With eight top 10 singles over the past decade, including a no. 1 smash just two years ago, it’s hard to imagine why Selena Gomez would want to return to television. The 29-year-old first came to cultural prominence as the star of the Disney Channel series “The Wizards of Waverly Place” in the late 00s. Despite a few sporadic appearances here and there, for the past decade, she’s mostly focused on her music, philanthropy, and producing projects for others such as “13 Reasons Why.” That all changed over the past twelve months. Alongside a well-received cooking series on HBO Max, “Selena + Chef,” Gomez now appears in the highly anticipated new mystery series, “Only Murders in the Building.” And her co-stars? None other than comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short. An unexpected pairing, to say the least.
Mostly set in one large New York City apartment building, “Murders” follows residents Charles (Martin), Oliver (Short), and Mabel (Gomez) as they investigate a mysterious death on the premises. The trio agrees to chronicle their exploits through a podcast, and the more they learn, the more incestuous the tragedy becomes. The series isn’t being presented in a binge-worthy form, but it’s so entertaining you almost wish it was.
Speaking during a virtual conference for the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour, Gomez was incredibly humble about her growth as an actor from her “Wizard” days to her latest endeavor.
“Gosh, well, I don’t know. I signed my life away to Disney at a very young age. So, I didn’t know exactly what I was doing,” Gomez says. “What I’d say is the level of sophistication of the material is first the reason why I wanted to do this. But I don’t know. I was a kid; I didn’t know what I was doing. I was riding around on set, and now I just — I feel like a sponge, and I soak up all the wisdom that I can. It’s really nice to be back on TV, and it’s nice to be [cast] as my actual age, which never happens.”
Again, teaming Gomez, who has 250 million Instagram followers, up with two actors in their 70s would not have been the conventional move for series creators Martin and John Hoffman. In hindsight, their chemistry is so good it turned out to be pitch-perfect casting. Gomez admits that despite performing for packed arena audiences worldwide, she was actually intimidated by the proposition.
“I had no idea who they were,” Gomez deadpans. “I’m kidding. I, of course, was so excited. I was very nervous, to be honest, because…I didn’t know what to expect because sometimes I find that comedy people can sometimes be a little bit distant, so I didn’t know what I was getting myself into. And now I have like these two crazy uncles in my life that basically give me boy advice, and I sing rap songs to them.”
Short has a clear understanding of why “Murders” works as well as it does.
“What I love about the end product of the show is the three different energies of the actors,” Sort says. “I kind of play it very real. Steve goes way over the top. And Selena grounds everything in this kind of dry, hilarious delivery. And the combination, I think, is perfect. And it was a dream to work with this brilliant young lady.”
Martin adds, “And for me, of course, I knew Selena Gomez, but I didn’t know all her work. Although I do dance around the house to her music all the time and have for years. But I didn’t know of her theatric or movie work or television work. So I looked it up, and I thought, oh, she’s going to be young, she’s a beginner. And so then she’s done more movies than I have.”
Of course, when you have one of the most photographed celebrities on set every day, that means paparazzi in the mix, even during a pandemic shoot. That lead to one semi-spoiler-y scene getting circulated all over social media months before the first trailer for the program was even released.
“You know what, I actually was worried for a second, but because there was so much going on, I knew that what people were going to see isn’t exactly the ending of anything per se,” Gomez says. “So, at first, I was super paranoid. But I think once it came out, it was what it was.”
Martin agrees, noting, “And I don’t think you can interpret a plot point in the show from a photograph and anything we did. I mean, we have ten hours of the show. And a split-second photograph is not going to reveal anything; I don’t think.”
Gomez adds, “If anything, it just confuses them. And I like that.”
“Only Murders In The Building” debuts on Hulu on August 31.