sanluisobispo---Copy.png
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00
0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Big Bang Theory' Star On Her New Miniseries

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

The new miniseries "The Flight Attendant" is like a catalog of all the things we shouldn't be doing these days. Casual globetrotting - check.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT")

KALEY CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Davey, hi. Listen. I really can't talk. I'm going to miss my flight.

TR KNIGHT: (As Davey Bowden) Oh, yeah. I just want to check in about the New York trip real quick.

SHAPIRO: Crowding into a bar for a wild night out - check.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Cassie, get us more drinks.

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) You get us more drinks.

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) No, girl. You still owe me.

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Why?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Munich.

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) What happened in Munich?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Hello? You throw your shoe at the bartender, and then you got us kicked out. You said it was instincts.

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Fine.

SHAPIRO: Sleeping with someone you just met - check.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT")

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Who are you?

LUKE GULBRANSON: (As Ethan) I'm Ethan...

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) What?

GULBRANSON: (As Ethan) ...From last night.

KNIGHT: (As Davey Bowden) Cassie?

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Well, how did you get in here?

KNIGHT: (As Davey Bowden) Cassie?

GULBRANSON: (As Ethan) We met at the bar.

SHAPIRO: Oh, and one other thing we're not supposed to do - get involved in a murder. The flight attendant at the heart of this limited series on HBO Max is named Cassie. She's played by Kaley Cuoco, who starred in "The Big Bang Theory" for 12 years. She now has her own production company and is also an executive producer on "The Flight Attendant."

Welcome to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

CUOCO: Thank you so much for having me. This is so awesome.

SHAPIRO: I want to give a little sense of the plot without giving away the twists. In the first 10 minutes of the opening episode, Cassie wakes up in Bangkok after a one-night stand. She blacked out drinking the night before, and the man in bed next to her has been murdered. From that point on, your character makes a lot of really bad decisions. Was there ever a moment you just kind of wanted to shake her and say, make better choices?

CUOCO: Oh, absolutely. That is what the show is about. And that was what was so tough - is, like, you're watching this woman, like you said, makes so many bad choices and, you know, drinking and all this stuff. And if you think about it, she is a - and I don't know. You might know someone like this. I know that I do. She's a functioning alcoholic. This is a woman who - she's a great stewardess. She's a great friend. But she relies on this alcohol to numb herself from the pain she's trying to get away from her childhood. And so I just had to try and be - I brought a little of myself to it and a little of my personality and my quirks to keep her as lovable as I possibly could because once your audience turns on you, there's really no getting them back.

SHAPIRO: I want to talk more about the alcoholism because it's such a tricky dance. And if I could ask you to swap out...

CUOCO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...Your actress hat for your executive producer hat for a moment, over the course of the show, Cassie's drinking becomes less and less cute and more and more problematic. So how do you build that narrative in a way that acknowledges the harm of addiction without compromising the pace and the fun that drive this show?

CUOCO: I still don't know (laughter). I don't know how we did it. There were times we'd get calls from the network going, it's too much drinking. It's too much drinking. Why would she have a bottle in her pocket? But I always fought that because I said, this is a girl - yes, there are funny moments in this. Yes, I can make you laugh. But this girl has a serious, serious problem. And we also - we took that seriously. We didn't make fun of it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT")

KNIGHT: (As Davey Bowden) How many drinks have you had today?

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Oh, that's more direct.

KNIGHT: (As Davey Bowden) Bet it's more than three, more than four. Am I wrong?

CUOCO: We never wanted it to look silly. And I - you know, it was a hard - the tone of the show is very specific on its own. I mean, it took - that was another - if I could tell you how many conversations we had about the tone of the show...

SHAPIRO: Well, how would you describe the tone? I mean, like, what were those conversations?

CUOCO: Oh, my gosh. You know, it was a tough one because it's not just a drama. It's not just a thriller. It's not just a comedy. And I remember as an actor - obviously, looking at it as a producer helped me as an actor because every scene - and I'm really not kidding. Every scene, we didn't know how we were going to edit. We didn't know if this was going to be the funny part. Was this going to be the dark side? So I did every scene in every which way. I go, OK, guys. This is going to be the funny one. OK, guys. You know what?

SHAPIRO: Wow.

CUOCO: I'm going to play this a little - oh, every time.

SHAPIRO: Can you give us an example of a scene where the final cut looked one way but you did a take that might have been the exact opposite?

CUOCO: Oh, my goodness. Let me think. It really happened with a lot of that stuff. I think there was a scene where she - after the girl jumps out of the apartment building - well, she doesn't jump out, but she...

SHAPIRO: Your character witnesses somebody fall...

CUOCO: Yes.

SHAPIRO: ...To her death.

CUOCO: Correct. And she is with her. The cops come see her the next morning, and she's standing outside of the cop car. And actually, some of the dialogue was a little kind of lighthearted, and I was playing it a little cheeky on the day. And I thought in the moment - I'm like, I don't know if this is funny. I don't think this is funny right now. And we ended up - I changed it in the moment, and I thought, we'll see how it ends up. And it ended up being so much more dramatic than we had really written it.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "THE FLIGHT ATTENDANT")

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Cass...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) According to tenants in the building, you were harassing the victim minutes before this happened.

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) I thought someone was attacking her inside, OK? The shredded documents that we taped together told us...

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #3: (As character) Taped?

CUOCO: (As Cassie Bowden) Scotch tape. And please don't give me that face.

I'm also one of those actors that drives a lot of other actors crazy because I'm not a big preparer. I don't - I'm not looking at the...

SHAPIRO: I can imagine that would be challenging.

CUOCO: I'm just - I'm a really in-the-moment type of girl, you know? And, of course, the team and the writers knew that about me, and they kind of knew I would - when it came to the dialogue, as long as I got the point across, we were OK.

SHAPIRO: Lines - who needs lines?

CUOCO: Who needs lines? But really, I never knew how we were going to edit it. I didn't know how this was going to look, again, because the tone was so specific.

SHAPIRO: Am I right that you filmed the last couple episodes of this during the pandemic?

CUOCO: Yes. So we were shooting in Italy last January, flew back to New York, started shooting Episode 6 in March. We literally got shut down in the middle of a scene.

SHAPIRO: Oh, my gosh.

CUOCO: So we came back seven months later. I had to go back into that scene with that hair, with that makeup. And I thought, God, I know I don't look that different after seven months, but hello.

SHAPIRO: Yeah.

CUOCO: It's been, like, quarantine and COVID. And it was kind of a funny - like, a mind mess...

SHAPIRO: Totally.

CUOCO: ...For me a little bit. But...

SHAPIRO: Well, I'm just imagining starring in and executive producing a show is incredibly challenging under ordinary circumstances. And when you layer pandemic health precautions on top of that, it just seems unbelievably difficult then to, you know...

CUOCO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...Drop in a scene and suddenly be Cassie five drinks in or whatever it is.

CUOCO: Oh, my God, yes. It was kind of fascinating. I would be doing, like, this ridiculously crazy scene, and then we yell cut. I open my phone and watch casting tapes and email my producers and ask about this script and what's going on here. And I found myself - it would be very funny. We'd watch dailies, and I'd be on multiple calls a day with everybody about this scene and that scene and different takes with different actors, including myself.

But I found myself talking about Kaley in the third person. I'd be like, I don't love how she did that take, or, I don't - but it was talking about me. Or I'd go, I don't know why - like, she shouldn't wear that hat in that scene. I don't know. Why are we doing that? Can we have someone redress her tomorrow? Like, I - it was amazing I was able to end up doing that, and it worked out very well.

SHAPIRO: And when did you realize that people would, as I said in the intro, see this show as a catalog of all the things they shouldn't be doing right now?

CUOCO: Yeah, I know. It was funny. You know, a lot of shows, I'm sure you've seen, have built in COVID to their storylines. And we really - we kind of kept with what we were doing. And I think people just kind of needed this right now. And it was funny. The night that it aired, the next morning, I told my team - I'm like, I'm not reading any reviews. Like, this took me three years to make. I'm so proud of it. I left it on the field. Let's never talk about it again. And then the next morning they sent me a Hollywood Reporter article. I'm like, you guys, I don't want to start this. They go, you just got to read one. And so that was the first article I read, and the reporter really loved it. And from that moment on, I felt like I could breathe.

SHAPIRO: You're like...

CUOCO: Because, you know...

SHAPIRO: OK, I'll read the reviews. If they're raves, I guess...

CUOCO: Yeah.

SHAPIRO: ...I'll read them.

CUOCO: I know.

SHAPIRO: Well, Kaley Cuoco, congratulations. It's been great talking with you about it.

CUOCO: Thank you, Ari. I really appreciate you having me on the show. It was quite an honor.

SHAPIRO: She executive produced and stars in "The Flight Attendant" now on HBO Max.

(SOUNDBITE OF BITTER:SWEET SONG, "BITTERSWEET FAITH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.