For W’s second annual TV Portfolio, we asked 26 of the most sought-after names in television to pay homage to their favorite small screen characters by stepping into their shoes.
After three decades in Hollywood, and breaking out on sitcoms like 8 Simple Rules and The Big Bang Theory, Kaley Cuoco is ready to take flight for the next phase of her career: starring in The Flight Attendant as Cassie Bowden, the alcoholic, accidental gumshoe embroiled in an international mystery. The HBO Max series is so much more than a fizzy, flippant spectacle about a catty jet-setting crew—it’s a dark and dizzying puzzle that escorts the viewer from destination to destination, as the titular flight attendant attempts to solve the mystery of why she woke up in a very expensive Bangkok hotel room with her murdered one-night stand lying next to her.
The show is a compelling whodunit, thanks to the charming performance given by Cuoco, who, after starring in nearly 300 episodes of the syndicated sitcom The Big Bang Theory, finally received her first Emmy nomination, for leading The Flight Attendant. In fact, if it wasn’t for Cuoco’s absentmindedly looking through Amazon’s list of upcoming book releases several years ago, the show might not have happened at all (Cuoco serves as executive producer on the project, and she’s the one who optioned it for television). For W’s annual TV Portfolio, the actress opened up about her first Emmy nomination, being an original Bachelor Nation fan, and bringing some much-needed comedy to an otherwise very gloomy mystery on television.
What was going through your mind the moment you received your Emmy nomination for The Flight Attendant?
You know, it’s really wild. I’ve been doing this for 30 years, and I’ve never had a moment like that. I love being an actor. Simply put, I’ve never known another life. I’ve never had another job. There are so many good actors that don’t get any recognition. And you work and you work and you work. Then all of a sudden, you get this little gift and this little icing on top of this really massive cake that you don’t even deserve anyway. I never, ever thought I would be Emmy nominated, and I’ve always been so happy with what I’ve done, so this is just an absolute gift.
How did you find the book that the show is based on, and end up starring in it?
I was flipping through Amazon and looking at upcoming releases and books and blah, blah, blah. And I saw The Flight Attendant. It was just a book cover; the book was actually not released. They’ll give you a two-sentence description, and I read it, and I know this sounds very cheesy, but I got this very intense chill. The cover is of a blonde. It doesn’t necessarily look like me, but she’s kind of looking back, and I’m like, I could look like that if I was looking back! I’ve got to get this book. I called my team, and the first thing I asked was, “Did Reese Witherspoon get the rights to this book?” That’s always my first question, because she is very good at diving in and getting these books. And they were like, “No, it hasn’t even been released yet.” So we got the rights, and then all of a sudden, I had this book, and I’m like, Well, what the hell am I supposed to do now? What do I do with this? And here I am.
Even though you were nominated for an Emmy and are technically in the comedy category, it’s a very dark comedy. Was that intentional, or something that you knew you wanted to achieve? It’s very mysterious, with a lot of layers.
The book is very dark. There is no comedy in this book. When I optioned it and I was forming this team, I thought, There’s no way I can do this without adding a little of the comedy in there, dark comedy. What is the tone? If I could tell you how many times I have used the word “tone” in the last four years, I didn’t know that I could actually say that word as many times as I’ve said it and heard it. “What’s the tone of the scene? What’s the tone? What tone? I don’t know if we see the tone in this episode, what is the tone? Why the tone?” I’m not kidding. And you know, it was a tough tone. We were kind of on a tightrope of, is this funny? Is this dark? But the minute you start crying, I want you to laugh, and the minute you are laughing, you’re like, Oh my god, there’s real shit going on. This girl’s got real trauma. That’s my personality; [I’ve] got to bring some levity. You can’t expect an audience to watch something super dark for an hour straight. And interestingly enough, coming out during Covid and during this time, I’m glad we added that levity and that quirkiness, because it made the show stand out. You were either going to get on this flight, or not.
For this portfolio, you chose to portray a contestant from The Bachelorette. Did you have a particular bachelorette in mind?
I loved Kaitlyn Bristowe. She was my favorite [bachelorette]. I’ve been an avid, die-hard, devoted Bachelor slash Bachelorette slash Bachelor in Paradise fan for as long as I can remember. I go deep into Bachelor in Paradise. In fact, I’m mad that Bachelor in Paradise has not turned into a Big Brother situation, where you can just watch them 24 hours a day. That’s what I think they should do.
Bachelor in Paradise is pretty raunchy!
I love Bachelor in Paradise. Oh my god. All these gorgeous, crazy people just stuck on an island together. And then they’re all getting together and getting angry and fighting. I love it.
What did you like so much about Kaitlyn?
She was so cool. She was very to the point, she was authentic, she was not fake. I loved that she was just herself. There’ve been some really classic people in the past that have been on the show, but she really was my favorite. I liked that she had an edge. She cussed, she had sex. I just found her to be like a girl’s girl.
What is your feeling about the fantasy suite? And the windmill fantasy suite, specifically.
Oh, the fantasy suites are my favorite episodes. I’m always—well, now I feel like they’re getting raunchier and raunchier. Hannah [Brown] went into the windmill fantasy suite many times. I was proud of her. I was impressed.
For your portrayal of Kaitlyn, did you try to find a dress like hers?
I found a dress that was the essence of The Bachelorette. We found a bright red dress. We got the roses, and I was very excited.
Where was your first kiss? Was it on set?
My first kiss was on set. It was actually not on set, but it was while I was shooting with a guy that was shooting with me, but he took me on a date, and he actually kissed me, and it was my first one. And it was a Disney movie. Kids got wild on those Disney movies back in the day.
Were you nervous?
No, it was cool. I had a big crush on him. He was really cute, actually. He was adorable. But then he got fired from the movie, I remember. So obviously, it did not end well for him. It ended well for me. I had a great kiss. I didn’t get fired. It was great.
Who was your crush growing up?
My crush is and always will be Brad Pitt. I don’t care, until he’s 80, I will still think he is the hottest thing around.
What was your first red carpet outfit?
My pre-stylist days are truly frightening. I was young, so I’m not going to be able to remember my first one, but I do remember my first big one that I did not have a stylist for. It was my first People’s Choice Awards for 8 Simple Rules, with John Ritter. And I remember we went with John. I dressed myself. I remember I had a pink long dress, and I had gotten my hair blown out, but for some reason, I put it up in a ponytail in the car. I didn’t have a publicist at that time, no one to say, “What the hell, why the ponytail?” I put it up in the limo, and I was like, This is better. This is better. I remember it like it was yesterday, and being there with my first TV family was really cool, but I don’t know what I was thinking. There were a lot of those “I don't know what I was thinking” pre-carpet moments.