At the age of three, Milana Vayntrub and her family moved halfway around the world, from her hometown of Tashkent, Uzbekistan, to West Hollywood, California. Two years later, Vayntrub got her first acting role, starring in commercials for Mattel’s Barbie, and in 1995, she starred on the hit series ER as Tatiana, a young Russian girl diagnosed with AIDS.
After earning a degree in communication from the University of California, San Diego, Vayntrub trained with the acclaimed improvisational comedy group Upright Citizens Brigade, and in 2011, Vayntrub and fellow actress Stevie Nelson joined forces to create the YouTube comedy channel Live Prude Girls, where they produced a number of shorts and the hit web series Let’s Talk About Something More Interesting.
In November of 2013, Vayntrub began appearing regularly in AT&T commercials as endearing salesperson Lily Adams. Though originally intended to be a single spot, the success of the commercial led to several more spots, making Lily a fixture in AT&T’s advertising campaign.
Vayntrub has also had roles in a number of shows including The League, Key & Peele, House of Lies, Californication and Silicon Valley, and in 2015, she starred as Tina in Paul Feig’s sci-fi comedy Other Space.
What was your childhood like, and how did it shape who you are today?
Oof. I could write a long, indulgent book on the topic and still be wrong. Seeing as this is supposed to be a ten minute interview, I will try to briefly say this: I always felt loved by my family, even when we were apart. I was rewarded for being generous and honest, but still got my ass handed to me for having bad grades and talking back. Laughter served as an inherent, and almost compulsive, medicine. That’s resulted in me having some really beautiful, silly, loyal friendships and I value them above all else. It’s also shaped me into a professional silly-maker. I don’t know. Ask me again in 10 years or, better yet, ask my shrink.
What led you to drop out of high school after your sophomore year?
A few things. My grades were shit and there was no chance I was getting into a four year university after high school.
I wanted to be an artist. I loved painting, photo-editing and graphic design. Like at a lot of public schools, the arts program was limited, but my local community college had amazing teachers with a boatload of creative courses.
I didn’t like high school. I wanted more diversity, flexibility, and freedom. I got in trouble for talking, disagreeing with teachers, and cheating on tests pretty regularly.
But the strongest driving force was probably that my boyfriend at the time had dropped out and I thought he was the smartest, coolest, hottest and best person in the world. So the realest answer is: a boy.
What are your fondest memories of your time with the Upright Citizens Brigade?
Jim Woods and Suzi Barrett, two incredibly brilliant UCB-ers, started an improv Bootcamp. It was a group that met five times a week, three hours a day, to practice and perform improv. After every show, we’d get together to play Murder. This was Jim and Suzi’s version of a party game called Mafia, in which the townspeople have to identify the murders that are silently killing in the night. We’d often play into the morning hours, sometimes ending in screaming matches and shattered egos. I was great at figuring out who the Murders were because we’d all grown so intimately close, but whenever I was the game’s Murderer, everyone knew. I couldn’t keep a straight face and would ruin the round.
Improv was my entire life in those days. I’d do Bootcamp during the day and any indie show that’d have me at night. I fell on my face a lot, but the bad shows mattered less because I had another shot to redeem myself the next day.
Side note: I think doing improv more often makes you a better improviser for two reasons. 1) Obviously practicing your skills and learning from your own and other’s mistakes. 2) When you perform often, the stakes are lower so each show has less pressure on it — allowing you to be freer, sillier, and less inhibited. And second-guessing yourself can be a poison to improv — to a lot of creative processes.
How did you prepare for the role of Tina on Other Space?
I watched a lot of Cosmos and looked at pretty pictures of space.
How did the opportunity to star as Lily on the AT&T commercials come about?
Just your old run-of-the-mill audition. Nobody had any plans of it being a campaign. We shot the first one in November of 2013, and it started airing in December. When I was asked to come back to shoot more, I assumed it was my last time every time… but always hoped it wasn’t.
What was it like the first few times you were sitting around, watching TV, and one of your AT&T commercials popped up on the screen? Have you gotten used to that yet?
I love ’em. I’m proud to be a part of them. The writers, director, actors, the camera and art department, everyone does such a good job. It’s still a pleasant surprise when it pops up on TV and I say “Hey, there’s my face!” Except when we’re it comes on at a bar or somewhere public, and my loud-ass friends make a riot out of it. Then, I hide.
What TV shows are your current favorites?
Game of Thrones, Broad City, Impractical Jokers on TruTV, Rick and Morty, You’re the Worst, New Girl, The Daily Show, The Rachel Maddow Show, Anderson Cooper 360, Inside Amy Shumer, and Workaholics.
Are there any actors or directors out there that you’d particularly love to work with in the future?
Sooooo many — You kiddin’ me?! The list grows everyday. Besides the really ginormous guys like Spielberg and Scorsese, I’d love to get to make something with Noah Baumbach and Greta Gerwig, or be in an improvised film by Joe Swanberg, or be directed by Nicole Holofcener. I’d want to act opposite Amy Poehler and Angelina Jolie, not only because they’re massive talents, but because they’ve parlayed their entertainment careers into something with a global impact and a bigger purpose. I want to be like them when I grow up. I’d love to play on screen with Will Ferrell, Steve Martin, Tina Fey, Larry David, Kristen Wiig… We could be here all day.
What’s the best song you’ve heard recently?
Just ONE?! I can’t. Okay. “Here” by Alessia Cara.
What are you working on next?
I’m finishing up a documentary about the Syrian Refugees in Greece. I hope to have that out in January!