By JUDY SLOANE
Front Row Features
HOLLYWOOD—Co-created by Steve Martin (“L.A. Story”) and John Hoffman (“Grace & Frankie,”) Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building” concocts a delightful blend of mystery and humor. Three strangers, who reside in the same apartment building in New York City, Charles (Steve Martin, “Parenthood,”) Oliver (Martin Short, “The Morning Show”) and Mabel (Selena Gomez, “The Big Short”) discover they are all obsessed with the same true crime podcasts. When a gruesome death occurs in their building, the trio suspects foul play and begins to record a podcast of their own as they search for the murderer. The eight-part series premieres on Hulu Tuesday Aug. 31.
The interviews were presented virtually at the Television Critics Association tour.
Q: Steve Martin and Martin Short, you’ve worked together for years. Can you still surprise each other?
Steve Martin: Compliment me, Marty, go ahead.
Martin Short: I don’t know if I’m so surprised by Steve, but I’m always admiring him from day one, which is that he shows up on the set. His agenda is to make the set loose and happy because that’s the playground. He is never temperamental. He always knows his lines, and if he doesn’t, he does jokes about it that gets everyone laughing and then it becomes a better take. That’s been the way it’s been since “Three Amigos” for me.
Q: What makes you guys work so well together?
Martin: We just get along at a humorous level, and always have. We don’t get neurotic with each other.
Short: I actually don’t think we’re competitive.
Martin: Yeah, that’s true. A lot of times I’ll say, “You take that (line.) That sounds like you.”
Short: And I’ll say, “Sure.”
Martin: And you’ll say, “Can I have the other line, too?”
Short: Yeah. “And by the way, do you need to be here at all?”
Q: You’re both Hollywood icons, having careers and a friendship that spans over three decades. What does it mean to you both to come together again to collaborate on a project like this?
Short: We’ve been doing an extended tour of our two-man show for many years now, so we certainly had that. But to extend it to television was never talked about.
Martin: We never even talked about doing a movie together again. We just were friends.
Short: So, it’s a delightful surprise. And the experience was as happy, joyful and creative as you could dream it to be.
Martin: We’re very lucky to have this late in life after we’ve done a lot of our work. I wasn’t even going to be in this, and I thought, “Well, I’ll do it if Marty does it.”
Short: And then I agreed to do it, and when they hired the director they had Steve read (for it).
Q: Steve, was this a situation where you saw the fascination with true crime podcasts and wanted to do something with that?
Martin: First of all, the podcast was not my idea. My idea was a circus with the clowns who get into amusing trouble. They rewrote that. Actually, I had this idea (of) murder because I actually am a true crime … “fan” is the wrong word, but I’m interested in the solving of crime.
Q: Because the show’s so New York-centric, do you see this as a bookend to “L.A. Story”?
Martin: I didn’t see it as anything to do with “L.A. Story.” I would be a genius if I could bookend those two and say, “This has been the 40-year plan.” This is one the most unusual things I’ve ever done because it actually has a plot. I usually don’t do things with plots.
Q: Selena, how exciting was it to team up with such brilliant comedic legends, acting and producing alongside Steve and Martin?
Selena Gomez: I had no idea who they were. (She laughs.) I’m kidding. I, of course, was so excited. I was very nervous, to be honest, because I didn’t know what to expect. Sometimes I find that comedy people can be a little bit distant, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And now I have these two crazy uncles in my life that basically give me boy advice. And I sing rap songs to them.
Martin: Naughty rap songs, I have to add.
Q: In turn, Steve and Martin, how cool was it for you to work with such a modern talent like Selena?
Short: What I love about the end product of the show is the three different energies of the actors. I kind of play it very real. Steve goes way over the top. Selena grounds everything in this kind of dry, hilarious delivery. The combination, I think, is perfect. And it was a dream to work with this brilliant young lady.
Martin: Of course, I knew Selena Gomez, but I didn’t know all her work; although I do dance around the house to her music all the time. But I didn’t know of her theatric, movie or television work. So, I looked it up and I thought, “Oh, she’s going to be young. She’s a beginner.” (Then I found) she’s done more movies than I have.
Q: Selena, is it fair to say this is your first TV show as an adult? How is it different than making the ones you made when you were a kid?
Gomez: Gosh, I don’t know. I signed my life away to Disney at a very young age. So, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. What I’d say is, the level of sophistication of the material is the first reason why I wanted to do this. Now I just feel like a sponge and I soak up all the wisdom that I can. It’s really nice to be back on TV and it’s nice to be cast as my actual age, which never happens.
Martin: I’m dying to be cast as my actual age instead of this damn 35.
Q: Steve, was this constructed so that it was a comedy-within-a-mystery?
Martin: No, because it was not conceived for me, Marty Short and Selena Gomez. It was actually conceived for older actors. And then one day Marty said to me, “Well, you’re old,” and we decided (to do it). The comedy came because of the casting. If you had cast three serious actors, it’d be a very different show. But the comedy just occurred through the writing and through the performances.
Q: A lot of the show was shot on the streets of New York City and there were a bunch of paparazzi around taking photos as you were filming. Were you afraid that spoilers would be revealed?
Gomez: I actually was worried for a second, but because there was so much going on I knew that what people were going to see isn’t the ending of anything, per se.
Martin: I don’t think you can interpret a plot point in the show from a photograph and anything we did. We have 10 hours of show. Marty and I can barely walk down the street, the paparazzi were so crazy. We actually had to throw Selena out there so we could get to our trailers.
Short: And for some reason, the paparazzi stayed with her and we got away.
Martin: Our plan worked. I don’t know why.
Short: We even turned to the paparazzi and said, “We’re leaving!” They didn’t seem to care.