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Halfway between a black comedy and Hitchcockian psychodrama, HBO Max’s The Flight Attendant follows Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco), a fun-loving flight attendant whose life spirals out of control after she wakes up next to a dead man. It’s also a story about addiction, confronting the past and how friendships bend or break under pressure, as in the case of Cassie and her co-worker Megan (Rosie Perez). Even though their onscreen friendship is sometimes on the rocks, the love is real between stars Cuoco (who also served as executive producer and is nominated for outstanding lead actress in a comedy) and Perez (who is Emmy-nominated as a supporting actress). The pair recently spoke to THR about how they came to collaborate, figuring out The Flight Attendant‘s zany tone on the fly and what’s next for their characters.
Kaley, I read that you begged Rosie to do the role and that it took some convincing. How did you know Rosie was perfect for Megan? And Rosie, what made you give in?
KALEY CUOCO Yes, that is very true. I have to give so much credit to John Papsidera, our Los Angeles casting director. The minute her name came up, there was no one else for me — or for any of us. I’m like, how do I get to this woman? A phone call is not enough. This is an icon. I need to get in front of her face and do whatever I can. We met for coffee in Brooklyn. She had on this terrifying hat, and I couldn’t really see her face. It was such an immediate love for each other; I felt very comfortable full-on begging her. And she goes, “Well, I don’t really like flying.” And I think, “Does she know this is [a show] about a flight attendant?”
ROSIE PEREZ Like the saying goes, she had me at hello. I was just playing it cool. But the flying thing really was an issue. The final deciding factor was when we talked about work ethics. We both have very strong work ethics and a high appreciation that we get to do this, that this is our job. That makes a huge difference. Also, the begging was hilarious.
What do you make of the unique friendship between your characters, Cassie and Megan?
PEREZ I remember the second day we were shooting together. You had this big smile on your face, and you said, “I just watched the dailies. I didn’t think our friendship was going to be like this. I really like what’s going on.” And I was like, this is fantastic because I was purposely trying to do something very different and a little quirky. The good thing about Kaley is, whatever you throw at her, she has the racquet in hand and she’s ready to hit the ball over the net right away. Episode eight was a huge turning point in our [characters’] relationship, even though it’s the end [of the season]. All the pretenses wash away and the honesty is just laid out on that bed that [we were] sitting on in that hotel room. For my character, I didn’t realize that I could be so real with Cassie, I didn’t realize that I could just be myself. I remember you were like, “Don’t you cry yet, we have to do the scene!”
CUOCO She was already crying in rehearsal! That was actually Rosie’s last scene to shoot of the season. Backpedaling a little, I remember being in the galley early on, talking about the dailies, and that what was written on the page with these two characters was great. But once she and I got together, it was different. I love this friendship even though they are kind of up and down with each other and they’ve had their tough moments. There were just all these nuances that I didn’t see on the page until they really came alive. It was so effortless between the two of us.
On paper, The Flight Attendant is not a comedy. And yet the show manages to strike this fun, wacky tone. How did you navigate this shift when you started shooting?
CUOCO There was nothing funny about the book [by Chris Bohjalian], not a single line. It was very dark. I obviously loved it. I still feel like we were finding this tone the entire season. Luckily, every single actor we have was so brilliant and able to dive into that. Yes, there was some serious stuff going on, but every person had a way of doing something [where] you would kind of laugh and you would kind of smile. For almost every scene, I did so many different takes because we didn’t know how we were going to edit this. Was this going to be the comedic scene? Was this going to be the one where we were crying? I just made sure there were as many options as possible because we were really finding [the tone] as we went.
PEREZ I didn’t feel secure in the tone until episode eight.
CUOCO Every actor at one point came up to me and they were like, “What are we doing?” Especially my sweet Michiel [Huisman, who plays Cassie’s deceased one-night-stand, Alex Sokolov] — he’s such an amazing dramatic actor. I remember after the table read, he goes, “I didn’t know I was doing a comedy.” I think he was shocked at how funny it actually ended up being.
What gave you the idea to infuse the story with humor?
CUOCO I just thought that it needed some lightness, I thought that it needed [what] I call some Cuoco-isms. I like to be funny, and even though I love dark stuff and drama, Cassie is so interesting and so reactive. I thought we should just have the world exploding around her and react to it. It kind of built as I talked about it for a while. I had the book for so long and started talking to [executive producer Greg Berlanti]’s team, and like, what if it was kind of darkly funny? I’ve never been behind the scenes like this, and the team effort [means] there’s no one person who made this. It was a lot of opinions and a lot of help and a lot of editing.
Did you do any background research on flight attendants to play them convincingly?
CUOCO When I traveled, I found myself watching the flight attendants to see what they were doing. The key thing that I always noticed was how they took their heels off and put on flat [shoes] during a long flight. That, and how they took their breaks. They’re in the corner chatting or reading a book or on their phone. They’re just like us!
PEREZ I have a friend [whose] best friend is a flight attendant, and she’s the head person. I asked her, “What’s the best part of your job?” She said, “Going to all these places.” I go, “Yeah, OK, so what’s [really] the best part of your job?” And she said, “The gossip. You don’t see everyone all the time, and then you come back to the crew and then you guys start to gossip about all this stuff.”
CUOCO Do any flight attendants drink on the plane?
What surprised you about working together?
CUOCO I expected to completely enjoy working with Rosie. I did not know she would become such a good friend of mine. I mean, you always hope [for] that when you work with someone, and I knew when I met her we were going to get along great. [But] we really have formed a true friendship, which is amazing.
PEREZ I was surprised, too. I’m a little socially awkward. I remember when I told you, “You may not notice I’m a little socially awkward,” you went, “I noticed.” (Laughter.)
Looking ahead to season two, what aspects of your characters are you eager to explore?
CUOCO I think for Cassie, you know, living a sober life. And I say that in quotes because she’s pretty much going to be lying to herself and everyone else and thinking that she’s fine now. She’s going to find out very quickly that she’s not. That’s just her personal journey — as we all know that this sort of journey is lifelong. She just has not figured that out yet. Of course, she’s going to get herself in loads of trouble. Surprise, surprise.
PEREZ I hope for Megan’s reckoning with her family because she messed up pretty bad. She didn’t see the happiness that she had, and the life that she had, and it all just went away. And so I hope she comes to terms with that. I know it sounds weird, but I hope it’s not easy for her.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a August stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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