Hulu’s new whodunnit, Only Murders in the Building, casts Steve Martin and Martin Short opposite Selena Gomez as neighbors in a fictional Manhattan high-rise who find they share a passion for the same true-crime podcast — just in time to investigate a mystery right under their noses. Martin came up with the idea for the series, developing it alongside This Is Us guru Dan Fogelman and John Hoffman, the latter of whom is credited as co-creator. Martin, Short and Gomez logged on from separate locations for a Zoom interview with The Hollywood Reporter to talk favorite scenes, what they learned from one another and their favorite Hollywood offerings in the genre.
Steve, how did you dream this up? Did you have an obsession with true-crime podcasts?
Martin: I had, not an obsession, but a casual interest in true crime. Not podcasts, because I didn’t even know there were podcasts, but television shows. My introduction was Forensic Files, which I felt was good because it’s really about the solving of the cases. It’s about the science and the introduction of new methods of technology. I’m really interested in that. I just avoided the actual truth of it, which always involves a horrible, hideous crime. As I tell Marty in the show, “These stories are actually about people.” He says, “You’re just figuring that out now?”
When the opportunity came to develop a show, my mind just went to, “I live in one of these buildings.” I thought about the three people who don’t know each other. I’m talking too much. You got the rest. You can just make it up …
Did you write with Marty in mind?
Martin: No, not at all. It was three different people, and then it was suggested to me, “Would you like to do it?” I said, “Well, I mean, if Marty did it, maybe I’d do it.” Then Selena came in as the cherry on top, and it started to seem like a better idea than it originally was.
Marty, when it came to you, do you even need to see a script? Or is the opportunity to work with Steve again an easy yes?
Short: Well, it was important for me to find out if his meds had been balanced, which hadn’t been the case the last time we had tried something together. No, of course. First of all, it was not just Steve, it was Dan Fogelman. It was John Hoffman. It was a great pedigree for the show. And the premise of the show was, I thought, fantastic. Then when Selena came in, it was like a dream.
Martin: I’m actually curious because I thought, “Oh, Marty won’t want to do this.” But you were kind of into it. I was surprised.
Short: I was totally into it. I loved the idea of three odd people living in this building in New York who have this similar obsession. I thought it was just a great premise.
Selena, Steve said you’re the cherry on top. What did you take away from working alongside these two legends?
Gomez: Well, I had actually been looking for something in the acting field for a while.
Martin: Involving two legends? Were you looking for something with two legends?
Gomez: I was looking for two legends.
Gomez: And this came to my attention, and I thought this would be so much fun to do because I’m actually a fan of true crime as well. I just loved the character. The idea of being on a TV show again, I was so excited. Having them as co-stars is a dream come true because I learned so much. They’ve been doing this for so long, and they’re just so kind and humble and funny, and they’ve really shown their class. That was something I took away, how well-rounded they are, even though they’re a little crazy.
The three of you have so many great scenes together, as a trio. What was the most memorable? Or maybe the one that was toughest to get through?
Gomez: One of the scenes I couldn’t get through was the dildo scene.
Martin: These kids today.
Gomez: I couldn’t get through Marty pointing out different sex toys.
Marty, a rebuttal?
Short: No rebuttal needed. But my favorite scene was the first scene we shot — the three of us — and it was in a restaurant in the first episode. I just was fascinated. First of all, it was a very relaxed day. We spent lots of time shooting it and with lots of camera angles. It was just the three of us bonding. I was so immediately impressed with what Selena was doing. That was the first day I’d worked with her. I thought her choices were literally perfect to counteract my kind of odd energy, and Steve’s whatever you call that.
Martin: Ooh. I like the elevator scenes, believe it or not. You know, you’d think, “Oh, not another elevator scene.” But I ended up — it’s very intimate. You’re right in each other’s faces. I liked the process of ignoring someone as much as turning to them and looking into their face because it’s just as much fun to pretend to not hear anything and be so completely bored with someone.
Those were so fun to watch. Also fun was the cultural commentary and what the script has to say about generational gaps. I liked the digs at millennials, like, “When did ice cream become a hand lotion?” Steve, was that you?
Martin: Well, actually, by that time the scripts are being written by John Hoffman and a writers room, and then we contribute. But there was so much insight. I agree with you. I like these scenes between Selena, me and Marty and she’s correcting us. And I say, “Can I comment on her dress?” And, “Nah-ah. Uh-uh.” Then Marty says, “I think you can comment on things that aren’t attached to her, like her purse.” So we’re all trying to sort this out. Another favorite line of mine is, “They don’t seem to like phone calls.” Talking about the younger [generation]. “Phone calls bother them.”
Short: Yeah, for some reason.
Selena, how much did you weigh in on that? What was that like for you to hear those lines of dialogue aimed at millennials?
Gomez: Well, maybe I’m totally off on this, but I feel like humor in my generation tends to be very crass. What I enjoy and respect so much about working with Steve and Marty is that there is this type of humor that they have that does not exist anymore. It’s so timeless and it’s so smart and witty and quick. There’s just something about that that I’m so grateful I got to experience because it is a bit different. But it was wonderful. Being the youngest on set was really fun. I got to play it up big time.
Martin: It was fun for me too.
Gomez: Yeah. Shut up.
Martin: Hey, I’m just going to tell you quickly this dream I had this morning.
Martin: I’m going to say this so quickly. I’m on a stage and I’m ad-libbing and I’m ad-libbing and I’m making up stuff. Then when it was over, somebody came up to me and said, “Your ad-libs were very clean.” And I said, “Yeah, I think I prefer that.” That was in my dream. And I thought, “Mm, that’s kind of true, actually.”
Gomez: Yeah. Okay.
Martin: And then the dream went on.
We’re still having it right now, actually. Only Murders in the Building is such a great whodunit, a genre Hollywood has done well for years but feels as if it’s having another moment. Do you have a favorite?
Martin: I always think of Usual Suspects as a kind of, you’re into it in the first five minutes, and then it plays itself out. Or Klute has the same kind of whodunit aspect.
Short: Yeah. I love Sleuth.
Short: Remember Sleuth?
Gomez: I’m blanking.
Martin: It’s interesting that both Marty and I cited very recent movies.
Short: We did. And Cat and the Canary, I love.
Gomez: Is Gone Girl considered a …
Short: Absolutely. In fact, you know what? I just saw that again two nights ago, and it’s fantastic.
Martin: What’s the one with Emma Stone? The Girl in the Window? I like that.
Short: Uh-huh. Good, Steve.
Martin: Emily Blunt! [star of The Girl on the Train]. Julie Andrews! No, I’m kidding.