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What You Didn't Know About The AT&T Commercial Actress

Everybody loves Lily, AT&T's enthusiastic commercial spokeswoman. At this point, those of us who've watched her series of commercials for the telecommunications giant might have come to feel like she's almost like a member of the family. After all, throughout her TV ads, it's become very easy to feel like we were actually getting to know Lily — as a character, she's nerdy and awkward, a hopeless romantic, and she likes bedazzling. But how much do you actually know about the real-life woman who plays Lily in those ubiquitous commercials?

If you're like most people, the answer is probably "not much of anything at all." But don't worry — we've uncovered the truth behind the scenes, and we're here to fill you in on all the background info you need by putting together an in-depth look at what you don't know about the AT&T commercial girl. From her film and TV projects to her immigrant background, here's the whole story behind Milana Vayntrub, the famous AT&T girl.

Milana Vayntrub's family members were refugees

The full name of the actress who plays the AT&T girl is Milana Aleksandrovna Vayntrub. Vayntrub was actually born in the Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, or what is now the Republic of Uzbekistan, to be precise.

Life in the USSR wasn't exactly sunshine and rainbows for Vayntrub's family, especially because they faced persistent religious persecution. "In the '80s, we were living in the USSR where anti-Semitism was a deeply ingrained part of the culture," she wrote for InStyle. "Being a Jewish person in the Soviet Union was not easy. ... For my parents, both Uzbekistan-born Jews, life was a struggle."

When Vayntrub was just two years old, her family fled Uzbekistan in hopes of finding religious freedom and political asylum in America. The process was long and grueling, with the family stranded in both Austria and Italy for a while. Luckily, the Vayntrubs made it to America and settled in California.

She starred on ER at 8 years old

Lily the enthusiastic AT&T employee is hardly the first character Vayntrub ever played in a commercial. She began acting in TV ads at just 5 years old, starring in Barbie commercials to help her family make ends meet. Her first big break came in 1995, when Vayntrub landed a guest spot on the classic hit TV drama "ER."

The episode featuring her character is "Make of Two Hearts," a Season 1 episode directed by Mimi Leder. Leder would go on to direct huge films like "Deep Impact" and "On the Basis of Sex" — and Vayntrub shared the screen with other huge stars and would-be big names, too, like Julianna Margulies and George Clooney. Vayntrub plays a Russian child who's cared for by Margulies' character. At only 8 years old, Vayntrub was working with huge names on what would soon become one of the biggest shows on television.

She worked on a soap opera

Milana Vayntrub's early success on "ER" led to a soap opera appearance. Soap fans from the 1990s may have seen Vayntrub on the popular daytime soap opera "Days of Our Lives" as young Kristen Blake in three episodes. In the show, Kristen Blake (later Kristen DiMera) functions as one of the soap opera's main villains, having been raised by the criminal Stefano DiMera (Joseph Mascolo) from a young age.

"It was really weird," an older Vayntrub told Esquire about her experiences shooting her "Days of Our Lives" episodes. "I actually don't have tons of memories from it. I played someone in a flashback version. I ended up not auditioning for that. They just called me after they saw me on 'E.R.' to do that."

Interestingly, the role of Kristen has been played by many actresses over the years, including Eileen Davidson and Stacy Haiduk (who gained early fame playing Clark Kent's love interest Lana Lang in the live-action "Superboy" television series). Considering that the character is still a major figure in "Days of Our Lives," could Vayntrub reprise the role as an adult someday?

One of her earliest gigs involved a lot of burping

As a young actress, just after her appearance on "Days of Our Lives," Milana Vayntrub landed a small but notable role on an episode of the Disney Channel comedy series "Lizzie McGuire." The 2002 episode, "Gordo's Video," came in the show's first season. It concerns Gordo (Adam Lamberg) setting up hidden cameras around the school, and he catches Vayntrub's character eating and belching. (Her character is officially billed as "Cute Burper.") "I didn't even really have to burp but I practiced my burps for a long time before that," she later told Esquire. "I'm a professional disgusting person!"

She had two other appearances on the Hillary Duff-starring series — in the first season episode "Here Comes Aaron Carter," she plays a dancer, and she later appears as an extra in the Season 2 episode "You're a Good Man, Lizzie McGuire." "Comedy came early," she told Esquire about her early performances in sitcoms. "I knew when I was a kid that I was silly and I knew that I liked people who were funny, but I don't think I knew I was funny. I didn't really think about it."

She's a high school dropout

After her family moved from the USSR to California, Vayntrub attended Beverly Hills High School. She never completed her schooling there, though, and dropped out as a sophomore. She wanted to advance through her education faster. Vayntrub passed the California High School Proficiency Examination, and armed with her GED, she moved on to the University of California, San Diego. There, she earned a degree in communication — an appropriate degree considering she's known for selling AT&T products.

While she was at the school, Vayntrub participated in the Student Cabaret program in the Department of Theatre and Dance, fostering a passion for performance, acting, and comedy that led her through the rest of her career. It's perhaps this experience doing scrappy black-box shows at UC San Diego that led to her later experiences in show business, namely her time with various improv groups and YouTube comedy series. But she also credited this experience with reigniting her career.

She almost quit acting

Milana Vayntrub had a good run as a child actor — a career that includes medical drama, a Disney Channel series, and a long-running soap opera ("Days of Our Lives") is nothing to sneer at. But after her string of appearances on TV as a young actor, she nearly quit for good. But the reason isn't disillusionment with the industry or a lack of work or anything so dramatic — she said she simply thought it wasn't for her. "I stopped around middle school and high school," she told Esquire. "I remember thinking, 'I should probably focus on something more realistic. This is probably not going to work out. I have high hopes but that's probably not enough to make it in film.'"

Vayntrub couldn't shake the acting bug when she went to college, though. She said that a terrible experience in college fraught with enough "boredom and sadness" convinced her to turn back to acting. She told Esquire that she didn't really enjoy her time at the University of California San Diego until she started doing theater: "They had a really great theater program so I just took theater classes so I could not go crazy and keep myself busy," she said. "I totally got sucked back in."

She did comedy with the Upright Citizens Brigade

Amy Poehler, Aubrey Plaza, Jason Mantzoukas, Matt Walsh, Adam McKay, and Horatio Sanz are some of the most well-known names in American comedy. Uniting them all is a stint with the Upright Citizens Brigade, an improv comedy group that came out of Chicago in 1990 and moved to Manhattan a few years later. The group has enjoyed several television series and films, and alongside The Groundlings and Second City, it's one of the big talent farms from which "Saturday Night Live" gets its writers and stars. But the UCB's alumni roster also includes comedian and AT&T commercial icon Milana Vayntrub.

The UCB is one of the most famous comedy troupes in show business, and Vayntrub's work with the group paved the way for her future success in comedy. Her training with the troupe helped her land successful gigs later down the line, and it certainly helped her with the expert comedic timing she shows off in those AT&T commercials.

She did sketch comedy on YouTube and television

Maybe it was the connections she made through the Upright Citizens Brigade, or maybe it was her time at UC San Diego that helped her book the gigs, but Milana Vayntrub jumped from improv theater to viral comedy after her time with UCB. She appeared in a number of short films before landing her first major sketch job with CollegeHumor. She appeared in 15 sketches over three years and appeared in two shorts of the spin-off "Jake and Amir" series.

From one YouTube channel to another, Vayntrub became an early YouTube sensation as one of the co-creators of "Live Prude Girls." Each of the channel's videos, which she created with fellow CollegeHumor alum Stevie Nelson, amassed hundreds of thousands of views. The channel is dormant now, having not uploaded anything in nearly 10 years. But at its peak, the channel cracked 1 million views on three videos — including an awkward but hilarious conversation with Matt Damon.

Vayntrub also guest-starred on a number of TV shows, including "Key & Peele," "Californication," and "Silicon Valley." She also appeared in "House of Lies" in a two-episode guest role. So while you might know her best for her AT&T commercials, Vayntrub also has a strong portfolio of sketch comedy work.

She was only supposed to do one AT&T commercial

When Milana Vayntrub won the role of Lily in the AT&T commercials, she said, the comedian and actress thought it would be just another short-term acting gig. But the response was so strong that three years later, Vayntrub had shot more than 40 spots as Lily for AT&T. "The first spot was so successful for us that we thought, let's do another one and then another one and then another one," said Valerie Vargas, the telecommunications company's vice president of advertising, in an interview with Adweek. "It was so well-received that we kept bringing her back."

So why is Vayntrub, and Lily, so popular? What's their secret? According to Hank Perlman of Hungry Man, the company that produces the commercials, Lily is "a multi-dimensional character in a way that's rare for commercials." He said that the producers of the commercials try "not only to make her funny but to make her as strong, smart, and human as possible."

She didn't like Amy Schumer's parody

Milana Vayntrub's cell phone ads are ubiquitous, so it's expected that somebody would wind up parodying them. "Inside Amy Schumer" spoofed the spots in a 2016 episode — Amy Schumer played an actress starring as a Lily-esque character in a cellphone company ad. When it initially aired, Vayntrub shared the sketch on her social media accounts and said she felt "flattered." But after she actually watched the sketch a few more times, she changed her tune.

"The way that you're going to portray this character is that you're going to play her dumb?" Vayntrub told Adweek. "Well, that's lazy. Can't we think of any other thing to make fun of this character for?" Vayntrub, a comedian herself with a background in sitcoms and improv theater with the Upright Citizens Brigade, also called out Schumer for making its cellphone pitchwoman "sexy." Vayntrub said she feels Lily is not a sex object, but rather a subtly feminist character. "I think the character was portrayed as a prop that was there to entice men and it was all about the way men look at her, and that this brand has put her there to be sexy," Vayntrub said. "I think a lot of brands use women as props to sell products, and we work really hard to make Lily strong and smart and funny and independent. She's the successful store manager, she's really doing it, I'm proud of the girl we've made."

She had a recurring role on This Is Us

The time-jumping, tear-jerking family drama "This Is Us" is one of the most-watched cable dramas of its time, bringing in millions of viewers for its emotionally turbulent, sometimes tragic story. Over the course of its six seasons, the Emmy Award-winning series continued to be a beloved hit, a ratings juggernaut, and a showcase of some amazing performances.

Switching between the kids in the Pearson family growing up in the '80s and '90s and their adult lives in the present day, the series follows characters like Pearson sibling Kevin (Justin Hartley), who grows up to be a dissatisfied television star who leaves his top-rated show and joins an off-Broadway play called "Back of an Egg." Milana Vayntrub plays Sloane Sandburg, a playwright who also becomes the star of her own show — and then, briefly, Kevin's girlfriend. Vayntrub appears in eight episodes of the first season of "This Is Us."

She started a viral movement to help other refugees

While many celebrities are busy worrying about how to make their next headline or land their next gig, Milana Vayntrub has been trying to figure out how to change the world. Her history with immigration and the global refugee crisis began when her family fled the USSR, and when Vayntrub went to Greece on vacation, she was inspired to help Syrian refugees traveling across the Aegean Sea to Lesbos. She pitched in on the beaches of Lesbos, helping refugees get warm clothes after their voyage. After her time in Lesbos, in 2016, she partnered with entrepreneur Eron Zehavi to found Can't Do Nothing. The organization supports other pro-refugee causes and organizations and advocates for donations, volunteer work, and social media activism to directly help refugees in need. "It's a place for you to find out simple ways that you can help these displaced people," Vayntrub said in a short documentary about her work in Greece.

After her work in Greece, she said, everything changed for her. "It was kind of hard to do my regular stand-up set about the burdens of leaky burritos," she wrote in an essay for PopSugar. She said she put together Can't Do Nothing to help her friends learn about ways they can contribute to refugee causes. "It's very easy to paint the word 'refugees' with a broad [stroke]," she wrote, "or dismiss their plight as another world disaster we have no control over. But when you meet them, laugh with them, hold their kids, and hear about their pasts or dreams for a future, it's a lot harder."

She's had small roles in big comedies

Milana Vayntrub's experience and connections in the American comedy scene have led to some brief but memorable roles in several recent high-profile projects. In the 2016 "Ghostbusters" remake, Vayntrub makes a brief, dialogue-free appearance as "Subway Rat Woman," a person reacts with visible disgust when scores of ghost rats pour out of a subway station entrance. The director of the 2016 remake is Paul Feig, in whose Yahoo! Screen show "Other Space" Vayntrub was a series regular — that could explain her short cameo.

Vayntrub seems to be a favorite of another comedy director, too. She's popped up a couple of times on "Love," Judd Apatow's Netflix series, as Natalie, the mean ex-girlfriend of main character Gus (Paul Rust). While she's not yet an A-list name, she's certainly made friendships where they count and has become a favorite performer for two of America's biggest comedy directors.

She's the voice of Marvel's Squirrel Girl

In summer 2017, Milana Vayntrub landed one of the most sought-after roles in Hollywood. She was cast as Doreen Green (aka Squirrel Girl) in "Marvel's New Warriors," a comedy series that was set to air on Freeform. The show was going to revolve around six 20-somethings — Squirrel Girl, Mister Immortal, Night Thrasher, Microbe, Debrii, and Speedball — dealing with the challenges of young adulthood as well as those that come with being a superhero. Vayntrub, who at the time was best known as a guest star on "This Is Us" and as the anonymous star of an ad campaign, was a relatively surprising choice for the part, especially since better-known actors such as Anna Kendrick and Shannon Purser (Barb on "Stranger Things") had publicly lobbied to play the character. Vayntrub's admission into the club that is the Marvel Cinematic Universe wound up rather muted in the end.

In 2019, Freeform and Marvel parent company Disney canceled several small-screen projects that would've appeared on channels or services outside of its Disney+ streamer, including "New Warriors." But Vayntrub at least got to portray Squirrel Girl in audio form, voicing the character in the animated short series "Marvel Rising: Initiation" and the TV movie "Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors." She also starred in the Sirius XM narrative podcast "Marvel's Squirrel Girl: The Unbeatable Radio Show."

She's the voice of Peppa Pig ... on Robot Chicken

Peppa Pig is a lovable but bossy little cartoon pig who loves jumping in mud puddles and playing with her teddy bear ... at least, when she's on the popular British preschool animated TV series "Peppa Pig." Off the show, however, Peppa has a decidedly different personality — especially when she's voiced by Milana Vayntrub on the adult stop-motion animated sketch comedy show "Robot Chicken."

Then you'll find Peppa and her family commenting on Brexit in Season 9, Episode 17, "He's Not Even Aiming at the Toilet." Or making her own version of Guy Ritchie's black comedy crime film "Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels" in Season 11's "May Cause Your Dad to Come Back with That Gallon of Milk He Went Out for 10 Years Ago."

Other episodes find Vayntrub parodying Chuck E. Cheese mascot Helen Henny and "Nightmare on Elm Street" slasher victim Tina Gray. When she's capable of mimicking so many voices, one wonders if Vayntrub's AT&T character Lily Adams spends her off hours making some very creative crank calls.

She's a writer

In addition to her directing credits, Milana Vayntrub has also been recognized for her writing talents. She's been credited as the writer on five "Robot Chicken" episodes as well as multiple CollegeHumor sketches. Outside of sketch comedy, Vayntrub gained a co-writing credit for the 2019 film "Mother's Little Helpers," which she also starred in as Lucy Pride, the estranged daughter of a burnout mother (Melanie Hutsell) from the 1970s. Her writing also shows up in news websites like The Daily Beast and PopSugar as well as on her Instagram, where she offers her perspective on family, Judaism, and the acting life.

Vayntrub's writing has also been nominated for awards. In 2020, she was recognized along with writers Akilah Hughes, Brian McElhaney, and Nick Hocher for her work on the streaming sketch comedy show "Making Fun with Akilah and Milana" in the YouTube Streamy Awards. Her miniseries "That Moment When" was also nominated for several awards — a Webby award and three Telly awards.

She's played a werewolf

Lily Adams may let Milana Vayntrub showcase her sweet and dorky side in those AT&T commercials, but that's not the only side she's shown. In 2021, Vayntrub starred as mail carrier Cecily Moore in the horror-comedy film "Werewolves Within." When a blizzard causes Cecily and several of the townsfolk to seek shelter in a lodge, the group learns they have an even bigger problem on their hands when an anonymous werewolf starts picking off several of the people. As various group members start accusing each other of being the werewolf, the bodies continue to pile up.

In the end, Cecily and friendly forest ranger Finn Wheeler (Sam Richardson) are two of the only survivors ... although there's evidence that suggests Finn is the werewolf. Only it's all a big fake out. Turns out, Cecily was the werewolf all along and planted those seeds of paranoia in everyone's heads to make it easier to hunt them all down. Yeesh! Maybe she didn't like everyone's Verizon cell phone plans?

Vayntrub got some rave reviews for her performance. David Ehrlich of IndieWire said she's "radiating movie star potential in a winsome performance that shades her natural comic sass with all sorts of self-aware texture," and many other critics agreed she's an engaging performer who keeps the movie fun and interesting.

Now she directs commercials, too

After getting her start in television, finding a second wind doing improv theater and some short films, and then making a career for herself in larger television roles and web series, Milana Vayntrub seems to have found a good niche in commercials. She's stepped behind the camera on some ad spots rather than just remaining a fun, friendly face in front of them. Through Hungry Man, the company that produces the Lily spots for AT&T, Vayntrub directed a comical commercial for the Cracker Barrel restaurant chain's macaroni and cheese.

Vayntrub has gone on to direct some major ads. Among them are two AT&T adverts, one of which stars Oscar nominee Stephanie Hsu of "Everything Everywhere All at Once" fame. She's also directed ads for Georgia Lottery, the Make-a-Wish Foundation, and DuPont, as well as a GQ commercial starring Gal Gadot. So while you might know Vayntrub from her work in front of the camera, there's a good chance you've seen a commercial she directed, too.

She's received thousands of unwelcome comments about her body

Milana Vayntrub is known for portraying the helpful AT&T employee Lily in television commercials, and after a three-year hiatus, she returned in a relaunch of the campaign. Those new ads feature an updated look and approach for the character and actor, with different clothing and scenarios providing more modesty, particularly a series of ads in 2021 that place Vayntrub behind a desk. (She's also a director for several of the ads.) She reportedly received a lot of messages about the revamped look of the ads. "Been getting a lot of 'Why are they placing her body like that in those ads?' Well, I direct the ads. I place myself like that," Vayntrub explained on Twitter. "And it's because of the thousands of unwelcome comments I receive about my body. You've lost the privilege of looking at it until I feel safe again."

Earlier in 2021, Vayntrub took to Instagram Live, where she read aloud some of the more egregious (and sexually charged, via Insider) comments she has received, and also noted that college-era photos of her at a pool party had been making the rounds online. "I am not consenting to any of this," Vayntrub said. "I do not want any of this."

She's married and has a child

According to an editorial she wrote for the Daily Beast, Milana Vayntrub suffered some health problems in early 2020 that impacted her quality of life. She hurt one of her ankles so badly that she couldn't move her foot. The injury would send painful jolts through her body, a sensation she compared to the complicated and difficult labor she experienced when giving birth to her first child.

Per a post on Instagram, Vayntrub gave birth to a baby boy in May 2021, welcoming him with her husband. The child was safely delivered and was perfectly healthy, despite a "sunny side up" delivery, which caused tremendous spinal pain for Vayntrub. A public figure who prefers to keep her private life just that, Vayntrub hasn't revealed the name of her child. She prefers to keep her work front and center, which makes sense given the reprehensible things some have said about her online.

She supports abortion rights

In addition to her work advocating for refugees, Milana Vayntrub has been outspoken about abortion rights, having had an abortion herself. In February 2022, Vayntrub wrote a first-person piece for The Daily Beast, detailing that in her early 20s, she was still taking random jobs to get by and was not in a good financial space to raise a child. So when she accidentally forgot to take her birth control and got pregnant, she said, she immediately had an abortion at her doctor's office.

In 2021, Vayntrub said, she gave birth to a healthy baby boy despite a complicated and painful labor. In her editorial, Vayntrub said she could bear the difficulties of birth because she chose to go through it. She emphasized that both her experiences with abortion and birth have impressed upon her the right for all Americans to have the freedom and power to make their own choices about their bodies, lives, and futures.

She has a long-distance relationship with her dad

Although Milana Vayntrub spent most of her life in the United States, her father spent much of his time working at his business in Russia. During her appearance on the podcast "Meditative Story," Vayntrub shared what it was like to grow up having her dad around only some of the time. While he split his time evenly during her elementary school years, she said, his time away increased as she got older, causing him to miss a lot of events in her life, including her Bat Mitzvah.

Today, Vayntrub's father continues to spend much of his time away, although they do keep in contact through phone calls and in-person visits at weddings and funerals. He also flew to the U.S. after the birth of her son, although coronavirus protocols required him to quarantine for five days before he could play with his grandson. While Vayntrub said she feels she has a pretty good relationship with her dad, she wants to have a different relationship with her son that isn't so long-distance.

She's very proud of her Jewish heritage

Born to a Jewish family, Milana Vayntrub is very proud of her heritage and posts about her Judaism on her Instagram account. In one tongue-in-cheek post, she shared a photo of her dog posing in front of a Christmas tree with the caption "I did everything I could to raise him Jewish but."

In a more serious post, Vayntrub recognized the Jewish people who were tortured, imprisoned, killed, forced to relocate, or forced to forget their cultural traditions. She said that by immigrating to America, her family was able to become more Jewish by interacting with other Jewish families and re-adopting Jewish traditions that the USSR had outlawed.

In an interview with The Times of Israel, Vayntrub recollects the challenges of regaining her Jewish heritage while growing up in a section of West Hollywood with a large Russian population. She said that her grandmother, a nanny for an Orthodox Jewish family, helped by teaching Vayntrub about Jewish traditions like Passover and that the family eventually joined a synagogue.