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Steve Yockey and Natalie Chaidez set up Season 2 and talk what it was like adding Sharon Stone to the mix
As HBO Max's The Flight Attendant emerged as one of the biggest streaming hits of early pandemic-era TV, a natural question followed: given that the season was derived from Chris Bohjalian's bestselling novel, a standalone story with no sequel book in place, was a second season even a possibility, let alone a foregone conclusion?
Fortunately for fans of the series, the answer was, ultimately, a resounding yes: a new installment of the deliriously messy, twisty and turn-y saga of airline employee and recovering alcoholic-turned-CIA operative Cassie Bowden, played by Kaley Cuoco, debuts on April 21. Starting fresh, first season showrunner Steve Yockey (Supernatural) was joined by veteran TV writer-producer Natalie Chaidez (Queen of the South) to build out a brand-new mystery filled with fast-paced, sexy, globe-hopping intrigue and the show's trademark flourishes like Cassie's hallucinatory "Mind Palace," while also pushing the story – for both Cassie and the entire cast of supporting players – forward into even deeper, ever darker territory.
Yockey and Chaidez joined TV Guide to offer a preview of the new season and the challenges they faced in putting it together, including turning to a key member of Orphan Black's creative team to help navigate putting multiple Carrie personas in the Mind Palace all at once, and convincing themselves that, yes, Sharon Stone wanted to be part of their show.
Here you guys start truly with a blank page for Season 2, with no second novel or pre-existing template to follow really, other than what you'd laid down for yourselves in the first season. Tell me about starting from that blank page and finding something that matched in and maybe even surpassed what you did the first time around.
Steve Yockey: The conversations about a potential Season 2 started happening amongst the producer group while the show was airing. I think when we started to realize like, "Oh, people are really liking this…" – it was hard to tell! In the middle of a pandemic, it was kind of hard to get a gauge on whether it was landing with people.
But as that became more clear, the conversation started about the end of Season 1 is Cassie with her white chip and her one day of her 24 hours of sobriety and saying that it's really hard and it's not going to be easy, but it was hopeful. And it was like, "Okay, if we're going to do a Season Two, it feels only natural that we will go on this journey of sobriety with her, in all of its traps and tricks and dangerous areas." And so that became sort of the emotional underpinning.
And then Natalie came on board, luckily, just as we were starting to break the crime piece. She and I had, gosh, I guess, like a month, and then with holidays in the middle, kind of over a month, just she and I, to work on the mystery element. And she brought in this idea of doubles, because we wanted to stick with the Hitchcock doubling. And I was immediately like, "Yes, let's do that in every way possible."
Tell me about building out the mystery – which is, in this show, just as is important as Cassie's character journey. What was fun and what was challenging about making that Hitchcock double aspect work?
Natalie Chaidez: It was super fun, and in this case, the mystery is a character mystery because it's "Who is this other self? How do I catch this bad part of me?" And that takes her all around the world. So it's really kind of an internal, psychological mystery in the same way that Season One was, as well as just a super fun jaunt around the earth, which I think is part of what made Season One so delightful. And of course this season, we had the extra benefit of Cassie working as a CIA asset, so that made that part of the mystery really fun and different.
What struck me as incredibly cool is the way that the literal double in the plot dovetails with the idea that Cassie's inner psyche is fractured into these mental doubles, which in itself is a nice echo of her conversations with Alex from Season One. It's all very, very neatly structured, and it must have been great to have those "eureka!" moments as you can connected all those dots.
Chaidez: That makes me feel really good that you saw that, because once we figured out that the fracture thing and I brought in doubles, then Steve exploded that into more Cassies. And then we landed on this idea of a bomb, which fractures her. So I feel really seen by that!
Yockey: Yeah, especially because I think a lot of people, because of – I say a lot of people. I don't actually know, but I feel like you could sit down to watch it and feel like it's messy and it's supposed to feel that way. And we promise you, by the time you get to the end of the season, you're going to be satisfied, but we are here for the mess. We like it. We just like to have a tight superstructure underneath it.
The Flight Attendant Season 2 Review: Kaley Cuoco Commands a Bumpy but Entertaining Trip
You extend that theme of identity crisis throughout the cast of characters, which was also a nice touch. What was fun once you knew how Cassie was going to split into these different personas, how you wanted to apply it to the individual characters that are also facing these crises?
Yockey: With Ani, it was fun because part of Ani's success in the first season, even in going through the kind of emotional kind of crucible that she goes through in terms of her work and having to sort of admit to herself, the kind of person that she is doing that work, she was still very confident. She was the one who was very steadfast and sort of like, "I know what I'm doing. I can help you do this. Please let me help you."
And in Season 2, we have an Ani who, because of the events of Season 1, no longer trusts herself with big decisions. She's afraid to really commit to Max, which was a joke in Season 1. And now has become less of a joke to Max, at least in Season Two. And she's unsure about the new job. She's unsure about whether she should leave New York. So kind of giving her this entire world of uncertainty about, "I can't trust myself," because of earlier choices I made, felt very exciting.
Chaidez: For Megan, it was like in Season 1, she was a bored housewife who felt unseen, so here, her alter ego is this fugitive that everybody is looking for. And she's a fun barmaid and the owner of the bar is in love with her and she's running around the world. So it was exploring this other part of herself and realizing that all she really wanted to do was go back home. And of course, that's all underpinned by Rosie Perez – she's so funny, but also everything she does just feels real and breaks your heart. So she was just really fun. Megan's` storyline just really worked for us on all levels.
Yockey: Rosie gives this super grounded performance in a role that is by far the most lifted of the show. Her storyline is the most like, wow, really? And so it's great to have that sort of grounding confidence in the character that she's playing.and she comes on the set, she's done her work, she's ready to go. And she just delivers.
Tell me a little bit about both the practical aspect of splitting up Cassie's internal monologue into multiple characters – and what you learned from the Orphan Black creative that was consulted – and then tell me about working it through with Kaley, who does an incredible job of making each persona have their own life, yet do feel kind of part and parcel of Cassie that we know.
Yockey: Kaley was really excited. And I think up until the point where we did our first test of the Mo-Co camera, and it became clear how technical it was all going to be, and we all had an eye-opening experience, she was very gung ho. And I think that she knows who those characters are because a lot of them, she played last year.
Gold Dress Cassie is just Cassie before the Alex incident happens – that's the Cassie that she was before things went south. Black Sweater Cassie is Cassie in the jail cell telling Davey that she's responsible for everything, so that's a character who thinks like the Eeyore of our show, basically. Future Perfect Cassie was new, but that was one that we all kind of understood, which is if you make better choices, you'd be me. And then we've got a few more in store for you a little bit down the road, but I think those are the sort of the central ones.
And so some conversations were had with Kaley, but she really did her homework and like showed up with these fully defined characters that, I agree with you, are very clear.
Chaidez: We reached out to [Orphan Black co-creator, executive producer and director] John Fawcett, who I had crossed paths with while working on 12 Monkeys. And so he sat down or Zoomed with all of us and kind of walked us through some of the more technical aspects of using the motion capture and some of the timing stuff, as far as coordinating the audio with the video and the composite and gave us sort of ... It was kind of like the scene in the movie where you get to a bridge and there's a troll or something, that's like, "It's going to be really treacherous. Like he gave us that speech. And we were like, "How hard could it be?" And then we got in there, and in fact it's very, very technically demanding.
Yockey: I'd say, too, it's time-consuming in a way that doesn't lend itself to a production schedule. So we kind of found ourselves a little bit behind the eight ball there, but Kaley did what she could to make it [work]. I don't think it's a secret that Kaley is slightly competitive, so she made it a kind of personal mission to be, like, "How quick can I do this quick -change? I'm going to run across the lot, past the studio tours in my gold dress and sneakers and get to my trailer, change, get my hair done, run back within 20 minutes." And then she's off like a rocket. We're all timing it. So we found ways to make it fun, but it was tedious and labor intensive.
Chaidez: Yeah. And our producing director, Silver Tree was really technically sort of the leader on that front. And we're just really proud. I hope people appreciate what Kaley pulled off technically as an actress, because it's very, very, very impressive.
When the first season came out, you were in a little bit of a bubble, as we all were: you knew it was popular, but did you get a sense from the audience reaction to things in that you knew "Okay: these qualities are part of the DNA of The Flight Attendant as we go further. These are the things we know the audience expects us to do, but wants us to do in a fun, different way the next time around." Were there some guideposts in that respect?
Yockey: Look, I'm a big believer in the fact that you teach people how to watch your show, so you have to start the minute that they're looking at something on screen with, "Hey, this is going to be a show that does things a little differently." So I think that because people were really enjoying the show, we knew that they were responding to the character of Cassie. We knew they were responding to the mystery. We knew they were responding to the tone, and we knew they were responding to the Mind Palace as a convention.
And so if you sort of know that those are your four pillars, then I think that it makes it easy to go "How can we give them a familiar show in Season 2 that still scratches that itch for, 'Oh, that's a surprise,' or 'Oh, that's different,' or 'Oh, this is not how it was in Season One, but maybe I like it more.'" So I think that was our sort of mission, was to kind of stick to those four kinds of signposts as we kind of broke open what Season 2 could be.
So many of the individual characters emerged as audience favorites for different reasons, and I was amazed to see that you found a way to bring everybody back. I kind of expected, "Oh, maybe one or two characters will be benched and saved for a return in another season." And yet you somehow got everybody something to do that proves crucial to the mystery, to the story. How hard was that to figure out? Were there moments where you're like, "I don't know how we're going to get X character in this time, but we did it."?
Yockey: I think we knew because we knew what everybody's contracts were. We knew how many episodes we had people for, committed for and things like that. Because they're baked in, because they aren't like, "Oh, this person can come back. Let's throw them in somewhere." We knew who we could get at the beginning of the story break, so we broke them into the episodes.
And I think to your point and Natalie and I are superstitious about Season Three stuff. So I'll just say, there's no guarantee that we have anything past Season Two, just like there was no guarantee we would have anything past Season One. So yeah, we're going to put everybody in there, everybody that we can. Got to play with all the toys!
And on top of that, you bring in Sharon Stone, this world-class, hyperintelligent actress and film icon on top, and no shrinking violet. What was great about bringing her in, seeing her respond to the material you prepared for her, what she was going to do, and then seeing her go toe-to-toe with Kaley?
Yockey: I'll just say, we found out that Sharon was a fan of the show because of our casting director John Papsidera told us. We had already written the role – Ian [Weinreich] and Kristin [Layne Tucker], the two writers that wrote episode 2-0-6 had already introduced the character. And Sharon read it, and she was interested, and we didn't believe that she was interested. And then she was cast, and we didn't believe that she was cast. And then she showed up on set, and it was kind of amazing.
She's been very public in her book and in interviews, the fact that she has people in her own life that have had chemical dependency issues. And so she's gone through a lot of that stuff that Lisa's gone through personally, and I think really was attracted to what she thought was a very kind of authentic and AMA and not someone that you usually see on TV. So I'm really glad that we had her, but Natalie was there. She got to see the magic.
Chaidez: You were very aware that this was a movie star moment, from the moment she walked on set. And I think watching the scene, I felt like this is the best thing that I've ever seen filmed on television, and I've worked in TV a long, long time. The chemistry between them, how deep they went and how fearless it was, I think I knew that I was watching something special. I think everybody knew that. And you're like, "Okay, she is a movie star." This is why she's a movie star, because she just left it on the floor and more. And her and Kaley, everyone kind of felt that was a special day and some sort of chemistry that we were watching between them.
The Flight Attendant Season 2 premieres on Thursday, April 21.