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September 09, 2013

A Mom Eight Years in the Making

Cristin Milioti has a secret.

Amy Amatangelo

Cristin Milioti has a secret. Before being cast as the long-awaited title character in How I Met Your Mother, she was not familiar with the series.

"I feel so embarrassed talking about this," Milioti says from her L.A. home. "I had never seen a full episode of the show."

This past summer, the New Jersey native — who'll become a regular in the ninth and final season, which kicks off September 23 — caught up with the CBS comedy every morning over breakfast. "It's awesome," she says. "I'm so invested in it now."

Since she appeared in the final moments of last May's finale, strangers have been greeting her on the street, gushing how happy they are to finally meet her.

Still, assuming a role that has been anticipated for eight years calls for a low profile. She steers clear of social media — no Facebook, no Twitter, no Instagram. "I can find a thousand other ways to go down a dark rabbit hole."

It was while performing her Tony-nominated role in Broadway's Once that she met with Mother creator–executive producers Carter Bays and Craig Thomas. Her audition process was cloaked in secrecy, and when she was cast in March, she told only her boyfriend and her parents — then remained terrified the big news would leak before the episode aired.

"I'm a dreadful liar," she says. "My eyes dart. I turn bright red. I stutter."

Her acting career began when an agent saw her in a student production at New York University and sent her on an audition for The Sopranos; she landed the role as mobster Johnny Sacrimoni's daughter. "It was wild," she recalls. "I had never been on a set. I didn't know how anything worked. It was an amazing first experience."

Broadway roles followed, as well as a memorable guest-star turn on 30 Rock as a writer in hiding from a psychotic ex-husband. Milioti, who will be seen as Leonard DiCaprio's wife in the upcoming Martin Scorsese film "The Wolf of Wall Street," credits her current success with learning to be herself at auditions.

"I'm not necessarily the girl next door," she says. "And I'm totally not the hot chick. I used to fight that, as opposed to embracing it."

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