The A to Z star talks Tinder, her worst date ever and the nipple episode of Mad Men
Proving that television really is becoming the go-to place for romantic comedies, NBC’s new sitcom A to Z tells the complete story of Andrew and Zelda, who date for eight months, three weeks, five days and one hour. Mad Men’s Ben Feldman plays Andrew, the eager romantic; Cristin Milioti, otherwise known as How I Met Your Mother‘s titular mom (or sexy-baby-voice girl from 30 Rock), plays Zelda, who’s more eager to put the brakes on their relationship’s whirlwind beginning.
TIME caught up with Milioti to talk about the show (premiering Oct. 2), online dating and why you should still make mixtapes for your crush.
TIME: How does the show keep viewers on their toes when we know that the main characters break up?
Cristin Milioti: Gosh, it’s interesting, because your guess is as good as mine. They won’t tell us how it ends. Which I actually really like, because that means we don’t know how to play anything other than what the episode is. We’re not playing toward an ending. Ben and I differ in what are opinions are. I think they’re going to break up, he thinks they’re going to get married.
I was going to guess that there would be some bait-and-switch or reset that allows the premise to keep going.
Right? I thought that too. They have to go through the friendship of it, and we start the alphabet all over again. I’m not sure, to be honest with you. I think what the show does beautifully, as I’ve been working on it, is examine what it’s like to let someone into your life when you’re falling in love, which is the most incredible feeling in the world. But also terrifying.
You mentioned the alphabet — are there 26 episodes for each letter?
I think it would be 22, but I think they would combine some of the letters. I only say this because I heard [creator] Ben Queen say this at the TCAs. “LMNO” is — God, I sound like a grandma — texting code for “laughing my nuts off.” Those are his words.
Well, you learn something new everyday!
I always thought it was LMAO, which is “laughing my ass off.” That’s the one that I know. And obviously good old standard LOL.
I’m partial to ROFL.
I’ve seen that one too!
It’s almost onomatopoeic — that’s what I imagine rolling on the floor laughing sounds like.
So this is the second show you’ve been on where the ending is somewhat known and what happens in the middle is the real meat of the story.
It’s interesting because I never thought that, not even for a second. And then we were doing the TCAs and people started asking questions like that. “Do you think it’s a coincidence that you’re doing a show that’s so much like How I Met Your Mother?”
But, other than that aspect, I don’t really think of them as that similar?
Yeah, but we do deal with a similar theme of whether or not destiny exists.
Do you believe it does?
I gotta tell you, I do for the most part. And then sometimes … I’m still trying to figure that out. Every now and then I’m like, are we the ones that need to take action and then destiny doesn’t exist? Do you create your own destiny? But then, if you create your own destiny, destiny already exists! And you just didn’t even know.
So you differ from your character in that way.
Ben Feldman and I sort of are each other’s characters in real life. I’m Andrew, he’s Zelda. He’s far more pragmatic. I think I believe more in love at first sight than he does.
Andrew works at an online dating company. Have you ever tried that?
No, I’ve never tried it. I’m not on any social media. I know people who have met on Twitter and through Facebook. I had a friend, someone liked her photos on Instagram and they started direct messaging each other and went out on a date! That’s so foreign to me. Whatever floats your boat. If it works for you and that’s how you find love, that’s wonderful. On the other hand, there’s nothing like meeting a person and knowing there’s that sparkly chemistry. But I guess you know that when you go out on that date after your profiles get Tindered.
Have you played around on someone else’s Tinder?
Last summer a friend of a friend gave me his phone and said, “Want to flip through and do my Tinder?” I had this crazy power rush. I was like, “Oh my God, I’m deciding who you’re going to go on a date with!” But I also felt terrible clicking no.
Destiny’s in your hands.
Yes, exactly! My my, how the tables have turned.
What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?
I went on a date with someone that I had not been seeing for very long — I’ve pulled a real Andrew here — but I was very sure: “I have feelings for this person and I’m going to tell them tonight.” We went out to dinner and had a couple glasses of wine, and I was finally like, “I just have to tell you, I really, really like you and have all these feelings and just needed to get that off my chest.” He just stared at me and was like “Oh, okay, I’m sorry, I don’t feel the same way.” We had just finished dinner!
And you just had to sit there until it was over?
Yes! It was a nightmare.
Okay, happier thoughts: what is your ideal date?
It would probably involve the beach and eating.
Very good choices.
Or like something wild that I’ve never done before like being driven to a lookout and being able to see the city. I feel like I could come up with a better one.
I don’t know. Eating at the beach is hard to top.
That’s all you need!
Going back to How I Met Your Mother for a second, were you surprised about the backlash regarding the ending?
Oh no, I wasn’t surprised. That show — which speaks to the quality of that show — always had such a passionate fanbase. I remember talking with one of our props guys about what the reaction was going to be, because some people all along had rooted for Ted and Robin, even when she was going to get married. There’s no way to please everybody. There’s no way to please 10 million people, unless you take them to the beach and give them food.
Do you watch Mad Men? Because Ben’s character went a little crazy this season.
We were just talking about this yesterday. I’ve never seen Mad Men. I want to do it leisurely and really soak it in, but I don’t have time to get to season five [when Feldman’s character is introduced]. I just want him to send me his scenes, but he won’t do it.
Do you know what happens?
I do, because we did the upfronts the day after he cut his nipple off.
Oh my God.
We were in the press line together, and all the questions were like, “Cristin, how do you feel about dying?” “Ben, how do you feel about cutting your nipple off?” It was a really dark press line.
My first thought after watching that scene was thankfully A to Z isn’t on until October — we have some time before we have to think of him in a rom-com way.
Yeah, and he does it with aplomb. I really, really want to see Mad Men. I’ve YouTubed — he doesn’t even know this — I’ve YouTubed parts of his performance when he was first being brought in for the role of Andrew. I loved it. I loved what he was doing, and I want to see more of it, but he was like, “It’s important that you know what’s going on.” I basically asked him for his reel.
In addition to acting, you’re also musical: you’ve been nominated for a Tony and the Once soundtrack won a Grammy. Are you going to go for EGOT status?
Haha, geez, I don’t know — I’ll try, I guess? I’m in complete disbelief of what has happened to me. And the Grammy thing, it seems like I just went to a store and asked them to make me a Grammy. It’s so unbelievable to have that thing in my house. It just looks like when you’re little and you’re playing and you get an Oscar that says “Best mom.” That’s what it feels like. I still can’t believe that.
Speaking of music, will Andrew and Zelda swap mixtapes this season?
No, but they should!
Maybe as like a DVD extra you can include them.
Yeah. Do people still do that? People should do that.
I would, but I feel like people catch on too quickly now — they know what’s up when you give them a mix CD.
But hasn’t it gone retro yet now? Maybe not. I don’t think mixtapes will ever go out of style.
You need to speak out and make them cool again.
This is a public statement: I’m in favor of mixtapes.
A version of this story appears in the Oct. 6 issue of TIME, on stands this Friday.