Selena Gomez had no idea what Steve Martin and Martin Short would be like as series co-stars.
“I was very nervous, to be honest,” the pop star says. “Sometimes I find that comedy people can be a little distant. So I didn’t know what I was getting into.”
In the new comedy mystery, “Only Murders in the Building,” Martin, Short and Gomez play residents in an iconic New York complex. When a fellow tenant is murdered, the three decide to solve the crime and, in the process, detail their findings in a podcast. The friendship grows, the podcast thrives and the suspects stack up. Recognizable stars – like Sting – show up as residents.
The cameo concept was prompted by the mix in Martin’s building. When executive producer John Hoffman was going to meet the actor, he spotted actress/director Elaine May in the elevator. “So that's kind of a New York experience,” Short says. “You just look and, oh, there’s Sting.”
Some – like Nathan Lane – said they were willing to do more than one or two episodes, which helped expand the mystery.
For Gomez, who cut her teeth on Disney’s “Wizards of Waverly Place,” “Murders” provided a chance to learn from two film and television icons.
“The level of sophistication of the material is, first, the reason why I wanted to do this,” she says in a Zoom conference. “Now, I feel like a sponge and I soak up all the wisdom that I can.”
Martin and Short, she says, are like “these two crazy uncles…who give me boy advice and I sing rap songs to them.”
Because their brand of comedy is unlike that found in clubs today (“They have a sense of humor that doesn’t exist anymore,” Gomez says. “It’s very light…and that was something I really appreciated”), Gomez has been able sharpen her skills.
“I have to be honest, I don’t know if I’m a good actor,” she says. “I just do my job and just really hope that I can live up to these incredible people.”
In the series, Gomez’s character doesn’t defer to her fellow podcasters. They’re equals, committed to solving the case. In time, they attract a following and attention from authorities. She’s a tough player.
Off-screen, she’s a real fan girl. “How they lead a set is so commendable,” she says. “They’re so humble and kind…and they’ve set such an example for me. I would be so lucky to have a career that lasted that long. They come to set and make everybody feel good.”
Says Martin: “When Selena’s on screen, the show is suddenly elevated. It’s more mysterious. It’s more interesting…and the camera loves her. I would say the camera likes me and it’s fine with Marty.”
Martin and Short co-starred in “Three Amigos” and “Father of the Bride” and have been friends for years. More recently, they’ve been doing a two-man show in theaters.
The idea of doing a series together never grazed their radar.
“We never even talked about doing a movie together again,” Martin says.
“So it’s a delightful surprise,” Short adds.
Both say the limited series has checked many boxes. “We’re very lucky to have this,” Martin says. “I wasn’t even going to be in this and I sort of thought, well, I’ll do it if Marty does it.”
While “Murders” plays with the concept of podcasts, it leans into Martin’s love for the new form of storytelling.
“Steve’s a deep well when it comes to podcasts,” says Executive Producer Dan Fogelman. He listens to quite a few true crime ones and knows the nuances of their storytelling. As one of the series’ writer/creators, he has the ability to bend the format to play into the trio’s comic strengths.
Even though real podcasters don’t run around with boom microphones and randomly interview people they meet, the concept gives them latitude for comedy.
Martin and Short’s secret to success?
“We get along at a humorous level. We don’t get neurotic with each other,” Martin says.
“I actually don’t think we’re competitive with each other,” Short says.