Steve Martin and Martin Short have conquered the comedy world together and apart.
Now, with the help of an unlikely cohort and an offbeat Manhattan murder mystery, they might bridge the generation gap, too. Two-thirds of the Three Amigos have teamed up with Disney Channel standout-turned-global pop star Selena Gomez to headline Only Murders in the Building. Debuting Aug. 31 on Hulu, the sly, star-jammed whodunit follows lonely former TV detective Charles (Martin, 76), insolvent desperate director Oliver (Short, 71), and aloof aspiring artist Mabel (Gomez, 29), who bond over their shared love of a true-crime podcast and wind up not only investigating a death in their Upper West Side co-op, but recording a podcast about it. The twisty ride also involves a New York deli king, the Hardy Boys, something called Gut Milk, frozen cats, and, sure, Sting. EW rounded up the three stars/executive producers for a revealing, off-the-books interrogation.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You know why you’re here and what you did. You’ve made a promising and dangerous comedy—
STEVE MARTIN: Comedy-drama? What would you call it?
SELENA GOMEZ: I’d say dramedy.
MARTIN SHORT: Could be shtomedy, which is comedy with lots of shtick in it. Or…shtragedy…
MARTIN: Marty, keep going!
Steve, as the mastermind of this operation, how did you come to co-create Murders?
MARTIN: I came to create the idea. John Hoffman wrote the script. I wrote the first three or four pages to [get] it off on the right foot. Five or six or seven years ago, I was at a party with a good friend of ours, [the late] Sandy Gallin*. There were three older actors there. Joel Grey, Bob Balaban…
SHORT: And Ron Rifkin…
MARTIN: Sandy Gallin says, “You ought to write something for these guys.” I said, “Gee, that is a really good idea. They’d live in a building…” I evolved this over the next couple of months: “They’re too old to want to leave the building, so they limit it to [investigating] murders that happened in the building.” And part of the joke is that every season there’s a murder. It’s a little bit like Murder She Wrote. But I never did anything with it. But every once in a while in show business, your agent will call you and say, “You should have lunch with Wes Anderson. He really likes you.” And as soon as you have lunch with Wes Anderson, Wes Anderson is so over you that you never work with Wes Anderson. And I’ve always liked Wes Anderson.
SHORT: Well, you know what it was? He expected you…
MARTIN: …to be funny?
SHORT: To be more upbeat. [Imitates sad sack Martin] “It’s the beginning of winter. That means a long time till spring.” He said, “Get me the check and get out of this.”
MARTIN: [Imitates Short’s impression of him] “You’d probably never cast me in one of your movies.”
GOMEZ: By the way, this [motions to them] is all I did for seven months. [They laugh.]
MARTIN: So they called and said, “You should have lunch with [This Is Us executive producers/Murders exec producers] Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal.” So I go to this outdoor lunch. I tell them the Wes Anderson story. They said, “No, we’ll just have fun!” We have a nice time. I said, “You know, I do have this one idea,” and I pitched it. And I could see their eyes go hmmm!, a little wider. And then a year and a half later, we finished shooting. It went very quickly.
*Upon hearing Martin play his song “Pretty Flowers,” Gallin — Dolly Parton’s friend and previous manager — suggested to him that she sing it. Parton does, on Martin’s 2009 album, The Crow: New Songs for the Five-String Banjo.
One of the appealing and intriguing things about this series is its triumvirate of stars. Two of you have a long history and friendship in comedy…
SHORT: I remember when we first met on Three Amigos! First thing he ever said to me was, “Did I ever tell you my Wes Anderson story?” [They laugh.]
…and the other is a huge pop star. Selena, you’ve starred in comedies, but what was it like to enter the orbit of these two? How did it meet or subvert expectations?
GOMEZ: I met with everybody on a Zoom and I told them that I have this morbid fascination with crime/murder shows, podcasts. It actually happened very organically. But I was very, very nervous at first. [To Martin and Short] I don’t even think you guys really know that, unless I showed it.
SHORT: Not remotely.
GOMEZ: I watch the first episode and think, “Wow, I felt so meek and new.” And now I feel more open to just saying whatever.
MARTIN: Well, there was a shift during shooting. But I think you’re fantastic in the first episode. It’s that thing of acting where some people can just do nothing and there’s something on their face that’s happening. [Points to own face] Yes. [Points to Gomez’s face] Yes. [Points to Short’s face] No.
GOMEZ: I was very intimidated. It was such a blast, and I realized I am in a time in my life I will never forget, working with these legends. They have taught me so much and make me laugh constantly. They have a sense of humor that’s just classic—I feel like it doesn’t exist anymore.
SHORT: Oh, that’s nice.
MARTIN: Do you wish it had been Ron Rifkin and Joel Grey?
Steve and Marty, what do you remember about meeting Selena?
MARTIN: I remember backstage in the makeup, thinking, “Oh! We’re going to meet Selena!” When you meet somebody, especially a pop star, you have no idea. [To Gomez] Well, we really liked you on Zoom [in our first meeting]. We talked after, and [Short] said, “She is perfect.” We were comfortable within hours, I’d say.
SHORT: Whatever you were feeling, you masked it perfectly. You seemed totally friendly, lovely, open, in the moment, excited—you carried nothing other than that. We all just laughed and liked and trusted each other. We shot in a restaurant, and Steve kept pretending to send texts to [Hulu parent company] Disney about how it was going, and that he would get texts from Disney saying, “Yeah, can you tell Marty to calm it down a little?” And you said, “I’ve been getting those since I was 7!”
GOMEZ: No, I said, “Disney can own my firstborn child.”
How would you sum up the dynamic of your three characters? There’s a generation divide or two, and trust seems to be a huge issue…
MARTIN: My favorite moments in the scripts are when Marty and I say something commensurate with our age and Selena will go, “No, no, we don’t say that. None of that.” And we go, “Oh, okay.”
SHORT: There’s a great exchange when we’re texting her, and Steve and I are trying to figure out: “Do we phone her? Do we write her?” [To Martin] And you say, “Maybe text. Phone calls seem to upset them.”
GOMEZ: That sums it up. What I enjoy about the characters coming together is there’s this sense of we’re all alone in our own worlds…
MARTIN: I was just thinking that.
GOMEZ: We share that bond of being lonely. Our characters have their own story, but what brings them together is they’re lonely people.
What does this show aim to say about our true-crime obsession? Charles talks about how these podcasts fill the holes in his life. At one point, he lectures Oliver, “Every true crime story is actually true for someone.” Did you want to explore the absurdity of true crime obsessives, and also that they sometimes lose sight that these are real people?
MARTIN: Well, I am a true crime obsessive. The latest trend in true crime is to really get into the victims and who they are. And I always go, “No, no. I just want to know how they solved it.” Because it’s too tragic if you look at it personally. It’s horrible. But the scientific solving of it to me is very interesting.
GOMEZ: It’s kind of like video games. These kids — I’m a kid! — they’re desensitized to what they’re doing. It’s weird. It’s teetering on the line of, yeah, you’re interested in figur[ing] out those points, then on the other end, you do kind of forget. There’s parts of the podcast where you chuckle, and it’s like, “Well, that’s not really appropriate to do.” So I guess it’s a weird balance, because sometimes I feel weird listening.
Selena, you went to CrimeCon, where an unsolved murder investigation was crowdsourced and you helped try to crack it…
MARTIN: What’s CrimeCon**?
GOMEZ: It’s been around for a bit. There’s a case that’s actually open…
MARTIN: You mean it’s a TV show?
GOMEZ: No, no, it’s just an event.
SHORT: Did you do this recently?
GOMEZ: No, this was before the show. It was fascinating, we’d get the forensics, we got all of it…
MARTIN: It’s a real crime? Wow.
GOMEZ: We met their family and they can’t find the murderer, but we get to help as much as we can.
SHORT: You were into true crime even before this project? Wow.
GOMEZ: The First 48. I grew up with…
MARTIN: First 48 is really good. I was into Forensic Files. It’s not about the personality of the victim. It’s about DNA and the dog hair under the mattress, and searching down the tread mark in thousands of tires. I listen to Casefile. It’s from Australia, and it’s very good. When I was home last summer, I’d go on my bike rides and listen to Casefile, and I realized I went through 180 of them.
GOMEZ: My God. [I’m listening to] these two girls…what’s their name?
MARTIN: Oh, I know who they are. Crime Junkie***?
**CrimeCon is an annual multiday event for true-crime fanatics, creators, and experts. The first CrimeCon was held in Indianapolis in 2017.
***Hosted by Ashley Flowers and Brit Prawat, the true-crime podcast Crime Junkie explores murder and missing-persons cases — and was the subject of a plagiarism controversy in 2019.
Marty, did you also have interest in true-crime podcasts, or was this on-the-job education for you?
SHORT: No interest. [Martin laughs.] As a kid, I sure liked Perry Mason.
This show features such guest stars as Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, Amy Ryan, and Sting as… Sting. Sting doesn’t do a lot of comedies.
MARTIN: Yeah, I know! And he sang! I was holding the camera, trying to video him.
SHORT: He was phenomenal.
MARTIN: And he knew all his lines. He played very, very straight—and a little tough.
SHORT: You know what he did, which was great? [In one episode] he sings a song that he makes up. Well, when we were doing our coverage over his shoulder, every time in that moment, he’d stand up, he wouldn’t do the song in the script. He’d go [imitates Sting singing], “Roxaaanne!” Or he’d do: “Every move you make…” He’d do one of his massive hits, every take.
GOMEZ: It was surreal being on set.
Selena, after working with these guys for a season, what’s one surprising thing you can reveal about them?
MARTIN: We’re smart.
GOMEZ: You are smart.
SHORT: [To Martin] Is your name Selena? Go ahead.
MARTIN: Well, I’m trying to help out. It’s a hard question!
GOMEZ: It is a hard question.
SHORT: I can answer about Selena: Really smart.
MARTIN: Well, that’s an insult.
SHORT: No, it isn’t.
MARTIN: Yes, it is. Because it means you thought she was going to be dumb. [Gomez laughs]
SHORT: No, I didn’t. Let me rephrase it. Even more intelligent and fascinating than I thought she’d be. And that was high.
MARTIN: The surprise for me — because I didn’t know what to expect — was the level of professionalism because you don’t know with a young person.
SHORT: So you didn’t think she’d be professional?
MARTIN: No. You just don’t know, given that whole pop star… thing. [Gomez laughs] I mean, I grew up with pop stars trashing hotel rooms.
GOMEZ: I didn’t know how humble they were. They make me feel humbled.
SHORT: Oh, I have another thing for Selena!
GOMEZ: Oh, good grief.
SHORT: Way more humble than I thought she’d be. [They laugh]
Which of you three would make the best investigator?
GOMEZ: Me. Because I’ve had the gift of social media, unfortunately.
MARTIN: Also, you’re willing to leave the house. We’re too tired to leave the house.
SHORT: Don’t lump me in with your sore back!
Now that you’ve jelled as a trio, what’s your dream project?
MARTIN: Three Amigos!
GOMEZ: A dream would be to do some comedy sketches.
MARTIN: What’s the standard life for something like this? Three, four years? Some are six years. We’ll be like [moans geriatrically]…
GOMEZ: Oh my gosh, I’m going to be 30! [They laugh.]
MARTIN: I can’t think of anything more dreamful than this [show].
SHORT: A remake of A Room With a View. Obviously, she can play Helena Bonham Carter, and we play dueling Maggie Smith characters.
We may need to bring you in for further questioning, so don’t leave town. Let me pretend to turn off my recorder and ask: What’s the biggest crime you’ve gotten away with in real life?
MARTIN: My career? [They laugh.] Whew, got out of that one.
GOMEZ: What’s dangerous about being so young and exposed to so much, you’re actually getting away with things that you shouldn’t. I mean, people would offer you wine and you’re going to parties…
SHORT: Yeah, but that’s their crime, not yours.
MARTIN: If she took it…
SHORT: If you’re 9.
GOMEZ: Well, I wasn’t 9! When I was younger, I stole ChapStick and we got home and I told my mom and she made me go back to the store and apologize.
SHORT: That’s a good mom… I went through a phase—I’m not proud of it—I’d occasionally lift a bathrobe from a hotel if I liked it, knowing they were going to put it on my bill. I’d put it in my suitcase…
MARTIN: There’s an old joke: “The towels in that hotel were so fabulous, I could hardly close my suitcase!”