Even TV viewers who have never watched a single minute of The Big Bang Theory likely still think of star Kaley Cuoco as the surname-less Penny, considering she played the role for a whopping twelve seasons. But Cuoco is looking to shake a lot of those expectations with her genre-bending follow-up project The Flight Attendant, a nail-biting thriller that isn't afraid to go for big laughs (that admittedly skew dark). For the actress, who also serves as an executive producer, starring in The Flight Attendant provided the kind of acting opportunities that would never have been possible on a network sitcom like The Big Bang Theory.
In The Flight Attendant, which is based on the 2018 novel by author Chris Bohjalian, Kaley Cuoco plays Cassandra Bowden, who is better known as "Cassie" to her friends, and those friends are also aware of Cassie's alcohol dependencies. After spending a long and glorious night on the town with a suitor played by The Haunting of Hill House's Michiel Huisman, Cassie wakes up to his super-murdered corpse and with only fleeting memories about what transpired the night before. She has to try and retrace her steps to figure out whether she crossed paths with a dangerous murderer, or if she happens to be that dangerous murderer herself.
Clearly, Cassie Bowden isn't anywhere near a carbon-copy of The Big Bang Theory's Penny, and Kaley Cuoco recently spoke with Entertainment Tonight about being so excited to play such a different role from the ones that she has been used to.
I got to play so many different emotions that I've never been able to do before. I've never had the opportunity, so this was my time. It was cool. In the last few episodes, she really hits rock bottom and I think I went into the hair and makeup room maybe twice 'cause we just kind of let everything go. And it was so cool 'cause it felt so real and authentic. I'm like, shouldn't look her best. This is not [that], you know what I mean? So it was kind of cool to get authentic and real and play it as real as I possibly could.
To be sure, it would have been strangely amazing if The Big Bang Theory randomly featured one-off episodes that allowed its cast members to dig into the more dramatic moments from their lives. Of course, I can't imagine fans would have been extremely pumped to watch "that time when Penny hit rock bottom," but it would have been an interesting experiment all the same.
Unlike Penny, whose hair, makeup and wardrobe were very rarely unkempt without a very specific scene purpose, The Flight Attendant's Cassie is far more of a hot mess at any given moment. Sure, she's capable of looking ready for a fancy date; she just doesn't happen to be at that glamorous stage 24/7, and Cuoco apparently enjoyed being able to let her naturalness shine through as the character's life gets more and more hectic as time goes by.
Kaley Cuoco also brought up another big difference between Cassie and The Big Bang Theory's Penny: their backstories. Fans got to meet more and more of Penny's family as the sitcom went on, and while things were pretty particular, they weren't altogether problematic. Cassie's got a far different history, however, and here's how the actress explained it:
I loved everything about her. Obviously this girl struggles and she's got a lot of emotional turmoil, and as we find out in the eight episodes, a lot goes back to her childhood, which is something she's been running from her entire life. And alcohol is what makes her escape from what has truly happened to her. The trauma of waking up [after] this murder, it's just adding on and bringing her back to her childhood.
While Kaley Cuoco doesn't specify "drinking lots of pretend booze" as being a point of contrast between portraying Cassie and Penny, it's arguably one of Cassie's most recognizable character traits, and it adds fuel to the potential suspicion that she is actually responsible for killing her one-night lover. But did she? Viewers will have to wait and see.
Beyond Kaley Cuoco and Michiel Huisman, The Flight Attendant also boasts other winning cast members such as Greenleaf's Merle Dandridge, Girls' Zosia Mamet, The Originals' Colin Woodell, Grey's Anatomy's T.R. Knight, Doctor Who's Michelle Gomez, and Rise's Rosie Perez. It was developed for HBO Max by writer and playwright Steve Yockey.
The Flight Attendant is set to debut on HBO Max with its first three episodes starting on Thursday, November 26, with single episodes dropping weekly after that first batch. While waiting to see what Kaley Cuoco is bringing to the non-Big Bang table, head to our Fall TV 2020 premiere schedule and our Winter and Spring 2021 TV rundown to see what other new and returning shows are on the way in the near future.