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Season two of Hulu’s Only Murders in the Building gave fans a new perspective on the cat-loving, yodeling neighbor Howard, who quickly became a fan favorite. Actor Michael Cyril Creighton was excited to delve deeper into Howard’s personality and explore his romantic side — something he had not gotten the opportunity to do on his previous projects, which recently included Dexter’s friendly boss on Dexter: New Blood.
“[Howard is] not an easy role to play, but it is something that’s very much in my comfort zone,” Creighton tells THR from his New York home office, where an obscure painting of a cat, a direct nod to his character, sits on a shelf behind him. “I spent a long time believing that the qualities that make me such a specific actor and person were a liability, and that was such a waste of time. Now I’ve realized, being a little older, that that’s what makes roles that I play special — what I bring from my own personality, the things that are inherently me. Howard’s got a lot of parts of me in there.”
Creighton was originally drawn to Only Murders not only because of its high-caliber stars, but because of what he saw at the root of the show. “I love murder mysteries, and it was a project with so much heart and so much comedy at the same time, which is something that always excites me — something that’s not just one genre, that’s sort of playing with the line of tone,” he says. “The show does it so beautifully, so the chance to be part of that wild tonal world was a dream.”
And in the midst of the murder mystery, the show’s writers added a love interest for Howard in season two, which Creighton calls “refreshing and very surprising.” He adds: “That they took the time in the middle of this giant mystery and murder investigation to shine a spotlight on Howard and learn more about what his life is like, and give him the opportunity to not just be the lonely neighbor who wants to fit in … It gives all of that more weight when you see where the loneliness comes from and how he can overcome it.”
Creating backstories and taking viewers through flashbacks is something the writers do well on the show, Creighton says. Fans will remember a sequence that showed the final day of Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell), for example — the head of the Arconia board who was murdered in season two, and who was always considered a “cranky old bitch,” according to Selena Gomez’s character, Mabel. But the flashback gave fans a glimpse into a caring and kinder side of Bunny, who just wanted to do right by the Arconia and its residents.
“[The writers] have such respect for all these characters, big or small, so there’s so much thought and heart that goes behind our roles,” Creighton notes. “There is humanity in every single one of us. I don’t know what we’ll see in the future from each character, but I feel like there’s so much humanity on that set. It really shines through in the writing.”
In season one, Creighton got to work with A-list leads Steve Martin, Martin Short and Gomez. Even before the show, he had his fair share of high-profile scene partners in Rachel McAdams (Spotlight), Jason Bateman (Game Night), Melissa McCarthy (Can You Ever Forgive Me?) and Tina Fey (30 Rock, one of his first TV jobs). But in Only Murders‘ second season, Shirley MacLaine’s addition felt like a career pinnacle. “The Shirley MacLaine of it all was wild,” he says. “I mean, just handing her a drink was one of the highlights of my life. And then getting to watch Nathan Lane and Martin Short talk between takes and tell stories about show business and theater and their friendship — all these people I’ve admired for so long. Getting to spend time with them is also one of the best parts of the job.”
Watching Martin and Short approach their scenes, he says, was also a learning experience: “Being on set with them, I feel like I’m carbonated — like, it feels bubbly and giddy and joyous, and that’s when a job is the best: when it’s a joy to go to work and a joy to leave and you can’t wait to get back, and that’s that show. Keeping the joy and playfulness is something that I want to remember forever.”
His favorite scene to shoot of season two was — spoiler alert — the big reveal party in the finale, which he says was shot over several days because not everyone could be on set at the same time. “I don’t know that we were all ever in the same room in real life!” he adds. And learning to yodel, as his character does, was a favorite part of the process for Creighton.
“[Co-creator John Hoffman] called me and said, ‘Do you think you have a yodel in you?’ I just say yes. I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely I do!’ ” recalls Creighton. “I immediately went to YouTube and learned a very basic yodel. My voice has been cracking my whole life, so that wasn’t that hard. But then when I found out that [I’d be] yodeling ‘The Sound of Silence,’ I was like, ‘Can we get some help here?’ They hired a really amazing yodel coach who helped me quite a bit.”
But is yodeling his new party trick? “No. I’m very conservative with my yodeling — I only do it for money.”
This story first appeared in a November stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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