Cristin Milioti may have made her debut as the Mother on How I Met Your Mother’s season finale last May, but she only spoke one line, asking for a train ticket to Farhampton, where Barney Stinson (Neil Patrick Harris) and Robin Scherbatsky (Cobie Smulders) were getting married. Die-hard fans of the long-running show had to wait until Monday night’s Season 9 premiere to learn what happened when the Mother — she still doesn’t have a name — got on that train. (And speaking of trains, you’ll want to get off this one if you don’t want to read any of the MAJOR SPOILERS that lie ahead.)
As the promos for the episode had already revealed, that train is where the Mother met Lily Aldrin (Alyson Hannigan), one of the closest friends of the Mother’s future husband Ted Mosby (Josh Radnor). In an interview with BuzzFeed last month, Milioti said the episode, titled “The Locket,” was a blur for her, but not for the reason you may expect. Best known for her Tony-nominated role in the Broadway musical Once, the 28-year-old hadn’t really watched HIMYM until executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas cast her in the role last March — and then she promptly spent her summer binge-watching all eight seasons. So while Hannigan and the crew were thrilled to finally get to work with the Mother, she had a different reaction to her first real day on set in July. “It’s so weird,” she said with a laugh. “I think they were like, ‘Oh my god, this is a scene with the Mother!’ But for me, I’m like, ‘Oh, I’m getting a scene with Lily!’ It’s so different for me!”
Milioti, a New Jersey native and professed die-hard New Yorker, noted that the biggest revelation for her in the scene was how clean the train was. “That’s a way clean Metro North car,” she said. “There were no beer bottles or urine rolling up and down the aisles. Yeah, Metro North is not a good place to be.” (For the geography sticklers among you, since Farhampton is a totally made-up place, the Metro North train could totally go there.)
But the actress was especially impressed that the production went to the trouble of procuring an authentic New York treat with the cookies the Mother had with her on the train. “They were Tate’s!” she said, her already enormous eyes getting wider. “Tate’s is a New York cookie! They’re that detailed, even down to the props. I’m not a softy, chewy [cookie] fan, and these are in all the delis in New York. They’re so good.”
The biggest treat for HIMYM fans, however, was in the episode that followed the season premiere, “Coming Back.” (Seriously: If you have not seen the episode yet, this is your last chance to avoid a big spoiler!) After spending the episode denying that he was sad to be alone at Barney and Robin’s wedding, Ted finally allowed himself to mope in the hotel bar — and then the episode flashed forward a year to Ted and the Mother sitting at the same table, together.
The first scene ever between the Mother and Ted was such a highly anticipated moment for fans — and one CBS very much wanted to keep a surprise — that Milioti was nervous to discuss it, despite assurances that nothing she said would be reported until after the episode aired. “I think that’s gonna be a really, really nice surprise, to see that [scene],” she finally allowed. “The only thing I’ve really had to worry about is that no one can know about the scene. That’s the only time they’ve been like, ‘Don’t tell anyone.’”
Milioti did at least reveal that she and Radnor shot the scene without any real discussion about it ahead of time. “We just did it,” she said. “Truly, the writing is so good that you just sit down and do it.” When asked if knowing that the Mother has a lot of things in common with Ted affected her performance at all, Milioti just shook her head. “I haven’t really thought much about it,” she said. “I’m having so much fun, that I often forget. I’m playing it as it lays, so it’s more electric and fun.”
But even though Milioti avows to stay far away from the internet, she is keenly aware of just how important HIMYM’s fans are to everyone on the show. “This sounds like a really PC thing to say, but having spent the time I’ve spent there, they are so tuned in with their fans,” she said. “Not only does that work with the show, but they’re always saying, ‘For the fans, for the fans, for the fans,’ which is probably why they have such a loyal following. I think that’s why they get really, really secretive about that scene, because [the surprise] is the best experience for the fan. That feels so weird coming out of my mouth because it feels like something you get out of a handbook, but it’s true.”