Kaley Cuoco and David Spade on Flight Attendants, Bad Reviews, and Fake Feuds
Few actors are as associated with the network sitcom as Kaley Cuoco. After becoming a mainstay in living rooms across the country with her role in the ABC comedy 8 Simple Rules, the California native took a one-year hiatus from laugh tracks to join the final season of the supernatural soap Charmed. In 2007, she returned to half-hour comedies as Penny in the Chuck Lorre–produced CBS sitcom The Big Bang Theory, which, in case you somehow missed it, went on to become one of the highest-rated shows in television history. That meant that Cuoco’s follow-up to The Big Bang Theory, which ended its 12-season run last year, would mark an inflection point in the 35-year-old actor’s career. Would she return to the punchline-based acting that made her one of the highest-paid actors on television, or would she spread her wings and fly?
That answer came into full view last week, when HBO Max premiered The Flight Attendant, a snappy, sexy, boozy caper that Cuoco not only stars in, but helped develop and executive produce. Based on Chris Bohjalian’s novel of the same name, which Cuoco discovered while casually browsing Amazon, the miniseries follows Cassie Bowden, a party girl who takes full advantage of her job aboard a jumbo jet to sample the best of what international nightlife has to offer. But when she wakes up next to her one-night-stand’s dead body after a night out in Bangkok, she has to balance the FBI’s suspicion of her role in the crime with finding out who was really behind it. The show’s tonal shifts, between pulpy thrillride and character study of a woman who might be falling apart, lets Cuoco, who also voices the lead character on the HBO Max animated show Harley Quinn, use the comedic gifts she’s sharpened over the years while exploring darker emotional terrain. Cuoco recently connected with her 8 Simple Rules co-star David Spade to discuss learning the secret behavior of flight attendants, why reviews don’t matter, and her fake feud with Margot Robbie. — BEN BARNA
DAVID SPADE: So, I wrote some questions down.
KALEY CUOCO: Which assistant wrote those for you?
SPADE: I’m about to do a show where I interview people [The Netflix Afterparty], and I truly don’t know how to. I’m going to start by asking you a work-related question. What are some of the most interesting or unexpected things you learned about the flight attendant profession?
CUOCO: Have you seen Passenger Shaming? It’s an Instagram handle, and I learned a lot from it. Pre-COVID, when I was flying a lot more, I took notice of what the attendants were doing back there—the friendships, how they wore their hair, and how mid-flight they’d take their uncomfortable shoes off and put their comfy ones on. And then, knowing that my character was sneaking mini bottles of vodka, there was a part of me that was always trying to see if I could catch anyone in the act.
SPADE: I wonder if I would rat one out. I probably wouldn’t. But if you could smell your flight attendant’s drunk breath, wouldn’t it be weird?
CUOCO: I think that’s why my character chose vodka. Not that vodka doesn’t smell, but you’re least likely to get caught with that one, right?
SPADE: That’s why I choose it. I don’t drink when I do sitcoms until after the D scene, so that’s almost halfway through.
CUOCO: I’m amazed you could wait that long.
SPADE: By the way, where do you stand on all the Charmed drama? It’s getting bad.
CUOCO: Wait, what’s happening? Is it because they rebooted it and the girls weren’t happy or something?
SPADE: Something along those lines, and it’s getting very chippy.
CUOCO: Is it? I only did one year, so I don’t deserve to comment on that.
SPADE: The ridiculous thing about you is that you finished 8 Simple Rules, then you immediately got another job, and then you got another job. Just an observation—and I was in a jealous tailspin.
CUOCO: I’ve been very fortunate to continue to work and play my age. I kind of grew up on camera. I was with you when I was 18 for a few years, and then was on Charmed for a minute, and moved into The Big Bang Theory when I was 21.
SPADE: But are you 21 for the whole 10 years?
CUOCO: Yes! It was hard at moments to stay in that age range, but we managed to do it.
SPADE: The good news is you don’t grow mentally, so I feel like you’re still 18. Here’s another question. After the middling success of The Big Bang Theory, what were some of the criteria for your next project, and how does this show fit in to that?
CUOCO: During the last few years of Big Bang, my team had been slowly nudging me, saying, “I know it feels like this might last the rest of your life, but it’s not going to, so if there’s anything else you want to do, or if you want to option a book or an article, you should.” That was never a passion of mine. I was like, “The right job will come along.” It always has. I wasn’t overly stressed. You know how much I love my life outside of work, because I’ve got my horses and my farm, so to take me away from that, it had to be something special. But I knew there were going to be a lot of eyes on what that choice would be. I wasn’t going to do a sitcom again, not anytime soon. I was flipping through Amazon one afternoon, and I saw a sentence for this book, The Flight Attendant. On the cover was a blonde who kind of looked like me, and the plot was something like “fun-loving, drunk flight attendant wakes up next to a dead body and doesn’t know what to do next and flees.” So I called my team and I said, “You guys, I just read the most amazing book,” even though I did not read it. I said, “Can we maybe check the rights to this?” And they said, “Okay, so you read it and this is a book you want?” I’m like, “Oh, yeah.” I had still not read it. I just had a feeling. Six months later, I had the rights. By then I had read it, and Warner Bros. partnered me with Greg Berlanti’s company, which is the best thing that ever happened to me. They made it fly, as they say.
SPADE: Made it make sense, got it TV-ready, all that stuff.
CUOCO: This would have never happened without them. It’s an international book, and an international show, so I had to tell them, “This is going to be really corny if we shoot this on a soundstage.” All of a sudden we were in Thailand shooting, and in Rome, minutes before COVID hit.
SPADE: I think it adds a lot to the show, and the only other movie to shoot there was, I think, The Hangover 3. Let’s take some calls. Why is your Instagram handle Norman Cook?
CUOCO: Norman is after my dog, which is also my production company, Yes Norman. It’s all about the dog.
SPADE: That was for the fans. What’s happening with the TikTok ban? Do you have any insight on that? I thought it was happening and it’s not happening.
CUOCO: I feel like I might be too old for TikTok.
SPADE: Actually, you’re chirpy, upbeat, and funny, and you’d be good at it. But it’s one extra thing to worry about.
CUOCO: I can’t do it.
SPADE: It’s too stressful. I agree with you on that one. We finally agree on something. And you got married how many years ago?
SPADE: Is this too personal?
CUOCO: I know you’re going to make fun of me for something. Go ahead.
SPADE: No. People are aware you got married. It was in the paper. I still read the paper. Okay. That’s all about that question. I’ll back off. Your team is shelling me with emails: “Back off, off limits.” I have a list of 300 things I’m not allowed to ask you about.
CUOCO: There’s no way that’s true.
SPADE: That’s a nice necklace. Is that from the LL Cool J Collection at Kohl’s?
SPADE: People aren’t flying right now. Well, some are. I hope flying comes back.
CUOCO: I had to fly here [to Toronto]. I kind of like it. It’s uber clean and there’s not a lot of people at the airport.
SPADE: It’s funny that for once they have to clean the plane.
CUOCO: You would have thought that was already happening, but now you get on and they’re scrubbing down.
SPADE: I’m usually on a Southwest flight going, “Hey, there’s a dog tooth in my seat.” Are you allowed to eat or drink on the plane?
CUOCO: It’s packaged. It’s not the way it used to be. You can still drink though. They still give you the alcohols.
SPADE: Thank you, Jesus. You’re still doing Harley Quinn. That’s fun. Right?
CUOCO: It is. That has been such a surprise. When they called me a couple of years ago and asked, “Do you want to voice Harley Quinn?” I was like, “That could be kind of a fun side gig.” But this thing has become huge. People love it. We’re going into our third season.
SPADE: This is a bold statement: I think it’s better than the movies.
CUOCO: It’s definitely different from the movies.
SPADE: Okay. You agree.
CUOCO: [Laughs] No, I did not.
SPADE: It’s very hard to get those kinds of movies right and to keep the tone. You want it to be comedic. You want it really dark. You want it scary.
CUOCO: When Harley became kind of a big deal and then when Birds of Prey came out, there were all these stories that me and Margot Robbie were feuding.
SPADE: Oh, really?
CUOCO: But I’ve never even met her. I love her. There was an article that came out that said we would not show up together at Comic-Con. We refused to be on the same stage together. Neither of us was even at Comic-Con, okay?
SPADE: I have met her and we aren’t feuding, unfortunately.
CUOCO: She’s so cute.
SPADE: I’m sure you would get along with her because she seems like a very light person, very fun, easy to deal with, and sort of treats showbiz like fun.
CUOCO: And that’s very rare.
SPADE: But that’s what you do, too. You’re good at that. It’s hard to tell if I’m being sarcastic when I give you compliments.
CUOCO: It is, but I’ve learned. I know you so well that I know most of the time it’s sarcastic, but then you’ll put in a real one and I’ll be like, “Oh.”
SPADE: Yes, that’s true. I do like you, so now and then, I throw you a real one. Is it hard to executive produce something?
CUOCO: In the sitcom world, I was just an actor. I’d never worn multiple hats during a project, and it’s awesome. I pride myself on my multitasking abilities. I feel like I can do a bunch of things at once. So I would literally be doing this very dramatic, hysterical, drunken cry scene, and then we’d cut and I’d look down at my phone and I’d be monitoring casting.
SPADE: You see how complicated everything is behind the scenes.
CUOCO: I bow down to post-production editors. They are gods. I hate to say it, but I never knew the importance. Music supervisors? They make you who you are on camera.
SPADE: On Growns Ups, what we did—just kidding, no one cares.
CUOCO: Are you doing a new one?
SPADE: No. Those don’t get the greatest reviews. My best review for my movie The Wrong Missy was that the reviewer called it “a delightful piece of shit.”
CUOCO: Who cares about the reviews? People love those movies.
SPADE: The reviews on Missy were so funny because some people who liked it had to prove to their critic friends in the article that they didn’t like it. They go, “Let me start by saying, obviously it’s a piece of shit, but we had a good time with it. I mean, it sucks, but we did see it four times.”
CUOCO: It’s such bullshit because it did great for Netflix. Who cares what they say? It’s all about the people who watch it. Trust me, even with The Flight Attendant, it’s like, “Oh my god, judgment day is about to be bestowed upon me.” I already know that going in. I just hope we get enough eyes on it and people can appreciate it.
SPADE: First of all, it’s virtually impossible to match the success of what you just did, so no one thinks that.
CUOCO: But that just makes it a bit easier knowing that. There’s no comparing, just move on.
SPADE: And you’re not doing a CBS sitcom. Everything’s different about it.
CUOCO: I feel very responsible, though. It’s like, “This was my idea, so whatever happens with it, it all comes back to this guy.”
SPADE: Watching it was fun. Is a lot of it told in flashbacks?
CUOCO: She wakes up next to Alex, who is dead. He starts becoming her conscience, and she gets so obsessed with finding out what happened to him because he won’t let it go, which is her own self looking in the mirror going, “You can’t run away from this anymore.” And she’s been running her whole life, from her problems, from her horrible childhood, from so many things. As episodes go on, she’s like, “I can’t run anymore and I’m going to face life and figure this out.”
SPADE: It was also tense at times, and scary.
CUOCO: Yeah. The last few episodes, I don’t think I went into the hair and makeup trailer once. She was so hysterical all the time, so drunk and so fucked-up, that I’d just roll in from where I’d been the night before.
SPADE: That’s what you need, though. It’s good to shake shit up.