Anyone who has seen a commercial for AT&T in the past few years may know Lily Adams, the brand’s spokeswoman character with a bubbly personality and peppy attitude who is always donning her famous blue button down.
But, many people don’t know the girl behind the character, how she rose to prominence in the acting field, or what she has been doing since becoming a well recognized face across the world. She has used the character’s popularity for good, even though being so famous often comes with some unforeseen consequences…
Her Name Isn't Lily
The biggest scoop is that the real name of the actress who portrays Lily Adams in advertisements is Milana Vayntrub. She got her start acting when she was just a child, after her family moved to America to flee a dangerous situation in the country where she was born. Luckily, they arrived safely in California and started their new lives.
She Moved to the U.S. When She Was Two
Milana Vayntrub was born in Uzbek Soviet Socialist Republic, or what is now the Republic of Uzbekistan. Her family ultimately became refugees and fled to the United States because they faced prosecution due to the fact that they were Jewish in a country where that wasn’t socially accepted by many. Although the process to move was grueling, the family soon settled in California.
They Headed to California to Start a New Life
Vayntrub was just two years old when her family fled Uzbekistan, so she doesn’t have many intimate memories of her life before she moved to America. And it wouldn’t be long before she got her first acting roles in commercials and ultimately on television, where she would appear alongside famous actors, like George Clooney.
She Booked Her First Job at Five
When Vayntrub was a child, the first acting job she booked was a Barbie commercial. When she was just five years old she was hired by Mattel and appeared in a few commercials for the Barbie brand. This was a huge help to her family, who was having some financial difficulties in the years after they moved to America. She soon was able to book more jobs, such as a role that was seen all over the country.
She Got a Bigger Role When She Was Eight
When Vayntrub was eight years old she got a part on the popular medical drama “ER.” This role would prove to be her big break and lead to a few other jobs on soap operas. She described the role in a 2015 interview with Esquire saying, "My first big thing was when I was eight. I was on the first season of E.R. I played Tatiana, a little Russian girl with AIDS who Julianna Margulies tried to adopt.”
Her Mom Was Thrilled
While she was on “ER,” in a role that would land her appearances on three episodes, she met and even got to know the actor George Clooney. She told Esquire, "[George Clooney] was amazing. I just kept trying to invite him over. He was like, 'Yeah, I'll come over for a playdate.' I was like, 'Mom! Can you cook something, so we have a reason for him to come over?'" This interaction was something that her mom found to be incredibly entertaining!
She Mingled With Stars
Vayntrub continued, “My mom and I were both just goo-goo-gaga over [George Clooney] … He never came over. But he was really playful and silly. I hope to reunite with him one day," she recalled. And Clooney wasn’t the only big star that she got to meet in her acting career. Since then she has had roles alongside acting heavyweights like Matt Damon, Jordan Peele and Melissa McCarthy.
She Was the It Girl on TV
And before she had hit 18, she added many more jobs to her resume, including a stint on the popular Disney Channel series “Lizzie McGuire.” This job might have seemed like a dream to many young teens at the time, but to Vayntrub it was just another day at work. She was featured on three episodes of the series, including one episode in which she had to show off a truly strange skill.
She Showed Off Her Unique Skills
One episode of “Lizzie McGuire” that Vayntrub appeared on included scenes where she had to burp on queue. She explained the episode saying, "The whole [Cute Burper] episode took place in a hidden camera kind of setup. One of the characters set up hidden cameras around the school, and he caught me eating and burping. That was it. And I didn't even really have to burp, but I practiced my burps for a long time before that. I'm a professional disgusting person!"
She Stopped Acting as a Teenager
Even though Vayntrub had a great start, she soon stopped acting to focus on school. She already had a ton of fun working as an actor, and she was good at it too, but it didn’t seem like a realistic career to follow. As she once said, "I just kind of stopped for a while because I didn't think I wanted to do it. I stopped around middle school and high school because I remember thinking, 'I should probably focus on something more realistic.'"
She Dropped Out of School
So, Vayntrub focused on her schoolwork and attended Beverly Hills High School, the school that “Beverly Hills, 90210” was based on. This may have seemed like an exciting place to attend school, but Vayntrub didn’t stay there for long. She dropped out of high school during her sophomore year and opted to get her GED instead of graduate, but this wasn’t this end of her schooling.
The Acting Bug Bit Her Again
After dropping out of high school, Vayntrub attended University of California, San Diego and earned a degree in communication. And during this part of her life she was ultimately bit by the acting bug once again! She explained this moment saying, "I went to U.C. San Diego, and I didn't really like the school or anything. But they had a really great theater program, so I just took theater classes so I could not go crazy and keep myself busy. I totally got sucked back in.”
She Started Her Own Show
Vayntrub also started to take improv classes during her time at U.C. San Diego and she started to hone her comedic skills. She spent some time in the Upright Citizen’s Brigade comedy troupe, which is where many actors from “Saturday Night Live” got their start, but Vayntrub decided to use her comedy skills for something different and after she left college, she started a YouTube channel.
She Talked to Funny Guests
Vayntrub's YouTube channel featured a show that was called "Let's Talk About Something More Interesting." In the show, she and her co-host, Stevie Nelson, performed funny skits and interviewed fellow comedians like actors Bob Odenkirk and BJ Novak. The duo also interviewed other YouTubers and they soon gained themselves over 100,000 subscribers.
Her Comedy Floored Audiences
Her comedy skits online were so popular that they gained the attention of not only YouTube fans, but casting agents, too. It wasn’t long before Vayntrub got the chance to appear on television again and she even expanded her resume with some film roles. In 2012, she appeared on the comedy show “The League” and in 2013 she appeared alongside comedy legends on “Key & Peele.”
She Was a Sketch Comedy Queen
Vayntrub’s sense of humor skyrocketed her career in ways that she hadn’t expected. She had always been a funny person, but taking the time to hone her craft in comedy proved to be worth her while. Although she would spend time on screen next to many cast members of “SNL,” she knew that the sketch comedy show wasn’t in her future. She had her sights set on different kinds of roles.
She Booked Just One Commercial
Milana Vayntrub was hired to do just one commercial for AT&T, but that soon grew to many more jobs with the telecommunications company. "The first spot was so successful for us that we thought, let's do another one and then another one and then another one. It was so well-received that we kept bringing her back," said Valerie Vargas, who is AT&T’s VP of advertising.
Her Character is Multi-Faceted
Hank Perlman, who works for the company that produces the AT&T commercials, Vayntrub’s character is “a multi-dimensional character in a way that's rare for commercials. We try as hard as we can not only to make her funny but to make her as strong, smart, and human as possible." And that wouldn’t be possible without Vayntrubs strong acting skills and natural grace.
Amy Schumer Spoofed the Commercials
And soon, Lily Adams became so popular that people started to parody her. Comedian Amy Schumer dressed in a very similar uniform to the AT&T character and did a skit on her sketch comedy show “Inside Amy Schumer.” But the skit wasn’t well received by many people, including the woman who made the character famous.
Milana Didn't Love the Portrayal
Vayntrub had some choice words for Schumer, saying, "The way that you're going to portray this character is that you're going to play her dumb? Well, that's lazy. Can't we think of any other thing to make fun of this character for? I think the character was portrayed as a prop that was there to entice men and [the skit] was all about the way men look at her.”
She is Proud of Her Character
Following up her comments to Schumer, 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." And AT&T is proud of the character too! To this day, Vayntrub has done over 40 commercials for the company and she shows no sign of slowing down.
She Has Become a Director
Many people don’t know that Vayntrub also directs the AT&T commercials that she’s in. Yup, she’s in front of the camera and behind the camera, making sure everything from lighting to camera angles are perfect. She utilizes a stand-in for shoots where she also has to direct, so she can make sure that the shot will look good before she steps in front of the camera.
She Does Stand Up Comedy, Too
To hone her skills, Vayntrub often does live comedy shows where she performs improv or stand up in the greater Los Angeles area. She has even performed in clubs in New York and made many people laugh all over the country. She never fails to prove that she has no stage fright and she has never been afraid of getting up and speaking in front of large crowds.
And She Shows Off For the Red Carpet
And when it comes time to walking the red carpet, Vayntrub knows how to get glamorous. Sure, she sometimes has the help of fashion designers and makeup artists to help her get ready for the cameras, but that doesn’t change how stunning she looks!
She Books Jobs Left and Right
Vayntrub also made frequent appearances on the Comedy Central game show “@midnight,” which was a series where funny people competed in a series of Internet themed improv games. Vayntrub made seven appearances on the show between 2016 and 2017, proving her improv chops under the pressure of being in front of a live audience once more.
She Made An Appearance on a Netflix Series
Other shows that Vayntrub has appeared on include the Judd Apatow series “Love,” which streamed on Netflix from 2016 to 2018. She appeared alongside veteran comedic actors like Ed Begley Jr., Gillian Jacobs and Paul Rust in the series about a down-to-earth look at dating in modern times.
She Played An Astronaut in 2015
Vayntrub played Tina Shukshin on the Yahoo! Screen series “Other Space” in 2015, and the show gave her a great opportunity to display her comedic talents. She told Esquire, "On Other Space, there was lots of room for improv. I think one of the reasons I was able to book it was my improv experience and playing in the room during casting.”
She Showed Off Her Comedic Skills For a Famous Director
The series “Other Space” was created by frequent comedy director Paul Feig. He later went on to direct movies like “Bridesmaids” in 2011, “The Heat” in 2013, and the 2016 version of “Ghostbusters,” in which Vayntrub had another funny role.
She Appeared on "This Is Us"
In 2016, Vayntrub appeared on the television drama “This Is Us.” She appeared on the series for eight episodes during a story arch where her character, a playwright, has an affair with a married actor, played by Justin Hartley. The show has a habit of doing flashbacks, so this might not be the end of her character. But, Vayntrub certainly has enough acting work on her plate to keep her busy in the meantime.
She Was Even in "Ghostbusters"
In 2016, Vayntrub appeared in the 2016 take on “Ghostbusters,” which starred female comedians like Melissa McCarthy, Kristen Wiig, Kate McKinnon and Leslie Jones. Milana played a character that was credited as Subway Rat Woman because she appeared in a hilarious scene where she reacted to a rat on the New York City Subways. And that isn’t the only funny role she’s had recently.
She Met a Superhero
Vayntrub appeared alongside another famous actress for a comedy short recently. As part of Gal Gadot’s “Gal-splaining” skit for GQ, Milana showed off her comedy chops on YouTube once again. And Milana has something in common with Gadot that few people know. They both have played superheroes, but Vayntrub’s character has some strange skills…
Then She Became a Superhero
Vayntrub has also joined the Marvel Universe. She currently lends her voice to a role that not many people know, but they will love as soon as they hear. Milana plays Squirrel Girl on “Marvel Rising: Secret Warriors,” a lighthearted superhero who can communicate with squirrels. She was even photographed cosplaying as her character at Comic Con a few years back.
What Does She Do in Her Spare Time?
Milana even returned to her YouTube roots in 2020, when the Comedy Central channel posted some sketches starring Vayntrub alongside comedian and podcaster Akilah Hughes. Their digital series is called “Making Fun with Akilah and Milana” and to date, three hilarious sketches have been uploaded. But what else does Vayntrub do in her spare time?
She Hasn't Forgotten the People Who Helped Her
And after Vayntrub proved that she could do comedy, drama and captivate audiences on television commercials, she started to expand her resume even further. Vayntrub has also directed commercials, appeared in music videos and started a career as a voice-over actress. But she never forgot about her start in the industry and who she had to thank for her success.
She Traveled to Greece With Her Father
After many years of working hard at her acting career, Vayntrub took some time off to do some traveling with her father. They visited the country of Greece and although the country was beautiful, Vayntrub couldn’t help but be reminded of her own childhood when she saw the poverty that was very present in the European country. So, she vowed to do something about it.
They Met Other Refugees
In January of 2016, Vayntrub met with refugee families, like her own, in Greece who were fleeing the Syrian Civil War. After this encounter, she was inspired to do something big to help these unfortunate families. And she knew that she wasn’t the only person in the world who felt that they had a duty to help others.
She Decided to Help Them
In 2016, Vayntrub co-founded the Can’t Do Nothing movement to put a spotlight on the European migrant crisis. The movement flooded social media and her team directly helped spread knowledge of the crisis and get funds and donations to refugees who were in need of help. But Vayntrub didn’t always know about what was going on there…
She Started a Movement
Before Vayntrub helped found Can’t Do Nothing and advocate for other refugees, she admitted, “I had an embarrassingly little amount [of knowledge of the Syrian refugee crisis before going to Greece]. It’s not something that came up in a lot of my social media, and the American news covers it an embarrassingly small amount,” she told Elite Daily.
She Didn't Know What She Could Do to Help
She further explained the situation that caused her to want to help families in Greece, saying, "The country is experiencing not only a huge financial turmoil but also a giant influx of refugees that they can't support. I don't want to be a passive citizen anymore. I want to be a force for good," she shared in one of her videos.
She Encourages Her Audience to Give
And in the end, Vayntrub used her large following to do good. She continues to tell her fans about causes that are close to her heart and share the story of her childhood in hopes that people will humanize and increase their care for refugees, because they have seen one so often on TV.