Big Bang Theory star Kaley Cuoco, known for her comedic roles, said she has enjoyed taking on a darker role in the new HBO Max thriller series The Flight Attendant, in which she stars and serves as executive producer.
"I've loved being scared," Cuoco said on a recent Television Critics Association panel. "It's been completely new and different."
Cuoco portrays Cassie, an airline flight attendant who becomes caught up in a murder. She has a fling with one of her passengers, Alex (Michiel Huisman), on an overnight layover, and wakes up with his dead body.
She has little memory of her night with Alex, as she has a history of blackouts from drinking. She doesn't think she killed Alex, but she's trying to piece together the evening without incriminating herself.
In a panic, she leaves evidence that she tampered with the crime scene. Cassie then lives in fear of either being caught by police or pursued by the real killers.
The 34-year-old said The Flight Attendant has some humor mixed with its intense situations. For example, Alex continues to appear to Cassie as a figment of her imagination, helping her recall events of their night together.
"The tone has been a fascinating challenge," Cuoco said. "We really have ridden a fine line because dark stuff happens, but there is levity."
The character already had been on shaky footing before she became embroiled in a death -- she drank heavily and often showed up late for work. Cuoco says she has been able to bring her comedic instincts to some of Cassie's more bumbling moments.
"I just love the art of making someone laugh, and not taking yourself too seriously," Cuoco said.
Creator and executive producer Steve Yockey adapted Chris Bohjalian's 2018 book of the same name for television. Cuoco says Yockey and the writers got to know her sense of humor and added it to subsequent scripts.
"Our creative team, who really got to learn my voice, put those Kaley-isms in [the scripts]."
As an executive producer, Cuoco helped to obtain the rights to Bohjalian's book.
Cuoco said she has been looking at books over the past few years to produce but nothing excited her. But, she said, The Flight Attendant's synopsis on Amazon sold her on the book before she read it. After she read it, she won the rights in a bidding war. She brought the property to Warner Bros., the studio that produced The Big Bang Theory and the animated Harley Quinn series for which Cuoco provides a voice.
Warner Bros. connected Cuoco with Yockey. The studio also added veteran Warner Bros. Television producers Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter to The Flight Attendant. Casting the supporting characters also helped balance the darkly comedic tone, Cuoco said.
"We have so many funny actors that can make those quirky moments be a little lighter," Cuoco said
Cassie's team of flight attendants includes Megan (Rosie Perez), Van (Nolan Gerard Funk) and Shane (Griffin Matthews). Cuoco said she begged Perez to play the role. Perez said she got along better with Cuoco in real life than their characters do.
"Megan just doesn't have too much of a life outside of the plane," Perez said. "So she tolerates Cassie because she clings onto her friendship. That sounds so pathetic and sad, but it's true."
Cuoco said once The Flight Attendant received a green light, she started to study flight attendants whenever she traveled. Viewers will see some of the subtle mannerisms Cuoco learned from observation.
"You start seeing what they're doing when they're making the drinks and how they talk to each other and how they react to passengers," Cuoco said. "They take their heels off and they put their comfy shoes on."
The first season of The Flight Attendant promises to resolve the mystery of Alex's death. Yockey and Cuoco both have ideas for a next season should The Flight Attendant be renewed.
"Oh, we have plans for another season," Cuoco assured.
The Flight Attendant premieres Thursday on HBO Max.
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