The provocative comedies of Steve Martin and Martin Short usually have a simple proposition: simply put the two together. Even as they recounted their years of friendship and collaboration in a video interview earlier this summer, they didn’t miss the familiar rhythm of nudging each other affectionately.
When Martin was self-reflecting, “If I could just talk about myself for a second,” his on-screen partner saw that he had an opportunity.
“I wouldn’t want it to be different,” Short quickly intervened.
A few moments later Short took a look at his own work – “All my career I’ve been satirizing narcissism,” he said – and it was time for his payback.
Martin replied, “except for you, it’s not satire.”
They do this kind of quick verbal sniping commonly. But what happens when you take these veteran actors out of their comfort zone and put them on a TV series playing decrepit, decadent comedians? And when they team up with a third actor who is in no way part of their demographic, in this case an actress, Selena Gomez? What if the series isn’t just a relentless parody of life in New York, but also about mysterious murders?
This is the unlikely but exceptionally effective premise of Only Murders in the Building, which premieres on Tuesday at Star+. The series, in which Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin play disparate residents of a building who come together due to the death of a neighbor, is a comedic mystery story that also inspires another basic question: How did this story come about?
The answer doesn’t come from the algorithm of a computer or a game of darts, but it was a process that developed over several years. And it ended up resulting in a series that brings Selena Gomez, actress and pop singer, back to television for her first work on a series since her smash hit Wizards of Waverly Place, in 2000, and stars Steve Martin in his first TV role.
Accomplish Only Murders in the Building it was a process of discovering the three main actors in the series, which showed Short and Martin that their well-crafted routine had room for new tricks and new teammates, and also that Selena Gomez was fully capable of taking on the role alongside her two colleagues. veterans.
As Selena explained in another phone interview, working alongside Steve Martin and Martin Short was understandably daunting. “They didn’t know what to expect from a 29-year-old, and they didn’t know me very well,” she said. “We were getting to know each other.”
But she arrived with her devious ways and a genuine enthusiasm for the crime story genre, and, like her character, forged an amazing connection with her story partners.
“In real life, if I had met two older men who were dedicated to solving mysteries, I would bond with them in the same strong way,” she said.
The core concept of the series had been nurtured by Martin for years. He said he thought of him at a party whose host suggested he write something for the three other guests he described only as “old Broadway actors.”
As Martin remembered. “The idea came to my mind immediately, that they lived in a building and everyone was interested in crime. But they didn’t have the energy to go downtown, so they practiced murders in the building.”
76-year-old Martin is a culturally eclectic actor whose production includes cartoons, Broadway shows and banjo music (He also offered an ad for a book of mine published in 2018). In his own words, he had no interest in doing the series until Short, 71, suggested they do some work together.
“Marty told me, ‘You know, it’s old – we could do that,’” Martin said.
But the actual path to their partnership on the show was more elaborate. For a time Martin was courted by TV producers such as Dan Fogelman, creator of series like This is Us of NBC.
When Fogelman and his production partner Jess Rosenthal had lunch with Martin a few years ago, they hoped to have a memorable encounter with one of their comedy heroes, but few tangible results.
“I don’t think Steve operates from a place of, what is a vehicle I can create for myself”? Fogelman said. “He thinks, ‘What’s an idea I find funny or interesting?’ So it probably takes someone poking him to do it himself.”
But Martin said he noted that he himself was missing the familiarity of a production on camera, recalling the romantic comedy Simply complicated, 2009, in which he starred with Meryl Streep and Alec Baldwin.
When this film was completed, “I didn’t really feel like going back to the movies, I missed working with people.” Going back to acting and occasionally offering ideas and dialogue from a script for something someone was in charge of doing was “the perfect level of contribution without having to do it all your life.”
Thirty-five years later and the Hulu series cast Martin in the role of Charles, a vaguely famous actor from an old TV drama and Martin Short as oliver, a once-known Broadway director looking forward to yet another opportunity to shine.
John Hoffman, who is the showrunner of Only Murders in the Building and sharing its creation with Steve Martin, said the crux of the series was not the age of the main actors, but the idea of ”three lonely people who find a sense of connection”. watching your work in comedy Grace and Frankie, from Netflix, Hoffman said: “In that show there’s already a lot about people getting older and issues surrounding it. And I consciously told myself that I wouldn’t do something similar again.”
Still, when Hoffman and his colleagues plotted the new series, they were careful not to portray the three main characters too similar. Recalling these conversations, Hoffman said, “Don’t we want an alien in their world? What aren’t we waiting for, doesn’t that make sense?”
The solution was to have Charles and Oliver make an awkward alliance with a third character, Mabel, a sarcastic young woman who doesn’t talk much about how she manages to live in the building or why she is so interested in the central crime of the story. Fogelman said that Selena Gomez was the archetype the producers used when drafting the character and then learned to her surprise that she was really interested in the role.
Selena Gomez, who is a fan of psychological thrillers and participated in Crimecon, a week-long event devoted to resolving unsolved criminal cases, said he felt a certain familiarity with the character Mabel. She thought about it and said, “Well, I’m not that enigmatic,” but added, “Actually, you know, maybe I am. But I’m not as intense as she is.”
There was some anxiety at the first script reading table, held by videoconference and which was the first time the three stars performed together. But in his conclusion, “there were phone calls back and forth between Steve, Marty, Dan and me,” Hoffman said. “We were just crazy about Selena.”
Selena Gomez was executive producer of the Netflix series called 13 Reasons Why and hosted a cooking series on HBO Max, Selena + Chef, and his filmography includes the thriller Spring Breakers – Dangerous Girls, by Harmony Korine, and the zombie comedy by Jim Jarmusch the dead don’t die. But he said he hoped that Only Murders in the Building it would have its own challenges.
“You can see in the first episode I was really shy. But throughout the season I’m looser and more at ease”.
Both Martin Short and Steve Martin praised Selena for her talent as a comedian and her ability to put her aging, curmudgeonly characters in her place.
Martin compared the dynamic with the famous scene from Harry and Sally – Made for Each Other, at Katz’s Delicatessen, whose joke “I’ll have what she’s having” is made by an observer played by Estelle Reiner.
Two people may be in the scene, but the laugh comes when a third person who is watching enters,” he said. “Selena really gets it.” She has this posture, like: ‘Are you two kids?'”.
Meanwhile, Short and Martin found themselves spending even more time together during the making of the series, on set and on trips back home, during which they would share a car ride and exchange gossip. “It was during covid, so we had no options,” said Short.
“We were in each other’s bubble,” added Martin.
Faced with the unusual leap that Only Murders in the Building played to each of their actors, they try to strike the right balance between worrying about their success and being indifferent about their future prospects.
Martin quoted an adage he attributed to friend and actor Richard E. Grant saying, “You put your heart and soul into something, your dreams, your high hopes. But then he realizes that it’s just another title in the drawer”.
When Martin Short heard this, he couldn’t hold back. “It’s very optimistic thinking,” he said sarcastically. “Do you know what else happens eventually? You laugh, love your children, have a stroke and die”.
Martin adopted a tone of exaggerated grandeur and replied, “Welcome!”
Translation by Terezinha Martino