After eight long seasons, How I Met Your Mother co-creator Carter Bays stood on a Los Angeles soundstage on March 27, beaming as he introduced the actress who would play the titular character. ”This,” he dramatically announced to the cast and crew, pointing to Cristin Milioti, ”is the girl with the yellow umbrella.” Everyone on the stage broke into applause. And fans had a similar response when the mother popped up in the closing seconds of the May 13 season 8 finale, in a shocking twist that was kept entirely under wraps by CBS and the showrunners.
While the scene answered the biggest burning question — who is the woman at the center of the saga that Ted (Josh Radnor) has been reliving for his kids (and viewers) since the show launched in 2005? — it left us with many more: Why now? How will her romance with Ted play out in the final season? (Although viewers got their first good look at the mother in the finale, she won’t be coming face-to-face with Ted until later next season.) How was the long-awaited casting kept secret from the show’s incredibly rabid followers? EW was on set for the filming of the game-changing scene, and scored an exclusive interview with Bays and co-creator Craig Thomas as they broke down the Mother of all reveals.
It’s already been announced that next season will be your last. With another year to go, why introduce the mother now?
CARTER BAYS One of our hard-and-fast rules [when we thought we were doing eight seasons] was that we didn’t want to meet her until the very end. We felt like, now that we’re doing another year, let’s find an interesting new twist.
CRAIG THOMAS We’ve talked here and there about letting the audience see the mother before Ted. Would that be really fascinating or let some air out of the balloon? We were scared of it for a long time, but this past season it came up, and it just fit in so well.
How did you keep the whole thing quiet?
THOMAS In the script we called the character ”definitely not the mother,” so it was very good code. We got very CIA and intense about it: We really didn’t put it on paper; we never emailed the outline or the script. We literally just kept it on hard copies of paper that we messengered back and forth to people and then got the copies back and destroyed [them].
BAYS We had a whole fake title. The script that we auditioned her from was titled ”USC Student Thesis Film.”
THOMAS Something no one in Hollywood would ever actually read.
BAYS All the extras from the scene with the mother are staff from How I Met Your Mother.
How did it feel to finally have Milioti on set and see it all play out?
THOMAS She just had to walk and say one line, but we were all freaking out and losing our minds. All she said was ”One ticket to Farhampton, please.” It was a very surreal moment. It was a moment we pictured for a lot of years, and ultimately it was great.
It seems like people thought the mother would be a big star. Did you ever consider going that route?
THOMAS We didn’t want it to be a big, famous star because we didn’t want the wider audience to have associations with whatever actress this would be, where it’s like, ”Oh, it’s Anne Hathaway and I think blank of Anne Hathaway….” You’re waiting years to meet this woman, and it’s like, ”Oh, he’s in love with Amy Adams just like the rest of America is.” The whole idea is that Ted’s never seen this woman before, so it better feel that way to the audience.
Did you ever seriously think about making Robin [Cobie Smulders] the mother?
BAYS No. We’ve heard that question a lot. What made the show interesting to us is that Ted meets the ”perfect” woman and it’s [still] not his final love story.
What can you tell us about next season?
THOMAS The entirety of season 9 will be told in the course of Barney [Neil Patrick Harris] and Robin’s wedding weekend. It will be 24 episodes over two days, essentially. We wanted to end season 8 inviting the audience out to that wedding. We’re traveling this series out to this mythical Hampton called Farhampton — please join us on the journey there. We thought we would entice the viewers with this glimpse of the mother.
BAYS There will be three episodes that take place entirely in flashbacks…. It’s going to be an exciting two days. Everything’s going to come to a head at this wedding. It’s basically going to be the longest weekend of their lives, quite literally.
THOMAS We like the idea of everybody heading to this wedding with big stuff going on in their lives, big secrets…. It’s going to be very fun to write.
ALL ABOUT THE MOTHER
Theatergoers may already be familiar with HIMYM’s newest addition, Cristin Milioti, who was nominated for a Tony for her turn as ”Girl” in the musical version of Once last year. But the New Jersey native, 27, has also appeared in films (like 2012’s Mike Birbiglia comedy Sleepwalk With Me) and on TV, including guest spots on The Sopranos, The Good Wife, and Nurse Jackie. Her most memorable small-screen role was in a 2011 episode of 30 Rock, as a baby-voiced comedy writer whom Liz Lemon (Tina Fey) hires to spark a ”femolution” at TGS. Of casting Milioti on Mother, co-creator Craig Thomas says: ”Cristin just hit the target. She’s not known to everybody, but people who have gone and seen Once or people who’ve seen her work in various indie films know she’s a great actress. There’s something very special and unique and real about her.”