The new Hulu mystery series “Only Murders in the Building” – set to debut on the streaming service Aug. 31 – was originally to be a very serious look at how three people living in the same New York apartment building get drawn into solving a crime.
That changed when the decision was made that Steve Martin – who created the series with Dan Fogelman and John Hoffman – would play one of the residents. There was no going back to the drama plans when Martin Short was cast as one of the other residents. Even the casting of Selena Gomez as the third member of the sleuth squad assured comedy would rule.
Martin says, “It was actually conceived for older actors. And then when Marty one day said to me, ‘Well you’re old,’ and we decided [it would be] the comedy actually came after. 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, I think.”
The final product that features the comedic skills of Martin, Short and Gomez follows three strangers who share an obsession with true crime and suddenly find themselves wrapped up in one. When a grisly death occurs inside their exclusive Upper West Side apartment building, the trio suspect murder and employs their knowledge of true crime to investigate.
That knowledge comes from their obsession for listening to true crime podcasts. The three not only decide they want to solve the mystery but they want to use it as the basis for their own podcast. What they didn’t expect to discover was that the killer might be living amongst them.
How a serious story about murder could be turned into a comedy can be seen through Martin’s discussion of the property. His initial answer to why true crime podcasts play such an important role gets a less than serious response.
“First of all, the podcast was not my idea. My idea was actually a circus with the clowns who get into trouble, amusing trouble. But, anyway, they rewrote that,” Martin says.
Martin’s serious response is that he has been a longtime fan of true crime podcasts because he loves trying to figure out the mysteries.
Immediately, Martin switches back to his comedic side and adds, “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.”
Proof that Martin’s kidding is his track record in TV and film. His lengthy list of credits as an actor and writer have earned him an Academy Award, five Grammy awards, an Emmy, the Mark Twain Award and the Kennedy Center Honors.
Martin and Short have been working together for years including a comedy tour before the pandemic shut the world down. It was easy to add Short to the cast because of that connection.
Short has always admired Martin for the way he acts when he is working.
“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. And that’s been the way it’s been since ‘Three Amigos’ for me,” Short says.
In the case of Gomez, it was a matter of her fighting to get the role. She spent the majority of her acting life doing family friendly projects for Disney and this was a chance to finally play an adult character.
Gomez says, “I signed my life away to Disney at a very young age. So, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing. I was just riding around on set and now I 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 casted as my actual age, which never happens.
“The level of sophistication of the material is first the reason why I wanted to do this.”
Getting the role was just the beginning. Gomez admits to being very nervous working with her comedy legend co-stars. Part of being anxious came from having seen over the years that comedy people can sometimes be a little bit distant.
The nerves soon passed and she now thinks of Martin and Short as “two crazy uncles” who have been willing to give her advice.
Gomez adds, “How they lead a set is so commendable. They are so humble and they are kind and they are there till the very end. They’ve set such an example for me.
“They’ve been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. I love the way they talk to people. I love the way that they just come to set and make everybody feel good and that makes me want to be that and do that more.”