A few months ago in Variety, Kaley Cuoco shared the story of how she stumbled across the logline for “The Flight Attendant” while skimming the list of upcoming novel releases on Amazon. She immediately called her attorney to see if Reese Witherspoon had already optioned it.
Witherspoon hadn’t, and that’s when Cuoco swooped in and started the process that eventually led to her Emmy-nominated adaptation for HBO Max. The Witherspoon story is meant as a compliment: Cuoco is a fan of the star and how she has turned her production company, Hello Sunshine, into a major entity by finding compelling projects and starring in many of them. It’s a template that Cuoco would like to follow with her own company, Yes, Norman (named after her dog), and she’s off to a good start with “Flight Attendant.”
“Can you believe I’ve actually never met her?” Cuoco tells Variety’s Awards Circuit podcast. “I really idolized her from afar. And she’s so smart. So I was making a joke, because she jumps on everything so quickly. I thought for sure she would have gotten this one. But I would love to meet her one day.”
Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast recently spoke with Cuoco about the show, nominated for outstanding comedy at the Emmys, in addition to her nod for best comedy actress and nine nominations overall. She shared how her first experience as an executive producer was eye-opening, and also what she misses most about “The Big Bang Theory,” her role as the title character in the animated series “Harley Quinn,” and her plans to play Doris Day in an upcoming limited series. And also, she gives a few hints about what to expect in Season 2 of “The Flight Attendant.”
“We obviously premiered during a terrible time, during COVID,” Cuoco says. “We premiered on Thanksgiving, and I think it was perfect, because people were obviously at home, possibly a little drunk, a little full, laying with their families most likely on the couch. And I’m like, this is going to be perfect. People will turn this on escape from what’s happening, and dive into this cat and mouse, really interesting [story]. Great music. It’s visually cool. I think it was the right time for something like this. And it was fun. Yes, it was dark, we have moments but it’s a really fun show.”
Cuoco plays Cassie Bowden, a flight attendant who winds up spending the night in a hotel room with a man she met on the plane. She wakes up the next day after a wild, drunken night, and finds the man’s dead body next to her. She remembers nothing, and so begins the wild chase to figure out what happened.
“I loved Cassie and I thought, OK, we have to find a way to make audiences think this is a total blast with some darkness with some heightened comedy,” she said. “And finding that tone was pretty much impossible. We talked about tone so much over the course of this show. I never want to use the word ‘tone’ again.”
Now, “The Flight Attendant” will go back into production this fall on a second season. The original plan was the show would be a limited series, based on the book. Now, it’s up to the producers, including showrunner Steve Yockey, to craft what’s next.
“The scripts are so good,” Cuoco says. “She definitely going to be trying to live a sober life while still trying to be who she was. And I think that’s what she’s going to struggle with the most. ‘Am I the same person I was before? Or are people going to like me? Am I still fun?’ And then still trying to have her job. And she’s also a CIA asset, which is a very small job. This is not some sort of agent. She is a teeny tiny asset. But she seems to get confused as to what is needed from her and gets herself stuck in a situation that she should not be in.”
Cuoco says the show will also explore what happens when you take the alcohol away from Cassie, who hid behind it while still being a functioning alcoholic. “This is someone who is her normal self, when she’s slowly basically medicating her self all day long. And it’s only when all that is taken away is when she starts to fall,” she says. “I figured, well, I think she’s normal until it’s truly gone. That’s her main line. She’s been an actor’s dream, because I feel like I played ten characters in one. She got to be funny and very upset, tears in one scene and laughing in the other and being sarcastic. And I got to do all the things. And I truly don’t think anyone would have hired me for this. So I had to do it myself.”
Meanwhile, Cuoco is also busy planning the next steps for her production company, and she’s relying on “Flight Attendant” executive producer Greg Berlanti for some pointers. “I can totally see my path being solely in producing down the line,” she says. “Like I told I told Berlanti, their whole team, I’m like, ‘I want your offices.’ So when they go take over and get an entire building, I want where they are. That’s my goal. I had no interest in it early on at all. And then obviously, this has been my very first experience with it. I’ve learned a lot from my fellow producers, I learned that I don’t know as much as I thought, and how much of a team effort it takes to put a show on. It makes me have massive respect for everything that airs because I know how hard it is to get it up and running. It’s made me a lot less judgmental. And I have major gratitude towards what happens behind the scenes.”
Meanwhile, as a huge “Friends” fan, Cuoco watched the recent reunion — and couldn’t help but think that she and “The Big Bang Theory” cast might do something similar in a few years. “When I watched, I definitely thought, I would love to do that one day. I would love to do that with our show,” she says.
And then there’s the animated “Harley Quinn.” “I can’t believe we’re still getting away with it,” she says. I kept thinking they were going to be like, ‘you can’t say these things.’ It has been a total ride. People are obsessed with the show. I love playing her. I don’t know how it happened. But it’s been insane. And it’s Harley Quinn on acid while drinking a Starbucks. That’s kind of how I describe her.”
Also on this episode: Pop music fans remember Michelle Visage from the late 1980s and early 1990s as one-third of the group Seduction, whose hits included “Two to Make It Right” and “Could This Be Love.” She also can be heard on the hit song by TKA, “Crash.” Later, she teamed up with RuPaul to host morning radio on New York’s WKTU and also star with him on his VH1 talk show. That collaboration with RuPaul eventually led to a gig as a judge on “RuPaul’s Drag Race,” and its later spin off series.
Variety’s Jazz Tangcay caught up with Visage to discuss how “Drag Race” keeps things fresh, plus her acting plans and solo album. They also talk about her documentary “Explant,” and sharing her story about her breast implant removal.
Variety’s Emmy edition of the “Awards Circuit” podcast is hosted by Michael Schneider, Jazz Tangcay and Danielle Turchiano and is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in television. Each week during Emmy season, “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday.