‘The Flight Attendant’ Star Kaley Cuoco Looks Back on Her TV Career

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Throughout 12 seasons on “The Huge Bang Concept,” Kaley Cuoco turned one of many highest-paid actors within the historical past of tv — however for her 6.4 million followers on Instagram, she provides away content material free of charge. There, on the day of the Golden Globe nominations, she posted a video of herself watching the announcement on her telephone. As she hears her identify within the actress in a musical or comedy class for “The Flight Attendant,” she turns to her husband, Karl Prepare dinner, her face collapsing with happiness, and begins to sob. Together with a second video when she learns that “The Flight Attendant” was additionally nominated — simply Cuoco screaming, actually — it was a second so pure it went viral.

Because the 35-year-old Cuoco says greater than as soon as over a Zoom interview, she has been in present enterprise for 30 years. Which is why she was shocked on the day of the Globe nominations to listen to a press outlet name her a “newcomer.”

“And I laughed!” Cuoco says, shaking her head and, sure, nonetheless laughing. “I used to be speaking to my two managers and I’m going, ‘You guys, they only known as me a newcomer.’ I’m going, ‘I’ve been right here for 30 years.’”

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“The Flight Attendant” had an attention-grabbing eight-episode run on HBO Max in late November and December, by which buzz for the present and for Cuoco’s layered, vivid efficiency because the hero, Cassie, constructed with each episode. The sequence supplied a wanted enhance for the nascent streamer simply as Christopher Nolan, and virtually all of Hollywood, had been trashing it. After the corporate’s determination to launch its 2021 films concurrently in theaters and on HBO Max, Nolan known as it “the worst streaming service,” kicking off an epic pile-on. “I actually didn’t blame him,” Cuoco says. “However I’d be like, ‘Don’t do away with it! There’s a couple of extra episodes left!’”

“The Flight Attendant” is absolutely Cuoco’s child. She’s the chief producer in addition to its lead, and oversaw each side of the present — from the hiring of showrunner Steve Yockey to the pitch-perfect casting to the trendy opening credit. The challenge started along with her scrolling via Amazon’s forthcoming e book releases on July 25, 2017, and seeing the upcoming novel by Chris Bohjalian. “Amazon provides you one sentence, and it was one thing like ‘fun-loving, drunk flight attendant wakes up subsequent to lifeless physique in a wierd lodge,’” she says. “And I acquired a chill.”

Greater than three years later, and after a monthslong COVID shutdown, “The Flight Attendant” premiered to rave critiques — and now, to Golden Globe and Display Actors Guild nominations for Cuoco and the ensemble solid. Although it was billed as a restricted sequence, “The Flight Attendant” was renewed by HBO Max in December, and with a CIA twist teased in its satisfying finale, it may go on for years.

As Cassie, Cuoco performs a barely-holding-it-together alcoholic flight attendant who begins to take management of her life as she investigates the dying of Alex (Michiel Huisman), the one-night stand whose physique she awoke subsequent to in Bangkok. Viewers used to Cuoco as Penny, the character she performed for 12 seasons on the phenomenally profitable CBS sitcom “The Huge Bang Concept,” might need been stunned to see her as Cassie. Effervescent and quick-witted on the skin (as befits her occupation), Cassie is suppressing deep-seated childhood trauma attributable to her alcoholic father, which she faces because the present progresses — and Cuoco has to take her all the way in which to the underside.

One fan whom Cuoco impressed in “The Flight Attendant” was her former boss Chuck Lorre, the co-creator of “Huge Bang.” “I used to be anxious that I’d be unable to place Penny apart and watch with an open thoughts,” Lorre tells Selection. “However she had me immersed within the Cassie character nearly instantly.”

“The Flight Attendant” and Cassie are definitely a contemporary starting for Cuoco, and a profitable begin for her firm Sure, Norman Prods. (named after one among her million canine). And he or she doesn’t thoughts if individuals assume she’s new to the scene. “Was I capable of reinvent myself in a single day, and so they’ve completely forgotten about all the things else?” she says. “In the event that they’re prepared to see me like that, I’m simply laughing within the nook.”

Greg Berlanti and Sarah Schechter, the chief producers of “The Flight Attendant,” consider the sky’s the restrict for Cuoco. Evaluating her nascent producing talents to Reese Witherspoon’s, Berlanti calls her “the best producing companion.”

And Schechter, whereas additionally mentioning Goldie Hawn, Lucille Ball and Katharine Hepburn as feminine actors who produced their means out of being pigeonholed, says: “I don’t know that anybody would have handed Kaley this dramatic of a component. However she constructed it for herself.”

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Cuoco started modeling as a child in Camarillo, Calif., a metropolis simply north of Los Angeles. At 7, she began to get bit elements on exhibits and in TV films, and when she was 8, she was solid within the film “Virtuosity,” a 1995 Denzel Washington-Russell Crowe science-fiction thriller: “We thought that was going to be such an enormous hit,” Cuoco says. (It was not, grossing a meager $24 million on the home field workplace.)

After extra here-and-there appearances on TV and in films — she performed Maureen McCormick within the NBC TV film “Rising Up Brady” (2000) — in 2002, Cuoco landed a co-starring position in John Ritter’s ABC sitcom “8 Easy Guidelines … for Courting My Teenage Daughter.” Ritter took Cuoco beneath his wing (“I actually assume you’re going to go locations,” she remembers him telling her) and launched her to his administration staff. Heartbroken when Ritter died all of the sudden in 2003, early within the present’s second season, Cuoco credit him with educating her the right way to be a frontrunner on the set of “The Flight Attendant.” “The respect and the kindness and the enjoyment he dropped at that set, it was unbelievable,” she says. “Sooner or later, if I used to be that No. 1, I knew how I used to be going to run my set.”

With out Ritter, “8 Easy Guidelines” struggled, and was canceled in 2005. However for Cuoco, “The Huge Bang Concept” was proper across the nook. The present premiered in fall 2007, and there was a sweetness to it: Penny, a Cheesecake Manufacturing facility server and aspiring actor, strikes in throughout the corridor from two Caltech physicists/nerds, Leonard (Johnny Galecki) and Sheldon (Jim Parsons). When the 2007-08 writers’ strike shut down the trade that fall, Cuoco wasn’t positive “Huge Bang” would come again. She says she has a Polaroid of her and her co-stars from the November day the strike started, and the look on her face is “I hope I see you once more — this has been so enjoyable!”

The present’s rankings had been middling — however CBS wasn’t going to cancel a Chuck Lorre present with out good purpose. And rightly so: In its third season, when “Huge Bang” was moved to the time slot following Lorre’s “Two and a Half Males” on Monday nights, its rankings exploded. From then on, it was among the many hottest exhibits on tv, and a money cow for its studio, Warner Bros. At its peak, which lasted a number of seasons, it drew practically 20 million viewers every week.

When it got here to cash, the “Huge Bang” actors took a web page from the “Mates” solid’s playbook, and banded collectively throughout wage negotiations. With Season 8, they started incomes $1 million every per episode. As to the query of whether or not she can be paid the identical as her male co-stars, “I knew that I used to be equal to them from day one,” Cuoco says. “And that was by no means questioned in my expertise with ‘Huge Bang’ — which I’ll at all times admire, as a result of it set an ordinary for me.”

Cuoco and Galecki had been shut all through the run (they secretly dated throughout the early seasons). The 2 had been surprised, Cuoco says, after they sealed their first large contract. “We checked out one another and we had been like, ‘What the hell simply occurred?’” she remembers. “‘Ought to we exit to dinner? Ought to we “cheers”?’ We didn’t fairly know what to do.”

And what’s it wish to make that a lot cash? “It was a blessing,” Cuoco says. “I used to be capable of deal with loads of issues in my life and my household, and I’ll eternally be thankful for that.”

Firstly of filming Season 12 in summer time 2018, Lorre summoned the actors to his workplace. Cuoco and Galecki thought it was going to be a few thirteenth season, “which Johnny and I had talked so much about,” she says. “Did we need to do it? And we actually did.” However no, that wasn’t it — and right here Cuoco pauses. “How do I need to say this and ensure I say it accurately?” she asks herself.

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Then she launches in, telling the remainder of the story: “Jim mentioned, ‘I don’t assume I can proceed on.’

“And I used to be so shocked that I used to be actually like, ‘Proceed on with what?’ Like, I didn’t even know what he was speaking about. I checked out Chuck: ‘Wow. I believed we had been — I’m so blown away proper now.’”

In line with Cuoco, Lorre mentioned, “We’re all for one, one for all. And we’re not going to do that with out the entire staff.” She provides: “That was the one factor all of us agreed on — we got here in collectively, we exit collectively.”

One yr earlier, Cuoco herself had begun to discover her profession after “Huge Bang” the evening she’d scrolled via Amazon. Nonetheless, she was 21 when she started taking part in Penny. “Oh, my God, I don’t bear in mind my life earlier than this present!” she recollects considering. “And I went via a divorce on the present,” she provides, referring to her abbreviated first marriage to Ryan Sweeting, by which, Cuoco says, “we acquired married in, like, six seconds.”

Parsons’ declaration — timed to CBS’ simultaneous announcement — left Cuoco “in a state of shock,” and throughout the assembly “everybody had their open emotions, and there have been questions and tears.”

However because the season went on, she accepted that “The Huge Bang Concept” was ending. She nonetheless cries, although, when describing the Might 2019 taping of the finale. Her father was there — he attended each taping for 12 seasons, she says, and had a “chair together with his identify on it.” And the crew all flooded the stage to look at Cuoco and Galecki handle the viewers, as they at all times did on present nights, another time.

Sounding choked up, Cuoco says: “They had been simply listening to us like we had been the final speech they had been ever going to listen to.”

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Sarah Schechter attended that “Huge Bang” taping. She had been working with Cuoco to develop “The Flight Attendant” for practically a yr, and “needed to be supportive, and remind her that enjoyable issues had been coming.”

After Cuoco discovered “The Flight Attendant” — having learn solely that one-line description and seeing that the duvet featured a blond girl — she known as her lawyer. “Are you able to simply rapidly discover out if Reese Witherspoon has the rights to this e book?” she requested him. Witherspoon, whose firm Hiya Sunshine has aggressively snatched up books for adaptation, had not. “OK, that is the e book; that is the present,” she mentioned with certainty. “And my staff’s like, ‘What do you imply?’ I’m like, ‘Simply don’t ask questions; let’s get it!’”

In September 2017, it was hers. “What do I do with this?” she remembers considering. Warner Bros. Tv had supplied the “Huge Bang” actors manufacturing offers in previous negotiations, and each Parsons and Galecki had fashioned their very own firms, however Cuoco hadn’t. “I had little interest in producing — it really intimidated me,” she says. However now, having optioned “The Flight Attendant,” she requested Peter Roth, then the WBTV chairman and one among her mentors, for 5 minutes of his time. “I believe that is my subsequent present,” she instructed him in regards to the novel. He learn it over a weekend, and agreed to develop it along with her. “That’s after I launched Sure, Norman,” she says, as if she will be able to’t consider it herself.

Roth steered Cuoco take “The Flight Attendant” to Sarah Aubrey, then the pinnacle of unique programming at TNT. Aubrey needed it. However quickly there was a imprecise notion that the chief can be “transferring to this new, mysterious” streaming service that WarnerMedia, within the means of being purchased by AT&T, needed to launch to compete with Netflix — “and she or he’d wish to take it along with her,” Cuoco says. In summer time 2018, Roth instructed Cuoco that she and her Sure, Norman companion, Suzanne McCormack, ought to be a part of up with skilled producers — such because the ultra-prolific Berlanti Prods. “‘Do you assume they might do that?’” she requested him. “I didn’t even assume they might take the assembly.”

They’d, and so they did. Schechter says, “It was actually love at first sight by way of partnership.”

With Yockey (“Supernatural”) employed to develop the present, the staff started to sweat the small print of the variation. Crucially, he got here up with a means for Cassie’s inside narrative to play out dynamically, along with her speaking with the murdered Alex in what Yockey known as a “thoughts palace” (which is Alex’s fancy Bangkok lodge room, giving Huisman a big position for a lifeless man). Cassie’s sister within the e book turned a brother, performed by T.R. Knight — and their disastrous upbringing was fleshed out. Her lawyer, Annie, performed by Zosia Mamet, is Cassie’s shut buddy from childhood — somewhat than a stranger representing her after she’s gotten into bother. And in a parallel storyline to Cassie’s authorized jeopardy, fellow flight attendant Megan (Rosie Perez) has a secret lifetime of her personal.

By the point they had been near taking pictures, Aubrey had certainly moved “The Flight Attendant” to HBO Max. What they wanted to nail down most of all was the present’s tone — which is a tightrope stroll: It’s a comedy a few foolhardy girl, a drama about an alcoholic, a spy thriller and a whodunit. “If I may inform you what number of occasions I heard the phrase tone in two years on a telephone name!” Cuoco says. When requested how he describes the present, Berlanti laughs and says, “Typically I say ‘humorous “Alias”?’”

“However the bellwether for it was Kaley,” he continues. “And I believe we realized fairly rapidly that she had the capability to make these very high-concept conditions nonetheless really feel very actual, and really humorous — however nonetheless have an vitality. She was the North Star, I believe.”

And but, says Cuoco, “I didn’t know what the fucking tone was for thus lengthy!” She would do a number of takes for every scene. “OK, that is the humorous one. OK, I’m going to make you cry. OK, guys, I’m going to be actually mad on this one.”

Regardless of the reverse of a Technique actor is, that’s Cuoco, she says: “I’d be hysterical, and we’d be completed, and I’d be like, ‘What’s for lunch?’ And by no means give it some thought once more.”

As Annie, Mamet had a lived-in chemistry with Cuoco, presumably as a result of they bonded over their mutual love of horses. The primary assistant director, Mamet says, would scold them: “You guys bear in mind we’re taking pictures a TV present, proper? Like, you possibly can’t simply maintain displaying one another movies of your horses!”

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Mamet says Cuoco created a heat setting on the set: “It’s such a trickle-down state of affairs. The captain of the ship — the way in which they’re infects all people else. And it was so clear that Kaley was so proud already of what we had been doing.

“Everybody right here issues. Everyone right here is part of this course of. Even after we got here again throughout COVID, it was nonetheless enjoyable.”

Ah sure, COVID. With 24 days of the shoot left, “The Flight Attendant” shut down in March, together with the remainder of the world. As they edited episodes, the staff (and the trade) deliberate the right way to resume taking pictures safely, and in August, “The Flight Attendant” was WBTV’s first scripted present to start out up once more. “We actually had loads of eyes on us, and we didn’t need to fuck up,” Cuoco says.

Abruptly, nobody got here close to her, for worry of getting her sick. “I used to be simply the untouchable human,” she says. “I understood, however it was unhappy. On the finish, I’m like, ’I miss you all a lot!’ It was very, very weird, however everybody revered the plan — and it was fairly good how we completed.”

The timetable for Season 2 remains to be coming collectively. Sure, there might be a thriller, Cuoco says, and sure, Cassie would possibly work with the CIA, because the finale established. However Cuoco needs to inform the story of Cassie struggling in sobriety. “She thinks that is going to be fast and straightforward, and I’m nailing this!” Cuoco says. “And he or she’s going to study actually quick that it is a lifelong difficulty that won’t be cured for her in a single day.” The writers’ room, Schechter says, will possible convene in March, and so they hope to start filming in September or October.

This interview takes place in Cuoco’s horse trailer within the Coachella Valley as she is making ready to compete alongside Prepare dinner. Close by, they’ve a barn and a farm to accommodate their many animals, together with 25 horses and a big pack of canine. “I’m not allowed to say what number of I’ve, as a result of I’m afraid they’ll come knocking, saying that it’s an unlawful quantity,” Cuoco says.

She’s going to quickly go residence to the ranch within the gated group in Los Angeles that she and Prepare dinner not too long ago moved into, and can expertise an awards season for the primary time in her lengthy profession; an Emmys marketing campaign might be subsequent. “That is going to be an thrilling couple of months,” Cuoco says. She’ll additionally start taping Season 3 of the animated cult favourite “Harley Quinn” (now on HBO Max), and throwing herself into extra producing. With the “Harley Quinn” writers, she’s growing a present known as “America’s Sweetheart” — it was bought to Apple however has moved to HBO Max — and is near getting the rights to a restricted sequence in regards to the lifetime of Doris Day, whom she’d wish to play.

“I by no means thought I’d get a nomination for something, ever — that was not a objective, or a thought in my thoughts,” Cuoco says. “I’m going to maintain going up, and there’s nothing stopping me now. And I really feel there’s much more on the horizon, as a result of I believe my profession simply began.”


Styling: Brad Goreski/The Wall Group; Make-up: Jamie Greenberg/The Wall Group; Hair: Marilee Albin/Solo Artists/Davines Haircare; Manicure: Shigeko Taylor/Star Contact Company


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