The Flight Attendant served as an escape for audiences as the nation started gearing up towards a world, hopefully, fully open and ready to be explored. The pilot episode is sexy and brilliantly paced–we zoom in and out of airports so quickly that we feel like we have a lifetime first-class ticket. Director Susanna Fogel directed the first two episodes of The Flight Attendant and she expertly set the tone for the entire series.
When you talk about the series, you cannot talk about the unique tone. There has even been a lot of chatter about where The Flight Attendant belongs in term of the binary of awards season. Is it a comedy or a drama? Fogel explained that the balancing of the tone was set by the remarkable Kaley Cuoco.
“We had no idea that we could use the word ‘tone’ in that many meetings. Because the north star is grounded in Kaley’s performance–whether it’s very heightened or if she’s running through the airport in her character’s way–it helps stitch together when it could be different tones. Her performance is the heart of it. If that wasn’t established, it would run the risk of feeling like different shows. Her performance helps make it make sense and we can refine it from there.”
The Flight Attendant pays homage to the glamorous murder mystery, but there is a lot of humor injected into its bones. If you are familiar with Fogel’s previous work, you will notice the show continues to include strong comediennes surrounded in over-the-top situations. Surprisingly, Fogel isn’t as big of a comedy fan as she is drawn to crime and drama.
“I’m a person whose work fundamentally invokes some humor. The subgenre of funny person in a serious situation is my favorite thing. The irony is that I don’t watch a lot of straight comedies. I do watch a lot of dramas and murder mysteries and I read a lot of crime fiction. For me, it’s an immersive escape. I like putting a puzzle together and I like the adrenaline spike of watching that. I’m drawn to it. I notice that a lot of movies and shows that play in that world heightens the visual style with relatable female characters.”
Fogel went on to reveal that she was inspired by the notion of a Hitckcock blonde. The Flight Attendant takes the idea of that and subverts it by giving Cuoco’s Cassie so much range and depth.
“Hitchcock women are really heightened. They aren’t women that I know–they’re either arch vixens or villains. They aren’t relatable to me. We also watched a lot of [Brian] De Palma and Kubrick. We tried to figure out the balance there and we wanted to embrace the little bit of camp to it. Dressed to Kill does that and relies a lot on reflections.”
Fogel enjoyed how the scripts didn’t box Cassie in by society’s expectations of her. Cassie is free-spirited and plays by her own rules and though the choices that she makes are ultimately very destructive, Fogel would be drawn to the character’s lack of inhibitions and control over her own life anyway.
“Something I loved about the show was that it about a women in her thirties and her personal endgame wasn’t a domestic life. That isn’t her biggest hurdle or her biggest problem. She’s not denying the inevitable and it’s much more about being a person who has a sense of wanderlust and adventure. Neither the show nor she apologizes for that. I related to her in a way, and I thought that was so refreshing.”
If Cuoco and Michiel Huisman had no chemistry or spark, the show wouldn’t be compelling. When Cassie and Alex go on their date, there is a montage of them talking and walking around, and we can feel that connection. Cuoco and Huisman make it look so easy.
“That was a happy accident with how we edited the show. Kaley and Michiel got along great. Even though this wasn’t a straight up comedy and Michiel wasn’t playing a comedic, having them play out alternative versions of the scene led to depth of the performances. It felt like it was earned. In the end, because it’s a mystery, there were some dialogue scenes between them that we ended up saving or moving to later in the season so she could put the puzzle together. So we got the benefit of those scenes that hinted at a longer night.”
Throughout this first season, Cassie looks us right in the eye and it can feel like she is talking directly to us. Since Cuoco is such a magnetic presence on screen, it’s easy to feel like she is our friend and she is sharing her concerns with us. It can even feel like we are somewhat complicit. Fogel keeps the camera on her face, and, in one shot, the camera is floating over the back of her head as if she is being watch. It’s a testament to Fogel’s dedication to drive this narrative through this dynamic and damaged character.
“The superpower that Kaley has is that she feels like she’s your best friend. Maybe they see her on a place and they love her from The Big Bang Theory and everyone thinks they can talk to her. It ropes you in. There is an intimacy automatically put in there but then it feels like you’re in it with your best friend. The device to the direct to camera was acknowledging that was there some fourth wall where we are directly seeing what she is thinking and feeling. That helps loosen up the language of