The co-creator of Only Murders in the Building breaks down why Selena Gomez was cast as a lead. Premiering on Hulu back in August, the murder mystery focuses on three strangers (played by Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Gomez) that live in the fictional Arconia building and share an obsession with true crime. Shortly after bonding over their love of a popular podcast, the trio unexpectedly find themselves investigating the murder of Tim Kono (Julian Cihi). Only Murders in the Building was lauded for its overall casting, including memorable guest turns from Tina Fey, Nathan Lane, and even the music icon Sting.
The series, which spanned 10 half-hour episodes, was expected to be a success because of the talent involved both in front of and behind the camera. But not long after Only Murders in the Building season 1’s debut, the murder mystery quickly gathered momentum as viewers watched along and worked to solve the central story right along with the protagonists. Fans found themselves drawn to the interplay between the three co-leads, especially enjoying Gomez’s portrayal of Mabel Mora and how the actress played off two comedy legends in Martin and Short.
Vanity Fair spoke with showrunner John Hoffman and casting director Tiffany Little Canfield about how they assembled the ensemble for the Hulu hit. When it came to the character of Mabel, Hoffman explained that the goal was very much to highlight a clash between different generations of New Yorkers — the city where the story is set. Hoffman also praised Gomez for her work as the lead star of the Disney Channel series Wizards of Waverly Place, noting that it quickly became clear she was the right fit for the role. Hoffman’s quote is included below.
“The whole show is built on classic meets modern in our minds. And just theoretically, we were thinking that way just across the board: How do we take these two legendary, classic comedians and then put them up against the clash of something New York, being modern now and finding that classic-meets-modern all around New York? Once Selena Gomez was brought up, it was just like, oh. That really was the light bulb moment … I had watched her on Wizards of Waverly Place and I immediately recognized: She’s got her own little vibe, with a sort of laser-like, dry, underneath wit to her.”
Only Murders in the Building season 2 recently received an early renewal, racking up several awards and nominations along the way. Indeed, it would be difficult to imagine the show working as well without the chemistry of Gomez, Martin, and Short. For some viewers, this was surprising, as many hadn’t expected that Gomez would be the right fit for a character that spent the bulk of 10 episodes being mysterious and even insular at times. It’s an after-effect, perhaps, of the fact that Gomez got her start on Disney, developing a knack for quick-paced comedy scripts. However, the actress has since shown a preference for cultivating an admirably diverse filmography.
Two of the biggest shows of the year, Only Murders in the Building and HBO’s Mare of Easttown, both rely on the hook of victims and suspects; inviting viewers to speculate on which characters fit into which category. Still, as different as the two mystery-based shows are, they both highlight the importance of casting actors that can bring life to their portrayals. That was true of HBO’s heavy-hitting drama led by Kate Winslet, and it’s equally as true for Hulu’s comedy, which saw Gomez emerge as a surprise stand-out.