‘Only Murders in the Building’ Interview: John Hoffman

Premiering August 8th on Hulu is the third season of the popular series ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ which was co-created by Steve Martin and John Hoffman, and nominated for 12 Emmys including Outstanding Comedy Series and Outstanding Writing For A Comedy Series at the upcoming ceremony that is scheduled to take place on January 15th, 2024.

Selena Gomez, Shirley MacLaine, Director John Hoffman, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Amy Schumer on the set of 'Only Murders in the Building' season 2.

(L to R) Selena Gomez, Shirley MacLaine, Director John Hoffman, Steve Martin, Martin Short, and Amy Schumer on the set of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ season 2. Photo: Barbara Nitke/Hulu.


‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 1 and 2 Recap

Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez) and Oliver (Martin Short) on Hulu's 'Only Murders In The Building'.

(L to R) Charles (Steve Martin), Mabel (Selena Gomez) and Oliver (Martin Short) on Hulu’s ‘Only Murders In The Building’. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu.

The series follows three amateur sleuths –– actor Charles-Haden Savage (Martin), who spent years on a low-rent police show and still dines out on his minor fame, down-on-his-luck, flamboyant theatre director Oliver Putnam (Martin Short) and Mabel Mora (Selena Gomez), a young artist whose life suddenly becomes intertwined with Charles and Oliver’s when a former friend and fellow resident of grand New York apartment building the Arconia is found murdered.

The three also bond over their shared love of a true crime podcast called ‘All is not OK in Oklahoma’, and quickly decide to launch their own as they dig into the truth behind Tim’s death. As they work their way through the suspects (including the variety of quirky occupants of the building), they learn that the real killer is Jan (Amy Ryan), a musician who Charles has been dating.

Season 1 ends with cranky building head chief Bunny Folger (Jayne Houdyshell) dead in Mabel’s apartment, with Mabel framed for her murder. The second season is dedicated to Charles, Oliver and Mabel figuring out what really happened with Bunny, and how a mysterious painting factors in.

It also features more from Cinda Canning (Tina Fey), the driven, arrogant creator of ‘All Is Not OK in Oklahoma’ as she seeks to find a compelling follow-up to her hit series. Our heroes initially think that Cinda, and then artist Alice Banks (Cara Delevingne), whom Mabel briefly dated, might be the killer, but it is revealed to be Cinda’s overworked assistant Poppy White (Adina Version), who was actually the not-so-dead subject matter of ‘All is not OK’ and yearns to have a podcast of her own.

What is the plot of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 3?

Paul Rudd as Ben in season 3 of 'Only Murders in the Building.'

(L to R) Paul Rudd as Ben in season 3 of ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu.

At the end of Season 2, we jump a year forward, to the opening night of Oliver’s new play, ‘Death Rattle’. Its leading man, the annoying, smug Ben Glenroy (Paul Rudd), who clearly has no love for Charles, also starring in the production, collapses dead on stage.

It’s revealed later in the initial episode that Ben is not actually dead but had a medical condition, and he promises to be a changed man, ready to make amends for his bad behavior during the play’s initial stages. He doesn’t get long to do that, though, as he’s pushed into an elevator shaft at the Arconia, landing on the car containing Charles, Oliver and Mabel. And so, another murder mystery is set in motion. Season 3 will also feature Oscar-winner Meryl Streep as Loretta Durkin, a struggling actress and Oliver’s love interest, who plays a small role in his Broadway show.

Meryl Streep as Loretta in Hulu's 'Only Murders in the Building.'

Meryl Streep as Loretta in Hulu’s ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ Photo by: Patrick Harbron/Hulu.

Who stars in ‘Only Murders in the Building’?

Moviefone recently had the pleasure of speaking with director, executive producer and series co-creator John Hoffman about his Emmy nominated work on season 2 of ‘Only Murders in the Building,’ creating the series with Steve Martin, setting up the mysteries, lessons he’s learned between seasons, improvisation on set, the lead actors’ chemistry, the show’s attraction to big name guest stars, and a little tease of season 3.

Tina Fey and Director John Hoffman on the set of 'Only Murders in the Building' season 2.

(L to R) Tina Fey and Director John Hoffman on the set of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ season 2. Photo: Craig Blankenhorn/Hulu.

You can read the full interview below or click on the video player above to watch the interview.

Moviefone: To begin with, congratulations on the show’s 12 Emmy nominations for season 2. How does it feel to get so much Emmy love?

John Hoffman: I’m feeling very good, honored, relieved, all of the above. It’s been quite a ride with this show and the fact that for season two, dropping a year after our first season aired, to be recognized in this group of incredible shows, it’s rare air. So I am thrilled.

MF: Season 3 begins on August 8th, are you excited for fans to see the next chapter?

JH: I’m very excited for people to see what’s coming. We’ve got a good back half too. I promise you.

Related Article: TV Review: ‘Only Murders in the Building’ Season 3

Steve Martin as Charles in season 3 of 'Only Murders in the Building.'

Steve Martin as Charles in season 3 of ‘Only Murders in the Building.’ Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu.

MF: Can you talk about creating the series with Steve Martin? Was it always designed to be a comedic murder mystery?

JH: It began from the plucky mind of Steve Martin, and it was very much his notion. He’s a real fan and has a real interest in the world of crime and mystery, unfolding and getting underneath it and watching the reveals that happen around a case. So he’s a fan of that work. Then on top of it, he is a comedic genius. So that person held it all and very sweetly along with Dan Fogelman and Jess Rosenthal’s introduction, brought me into the fold of that. I was looking at it in a way of, once Steve said, “I would love Marty to be in this with me,” then I was hoping we could do something that felt like classic meets modern. You’ve got these two classic comedians with this very modern young woman in New York where that constantly feels like a theme and then it let the comedic and the mystery unfold in a fresh way. I think we got very fortunate and we worked really hard, but the goal is always to make it look as effortless as possible but behind the scenes it’s quite a challenge to pull this sucker off.

MF: The end of the first season sets up the mystery for season 2. How much of the second season’s mystery was set in place when you introduced it at the end of the first season?

JH: Great question. They’re very tied in. As you’ve seen from the beginning of season three, we take a bit of a leap away, but those first and second seasons are more tied in than maybe evident from the beginning of season two, for sure. Going to the very notion that by episodes 9 and 10, you’re realizing, “Oh my God, the central person responsible ultimately in season 2 was present and was the actual person involved in the podcast and in the case of the podcast that first drew our trio together in episode one of season 1. So, that developed along the way, but it was also kind of in the back of my mind, at least as far as those ties that could happen that felt very exciting. But it was very challenging to thread that and not give it away and not let it be revealed. So that all was very exciting to do, but very in its own classic mystery way, a dance of mini balls in the air with character arcs and the personal relationship of this trio and the discoveries that have to happen. The comedic premises, you then have to create all in the while keeping a thrust of this mystery story that everyone’s hooked into.

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in Hulu's 'Only Murders In The Building' season 2.

(L to R) Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin in Hulu’s ‘Only Murders In The Building’ season 2. Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu.

MF: As a director and executive producer, what were the biggest lessons you learned between seasons working on this show?

JH: How valuable everyone else is. I have to say that in this moment too, as I speak to you as a producer of this marvelous experience and show, that I am in great solidarity and recognizing every minute of the value of the collaboration between actors and writers specifically that make everything about this show and make me stand in full solidarity with fairness for all of them right now in this very challenging moment in our business. But that is really it. To be the person who has to answer all the questions along the way for story, for actors, for everyone else, is very comforting oddly for me. I like being that person. But you have to be very careful with everything. But then to be able to feel the luxury of opening up to brilliant artists around you who have much better ideas than you do, and to be able to say, “Oh, wait a minute. Stop the train. We’re going here because of this fantastic idea.” There’s nothing like it. This show is just a magnet for talent. So, who’s coming in next door? Everyone feels this urgency behind the scenes to step it up for this incredible collection of actors that are on the show. But it’s also the great opportunity to work with people who make everything better.

MF: Obviously, the first season was a huge success. What were the big challenges going into season two to repeat that success?

JH: That sits in your head in a way that I wasn’t as much expecting or thinking about because I get very deep down in a story that I would like to tell. So I try and push aside everything else that way, but there’s no way for it not to emanate through. Certainly within our writer’s room, it was one of those moments of like, “Wait, they’re saying what over there? Who said what? Who wrote what?” That does inform, it can’t help it. It is part of the collaboration with the audience we have too. When you’re doing a mystery, you want to feel what they’re thinking a little bit and maybe undercut that, swerve away from it or lean right into it. So, that’s very nice to have that inclusivity for both audience and creators on this one.

Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez in Hulu's 'Only Murders In The Building' season 2.

(L to R) Steve Martin, Martin Short and Selena Gomez in Hulu’s ‘Only Murders In The Building’ season 2. Photo: Patrick Harbron/Hulu.

MF: Steve Martin and Martin Short are comedy legends, but what is surprising about the series is how organically Selena Gomez fits with their chemistry. Was that a pleasant surprise for you and is there room for improvisation on set? Do they come in with their own ideas, or stick to the scripts?

JH: All three of them, I want to leave them completely unbridled to say and do whatever they want to say. Yet, I’ve recognized also that they have great comfort in these wonderful scripts that our writers work very hard on. There’s great trust and generosity from them. As I say, there’s great comfort too in knowing and recognizing the good fortune of having two geniuses and a very specific modern young woman, is that you hear their voices very distinctly and the way in which they can play is built into these characters that they are perfect for, comedically and dramatically. The fact that they’re so facile, it can go so many different ways, and gives us great leeway to really hone scenes, episodes and seasons that favor what they do best. So when they are with the material, they really stick to it in a larger way. I think they would say the same thing. More than that, it’s just about elevating all of it in the way that only they can do.

MF: Finally, the show has become a magnet for very famous performers who want to guest star, Meryl Streep appears in season 3, for example. Season 2 featured Shirley MacLaine, Cara Delevingne, Tina Fey, Andrea Martin, and Paul Rudd, some of who carry over to season 3. Has there been an effort to get the biggest names possible to guest star, or has that just happened organically?

JH: Yes. The simple answer is yes. To have Shirley MacLaine in the middle of a pandemic come out of her home in New Mexico to say, “I want to come play in the landscape of New York City with this great cast of characters,” was an honor to everyone. The minute she stepped on set, the whole temperature changed. She just was absolutely brilliant. You realize the air you’re in, but also it makes you step up to live up to these people. Cara was fantastic and a friend of Selena’s for a long time and was so sharp, witty, intuitive and also a lovely person. She fit perfectly into the world, and that went on and on. Andrea Martin is a comedic genius as well, and knows Marty and knows Steve and seamlessly fits in as well. So, it’s about being strong with what the show is and hoping that people recognize the tone and how they might work in it, and then watching them just create magic is incredible. Then that leaps off into the opportunities that come from a season 3 cast, which is, I don’t know, the greatest of any half hour comedy in history? I’m going to put it up there. I’m not going to lie, I can’t believe it.

Director John Hoffman and Shirley MacLaine on the set of 'Only Murders in the Building' season 2.

(L to R) Director John Hoffman and Shirley MacLaine on the set of ‘Only Murders in the Building’ season 2. Photo: Barbara Nitke/Hulu.

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