there. I did the fall a couple times with a pad at the bottom, but she really nailed the face-on-concrete look.
When we shot the scene after, when I'm actually crying and my teeth are missing, that was actually really hard because they paint your teeth with this special tooth thing that makes your teeth black, and you have to keep it dry and they have to keep reapplying it. It tastes weird. Then, they have to put the blood in your mouth in between every take. So I'd be sitting there with all this fake blood in my mouth, and sometimes it would overflow and then I'd have to spit it out. It was a whole thing. And in between every crying scene, they would just come up to me and put more blood in my mouth and then I'd, like, cough it up. It was very sloppy.
Towards the end of the movie, when Sarah does her final “reset” after figuring out how to break the time loop, she tells your groom, Abe (Tyler Hoechlin), not to fuck this marriage up. This is obviously a reference to the fact that, midway through the film, we find out Abe cheated on you with your sister the night before your wedding. Your character only finds out about the cheating during one reset, and that’s not the final one. If you had to imagine the future of these characters, do you think Tala and Abe end up happily ever after? Does Abe ever come clean about what happened between him and your sister?
Ooh. That's a hard question. I'd like to believe that they work it out. All I know is that if he ever were to tell Tala what he did, I don't think Tala could ever forgive him. I don't think she could ever stay married to him — that would 100-percent ruin the marriage. So I don't know that I would ever expect Abe to tell Tala. I think there's a world in which he never tells her, that he learns his lesson and uses that to motivate him to be the best husband he can be. Or maybe he's doomed from the beginning! Maybe the fact that he ever did that just shows his poor judgment, and he eventually does it again with someone else. Then, Tala finds out about that and their whole marriage falls apart. There's a lot of ways this could play out.
It’s another time loop!
We'll hash that out in the sequel — if there ever is one.
Palm Springs premieres on Hulu Friday, July 10th.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.