Before she ended her run on “The Big Bang Theory,” Kaley Cuoco acquired the rights to “The Flight Attendant,” a bestseller about an airline employee who wakes up in bed next to a dead man.
“I read one little snippet – it was just one sentence – and I got like this weird chill and called my team and said, ‘Hey, I’d love to look at the rights to this book,’” she says during a Zoom conference.
Never mind that she didn’t read the book. “Once we started getting into it, I read it really fast and, thank god, I loved it as much as I thought,” Cuoco says.
Studio heads put her in touch with producers Steve Yockey and Greg Berlanti and the wheels started moving.
Written by Chris Bohajalian, “The Flight Attendant” was a dark look at an even darker situation. Rather than lean in, Cuoco and company decided to add humor. “I love, love making people laugh,” she says. “And there was something about this that I thought (if we) could bring some levity to such a dark book…it could be kind of cool.”
Assembling a supporting cast, she landed on “Girls’” Zosia Mamet and Oscar nominee Rosie Perez.
When Mamet came in to read for a role, producers thought she had known Cuoco for years. “We met in that room,” she told them, gesturing to an outside space. “She booped me on the nose in a little improv we did and it was love at first sight.”
Perez signed on when she realized Cuoco had the same work ethic. “I come to work prepared. I don’t mess around. I hit my mark and I know all my lines,” Perez recalls. “That’s the way I like to work, otherwise I get very irritated.”
Cuoco, she says, gave her a high-five and said, “We’re on the same page.”
So what if Perez hates flying. She agreed to accommodate the travel itinerary. Five episodes into the series, the show was put on hold due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“Luckily, we had finished all of our international filming,” says Yockey.
To finish the eight episodes, producers made some physical adjustments, offered script rewrites and instituted rapid on-site coronavirus testing. “Our wonderful production team worked very, very, very hard to put together a plan that really is making everyone feel confident we can do this,” Yockey says.
Mamet says safety has been “incredibly thorough. Everyone has just been so thoughtful about it. It’s not just going through the motions of trying to keep us safe. Everybody is just thinking about every single aspect of it.”
While the series is self-contained, Yockey says there is a way to extend it to additional seasons.
“I love the reality of the female friendships that exist,” Mamet says.
Lacing them with humor acts as a hook, Yockey says. “The dark humor is there because there are a lot of dark things. If you were to remove the humor, it would be sort of like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is so traumatic.’ It's a mix of those things that’s kind of the magic of the show. We have everything that we need in place, should the show move forward after this initial mystery.”
Cuoco says “The Flight Attendant” represents a new path for her career. “There’s still that levity that gets to come out, but I’ve loved the drama,” she says. “I’ve really never done anything like it before. And I’ve completely enjoyed it.”