This interview contains spoilers for everything up to the seventh episode of The Flight Attendant.
Every good-time girl needs a type-A best friend, and in The Flight Attendant, Kaley Cuoco finds one in Zosia Mamet. The delightful HBO Max thriller-slash-caper stars Kaley Cuoco as a flight attendant who wakes up in Bangkok next to a dead body and proceeds to make some of the worst decisions imaginable, often contrary to the advice of her lawyer friend Annie (Zosia Mamet), who seems to spend a lot of her time defending mob wives. The show is a change of pace for both Cuoco — best known for her years playing Penny on the extremely successful sitcom The Big Bang Theory — and Mamet, best known for playing the eternally girlie Shoshanna on Girls. To hear Mamet tell it, that’s intentional. As she explained over the phone to Vulture, she was looking for a role that would take her in a new direction when she auditioned for the show and ended up finding a close friend in Cuoco, who was doing the same thing. Plus it helps that they’re both true horse girls. With the seventh episode of The Flight Attendant out today, Mamet caught us up on Annie’s woes, filming during COVID, and, of course, the secrets of her character’s mysterious apartment layout.
I’ll get to questions about the plot, but first I have to know everything about Annie’s apartment. Specifically, the fact that there is a shower right in the middle of it. Is it real? Was it just on a soundstage?
Literally everybody is asking about that apartment! We built it on one of our stages, but it was the coolest apartment ever. The shower in the center of the room says a lot about Annie. Sara K White, our production designer — I don’t even know if they gave her direction or were just like, “Go crazy!” There was something in the script in that scene where Cassie walks in on Max showering, but there was nothing about a shower in the middle of the living room. But yeah, I asked Sara, “Can I just live in this apartment? There’s working water, right?”
In episode five, Annie gets dragged into this whole conspiracy where she has to pay off a favor to deliver a suicide pill to this man in prison. What was it like filming that scene?
One of the things that drew me the most to this part was that I hadn’t had the opportunity to play the straight man in a show. I’ve always been the zany character. It was a fun challenge for me, because Annie on the page reads as so type A and unflappable, and then as the season goes on, she starts to unravel. I’ve come to learn in life that those people are the ones dealing with the biggest issues, because they’re not actually addressing what’s happening to them. Annie has gotten through a lot of the shady aspects of her life by denying them. In that scene, it’s a slap in the face where she can no longer deny that she is making choices that are morally questionable. Her emotions are like Whac-A-Mole; as soon as she has one thing under control, another thing comes undone.
Cassie is often the person pressing Annie and making things come undone. What was it like figuring out that dynamic with Kaley?
We got lucky that Kaley and I happened to have chemistry out of the gate. My first audition was with her in front of everyone and their mother. We just immediately started to improv together, and it was as if we’d always been working together. People ask if we knew each other before, and we didn’t. In our first audition, Kaley bopped me on the nose, and I immediately batted her hand away, and that created this relationship. Cassie pushes Annie’s boundaries to get a rise out of her, like sisters. It’s like a cat-and-mouse game, and I think it’s one of the biggest parts of their dynamic and why they love each other. As we went through the season, everybody had a lot of confidence in us and let us play and allowed the relationship to develop organically.
You’re both playing against expectations on this show. Most people know Kaley from The Big Bang Theory and you from Girls, but both your new characters are quite different from Penny or Shoshanna. Was that something the two of you talked about?
We definitely talked about it a lot. When the show came out, the reviews were so gracious and wonderful, and Kaley and I don’t read reviews. But there was one review that one of my agents was like, “Please read this,” and it said a lot about the two of us and our relationship on the show. We ended up tearily voice-noting each other back and forth — a lot of it was us understanding each other. We played very specific types for so long, and we both loved those jobs, but you can get pigeonholed. The industry and audiences know that you’re acting, but they forget that and think that’s all you can do. I was in awe of Kaley for taking this huge leap with all these eyes watching. To be like, I’m gonna create this thing for myself. I’m gonna play an entirely different character. And she slays! I sent her a super-teary voice note saying that, and she was like, “I know! I feel that way!” It felt like we both shared that experience, and it felt special and safe to have somebody who understood that intimately doing it alongside me.
Once her not-boyfriend Max gets hit by a car, Annie has to confront how much she actually cares about him and ends up blurting out that she loves him. How did you think about playing that?
It was similar to the scene in the prison. To me, there’s no question that she’s head-over-heels in love with this man, and yet similarly to her job and keeping all of the shadiness of that aside, she’s like, I don’t like labels. I’m not going to give myself over to someone. Deniz Akdeniz, who plays Max, is so sweet and charming and knew how to poke me in these great ways, so he would make me smile, and I’d be like, Stop it! If you’re in love with someone, you can’t help but show it. I think, if this thing that you love is put in jeopardy, it makes you realize you can’t deny it. That’s what happens to Annie — she starts to get her priorities straight. She realizes she needs to stop denying all this stuff.
You had to stop production because of COVID and were one of the first shows to come back and start filming in New York this fall. Did that change your process as an actor? Do you have to work differently with these precautions?
I love the intimate environment of shooting. You become a family, and I was worried that the protocols would cancel that out. I think we got exceptionally lucky that we had already created those relationships, because we shot five episodes before lockdown. The cast and crew really knew each other. We created a well-oiled machine. It didn’t feel like that changed, and it didn’t feel like the protocols stifled it at all. We had an amazing COVID team that was there at all times, making sure everyone was following protocols and had the proper PPE. We all just gave over to them to do that aspect of the job, and we did our job.
You and Kaley are both horse girls. It’s something I’ve seen you both talk about a lot. Have you gotten to go riding together?
We haven’t gotten to the riding together! We were trying to make it happen, but filming was just way too intense. It’s definitely on the agenda. We text about horses constantly. I think that’s a big part of what created our immediate bond. If you’re a horse girl, you just know.
What do you text about your horses? I’m not a horse person, but I’m curious!
You know, it depends! My husband, Evan Jonigkeit, is shooting in Pittsburgh. We’re here now, and I have find a place to ride, so she was helping me find a barn out here. My horse is a little bit off at the moment, and I texted her the other day to please talk me down off a ledge, and we were texting about, you know, soft tissue in a horse’s hoof. Her husband, Karl Cook, has been doing amazing on the show circuit right now, so I text her about that. A couple weeks ago, I was like, “When the world is back to normal, should we go on a horse trip to Ireland together?” She was like, “Absolutely!”
Finally, I have to ask about a guest appearance you did on Dickinson, because you played a hustling version of Louisa May Alcott and it just seemed very fun to film.
It was so much fun. The only thing that wasn’t fun was running in a corset. That day was shockingly cold. We did a fitting to make sure that one could physically run in a corset. I mean, we knew they could because Louisa May Alcott actually did, which is crazy. My husband was shooting Sweetbitter right next door to Dickinson. He happened to be working that day, and he came out of his dressing room, and I was running in the hallways in a corset.