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Interview: ‘Only Murders In the Building’ Showrunner John Hoffman On Balancing Mystery, Comedy, and Character

Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short), and Charles (Steve Martin), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

It only takes one look at the cast of Only Murders In the Building to know you have something special on your hands. Showrunner John Hoffman certainly agrees that working with Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez is nothing short of a blessing. Awards Radar spoke with Hoffman about the experience of bringing the series to life.

The concept for Only Murders was the brilliant idea of Steven Martin. Hoffman recalled being brought into the project by This Is Us creator, Dan Fogelman. “Steve pitched three people who don’t like each other living in an apartment building in New York happened upon something and they all happen to be true crime, interested people and they begin to investigate on their own.” It is a premise that is too good to be true, especially when it means collaborating with Martin. 

Once on board it took some time to nail the makeup of the series, explained Hoffman, “Ultimately, the synapses were just rolling. And I thought, ‘okay, it all basically under the tent of a story about connection between these three people isolated, and a story that you have these two classic comedians with this most modern of young women, New York is a city that lives and breathes in the classic needs to modern.’ So under the tenant of all of that, I thought podcasting makes sense for true crime and how to sort of like get the comedic bang for our buck, with Steve Martin playing an actor and Marty Short playing a director podcasting together with this young woman who really knows their stuff.

“All of it started to feel comedically sparky. And so, that’s was the beginning information of how we’ve formed this team to make this show. And I spent time with Steve in New York and mapped out a pilot and we mapped out a season we pitched to Hulu.”

On what his work relationship with a “Jerk” and creative genius like Steve Martin, Hoffman had this this say, “I didn’t know what to expect, and I was prepared for this could be very, I don’t know another word that you might have for someone with the career that he’s had and the experience, you’ve had a brilliant comedic mind. Mercurial could be there. It was the exact opposite. He was warm and open and generous. Really, that’s the bottom line answer for being – so generous, and encouraging and open. I’m saying these words over again, I know, but it is the good fortune again, but also he’s got very strong opinions about what he does, what he likes, and what he believes is right.”

Mabel (Selena Gomez), Oliver (Martin Short) and Charles (Steve Martin), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

One of the most enjoyable part of Only Murders In the Building is the irresistible chemistry of its amazing cast. So, it may surprise you to learn that Martin, Short and Gomez were not always the trio we were going to see on screen. Hoffman explained, “So it was really a discussion about what makes the most sense here because there were many versions of the show that could have been with that third person. Steve originally had the idea that it was three men. Then it became another version quickly on with another woman but more in their age range. Then it became, wait a minute, let’s step back and say ‘what is the show?’ And let’s make sure we’re having room to embody what the show is and what the show we want it to be is.”

He continued, “And so again, going in that classic meets modern tent that we put the show under it felt just right to me but a big leap again a question mark, what does that look like? I’m sure when the show was debuting and posters were around or whatever and people heard about it. They thought, ‘That doesn’t make any sense to me. Steve. Marty. Selena?’ and how that all would work.”

It turns out the last addition was kind of like a secret weapon for the series. Hoffman praised Gomez, “You know, quickly recognizing two sides of – three – I want to say three big sides of Selena Gomez was a real ground swelling shift in the way we approached the show. She is a true crime fanatic. She has an amazing way of putting her own comic spin on moments that felt directly in great contrast with Steve and Marty. You can imagine how she pockets in there with them to take them aback, pull the rug out from under them, make them check themselves toward them. Everything about her feels so right in the mix now comedically when I wasn’t sure if that was right.”

Mabel (Selena Gomez), shown. (Photo by: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu)

“And then the third thing is there’s really not a dishonest bone in her body. She is straight up when she delivers and she has great capacity. She is a very shrewd young woman. And it’s quietly, sort of, like the center of the show that she carried – certainly in season one with his backstory, and the connection she has to the victim,” Hoffman continued. 

His praise of Selena continued, “The startling part was when you see her on camera, and you realize she’s gorgeous. She’s so beautiful. It’s like a 60s siren from independent film. I mean, she looks just arresting. So that kind of thing started to feel like that made sense, in the way that it didn’t make sense, and might provide something more unexpected about the way we were approaching this great idea of Steve’s.”

Now that he had a cast, the challenge was finding the balance of a mystery, a comedy, and more. Hoffman explained his approach,”What really helped truthfully, was the discovery in the writers room of the podcasting narration would allow us to put us ‘in the room.’ I like to hold the episode in my hands and say, ‘This is the episode that is about what?’ The way in which I could find to do that, in this case, was to have a different viewpoint on the case, enter us into the storytelling for that episode.”

”I realized building kind of a tapestry of New York characters, and in the storytelling, which was exciting to me. So it became about that as well. Crafting of the mystery was fairly nuts and bolts, and I’d never done it before – crafted a mystery. This one was just not taking a true crime out in the world and piecing it together. This was creating the true crime, and then piecing it together,” Hoffman explained. 

“And to do that, we realized quickly in the writers room, we had to work backwards and know where we’re aiming and who killed and how and, and then track backwards and twist it so that we were hiding that but not realizing the truth of what happened. So that was very technically challenging, in both seasons.  Fun, but a real brain twister. And the other parts of it were how to make that experience of a mystery charming and funny and touching.”

Listen to the full interview with John Hoffman (above) – his love for the series comes through with every word. Season one of Only Murders In the Building exclusively on Hulu. If not caught up, be sure to watch soon, because season two of the hit series premieres on June 28th.

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[…] o Awards Radar, John Hoffman, co-criador e produtor de OMITB, falou sobre como foi trabalhar com nosso trio. […]

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Written by Steven Prusakowski

Steven Prusakowski has been a cinephile as far back as he can remember, literally. At the age of ten, while other kids his age were sleeping, he was up into the late hours of the night watching the Oscars. Since then, his passion for film, television, and awards has only grown. For over a decade he has reviewed and written about entertainment through publications including Screen Radar and Awards Circuit. He has conducted celebrity and red carpet interviews with some of the industry’s biggest names. He is a graduate of RIT film program. You can find him on Twitter and Letterboxd as @FilmSnork – we don’t know why the name, but he seems to be sticking to it.
Email: filmsnork@gmail.com

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