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How ‘The Big Bang Theory’ freed Kaley Cuoco to make ‘The Flight Attendant’

Kaley Cuoco in HBO Max's mystery drama "The Flight Attendant."
Kaley Cuoco followed up her run on “The Big Bang Theory” with HBO Max’s mystery drama “The Flight Attendant.”
(Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times)

Hello! I’m Yvonne Villarreal, and welcome to the newsletter companion to “The Envelope: The Podcast,” where my cohost Mark Olsen and I bring you highlights from each week’s episode.

We’re just days away from the first-ever virtual Golden Globes ceremony. And while we still don’t know exactly what that will look like — I mean, will they replicate the Emmys’ hazmat tuxedo suits idea? — we at least know we’re in good hands with cohosts Tina Fey and Amy Poehler (emceeing from opposite coasts, no less).

But the starry awards show, which has become one of the awards season’s most high-profile events, is making headlines for other reasons this week. The Hollywood Foreign Press Assn., the insular, 87-member group that nominates and selects the winners of the Golden Globes, has long been dogged by questions over its ethics and legitimacy — and not just by our awards czar Glenn Whipp. But the organization is facing new scrutiny this week following an investigation by my colleagues Stacy Perman and Josh Rottenberg.

In a deep dive published over the weekend, Perman and Rottenberg shed new light on the organization’s questionable dealings. One example of the perks Globes voters receive that was outlined in the report was the time Paramount Network treated more than 30 Golden Globes voters to a lavish “Emily in Paris” set visit, which included a two-night stay at the five-star Peninsula Paris hotel (rooms currently start at about $1,400 a night), as well as a news conference and lunch at the Musée des Arts Forains, a private museum filled with amusement rides dating to 1850 where the show was shooting. (“Emily in Paris” was originally made for Viacom-owned Paramount Network before it was purchased by Netflix in 2020.)

This detail was striking in part because of the outrage and disappointment that marked this year’s Golden Globes nominations, especially in TV, where acclaimed fare like “I May Destroy You” was left out entirely. (Included in the chorus? An “Emily in Paris” staff writer.)

The Times’ investigation also looked at who makes up the HFPA. The elusive organization does not publicly list the identity of its members on its website but in their reporting, Perman and Rottenberg learned that of the organization’s 87 members, none are Black. The HFPA confirmed this fact, claiming it was an “issue they were committed to addressing.” No plan of action, it should be noted, was given.

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Both pieces are worth a read ahead of Sunday’s ceremony.

Golden Globe Awards
The 78th Golden Globe Awards will be handed out Feb. 28.
(Alberto E. Rodriguez / Wire Image )

This week’s podcast features first-time Golden Globe nominee Kaley Cuoco, who stars in one of the water-cooler series of our quarantine era, “The Flight Attendant.” It’s probably apt to describe it as a wrenching drama wrapped in a murder-mystery-thriller coat and topped off with a silly hat. (If that’s hard to wrap your head around, that’s exactly why the show was a fun watch.)

Cuoco plays Cassie, a flight attendant who gets caught up in a whodunit while navigating her own fast-paced ride through her personal trauma and alcohol addiction. It’s Cuoco’s first major TV role since her career-defining performance as Penny on “The Big Bang Theory,” which ended its run in 2019. But she’s managed to step out of the long-running sitcom’s shadow just fine: In addition to landing her Globes nod, her performance also earned her a SAG Awards nomination.

“I never felt pressure to get out of the shadow, and I never felt pressure of like, ‘Oh my God, I need to find something bigger and better than ‘Big Bang,’” Cuoco said. “I think the thing that freed me mentally from that was ‘Big Bang’ was on its own planet. ‘Big Bang’ was its own entity, in a weird way. There was never going to be anything else like it, in my opinion, as far as sitcom, as far as 12 years, as far as the experience, the money, the attention. I knew that that sat in its own corner, so that freed me from thinking I had to compare anything to that. And I’m not going to let anyone else compare what my next job is to that. And once I was able to let go of that, I was like, ‘OK, now I’m going to start a new path and people can follow me and be into it or they can not.’

“I wasn’t trying to find the most opposite project possible ... not at all,” she continued. “I owe my whole career to ‘Big Bang,’ I really do. So when I found ‘The Flight Attendant,’ it wasn’t some conscious effort to not do something sitcom again. It just felt, this is going to be right. And I liked it because even though the book is actually very dark, when I read it I knew we could make this an interesting tone so that it’s not going to be some dark project, but I’m still going to bring my kind of quirky side to it and make it my own.”

In addition to starring in the series, Cuoco is an executive producer. And during our conversation, she detailed how she came upon the book while browsing at random through upcoming book releases on Amazon — and the subsequent rush to make sure Reese Witherspoon, the current queen of adapting books for TV, had not already gotten the rights.

And, well, not to give everything away, but her dogs make a very vocal cameo during the podcast. Get into it!

Thanks for reading/listening/subscribing. We have lots more conversations to come, including talks with Steve McQueen for “Small Axe,” Shaka King for “Judas and the Black Messiah” and Garrett Bradley for “Time.”

Listen to the podcast here and subscribe to “The Envelope: The Podcast” on Apple Podcasts or your podcast app of choice.

Can't get enough about awards season?

For more, follow us on Twitter at @villarrealy and @IndieFocus, and for a deeper dive into the best new movies, get Mark’s weekly Indie Focus newsletter.

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Feedback? We’d love to hear from you. Email us at awards@latimes.com.


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