Thirty years into her career, Kaley Cuoco is finally getting the awards recognition she deserves. She just landed her third Emmy nomination, for Best Comedy Actress, thanks to her performance in the second season of HBO Max’s “The Flight Attendant.” This comes after she broke through with the dark comedy just last year, earning bids for acting and producing for its debut season. While this endorsement was a long time coming for the actor, who had been notoriously overlooked for her widely acclaimed work on the sitcom “The Big Bang Theory,” it is certainly not taken for granted by her.
“I felt so welcomed by the business and the community. And then for [the show] to even get any sort of acclaim was icing on the cake,” Cuoco tells Gold Derby in a new webchat (watch the exclusive video interview above). Though receiving her first Emmy citation undoubtedly marked a special moment for the actor herself, the acknowledgement was a cause for “celebration” for her entire team, which the 36-year-old has now been with for roughly 20 years, highlighted the nominee. “So, to do it again, and to have another nomination [this year] — I didn’t expect it, and I’m so, so honored.”
On the series, whose first season is based on Chris Bohjalian‘s 2018 novel of the same name, Cuoco plays Cassie Bowden, a hard-partying alcoholic flight attendant who is thrust into the middle of a complex mystery full of twists and turns. When the second season opens, Cassie, who has made the move from New York to Los Angeles, appears to be living her best sober life in her new city of residence. She spends her days attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings, dating a man named Marco (Santiago Cabrera) and continuing to work as a flight attendant while also moonlighting on the side as a civilian asset for the CIA. However, it doesn’t take long for it to become clear that she’s built her recovery and thus her seemingly perfect new life on a house of cards — one that comes crashing down sooner rather than later.
Even though the show’s second season proves to be an indispensable follow-up to its first installment, it took a lot of conversations to get Cuoco on board for it. “The sophomore season is always the scariest, worst one, especially when you have a really good first season. It’s like, in my mind, I wanted to just leave it alone and run away,” admitted the actor. What ultimately won her over was the idea that Cassie would have to confront multiple versions of herself in her so-called “Mind Palace,” an imaginary space to which she returns frequently throughout the series to process the events happening around her. “At the time, I thought [it] would be a piece of cake. I was like, ‘Oh, five of me, totally, that’ll be totally fine,'” joked the star as she recalled her initial reaction to the concept of the Mind Palace. “But it felt like such a cool opportunity as an actor. I mean, who gets to have that and literally play five different people?”
While the Mind Palace plays a major role throughout the entire second season, it takes center stage particularly in the fifth episode, “Drowning Women,” which serves as Cuoco’s submission to Emmy voters. In it, a series of stressors cause Cassie to relapse for the first time since being sober — or so she thought. The Mind Palace reveals that she has in fact not been one year sober, as she has claimed, because she had twice relapsed six months ago before her move from New York to L.A. After trashing her home, Cassie winds up at the beach, sobbing, and calls her AA sponsor Brenda (Shohreh Aghdashloo), who offers some hard truths and words of wisdom.
When asked why she chose to enter this episode as her submission, Cuoco shared that she was drawn to it because it chronicles Cassie’s “downfall” to which the entire season had been building. “It was very important to show this side of sobriety [where] Cassie just thought, ‘Look, I changed, life is good’ — we called it the ‘pink cloud’ — ‘I have this new boyfriend, I moved to California’ — all these different things,” she elaborated. “So, we kind of tried to paint this picture. But the only person she was truly lying to was herself… And Episode 5 was truly the one when everything came crashing down.”
The difference between this relapse and the relapses that had occurred six months earlier is that this time, Cassie hits “rock bottom,” so Cuoco, who used the Mind Palace to explain why her character reaches such a low point. “We have all these different parts of us — parts that we showed everybody and the parts we don’t want to show,” she said, underlining that the different versions of Cassie in the Mind Palace represent different parts of her personality. “So, to be able to play that on camera and really see these parts of her that she hates and [that] were eating at her; that life is not perfect, that sobriety, for most people, is a lifelong path [and] not something that happens overnight — we really wanted to show that. And I think this downfall was it because this was real. She’s been drinking, she never actually got sober.”
That said, just like “The Flight Attendant” as a whole, Cuoco’s submission isn’t all gloom and doom. In fact, it was after the Emmy nominee’s sister, Briana Cuoco — who is also an actor and plays Cecilia on the show — pointed out that the episode is a perfect blend of humor and tragedy, that she opted for it. “When she said that, I was like, ‘Okay, I think that’s got to be the episode because it had everything in one,'” concluded the performer.
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