Nine Perfect Strangers’ Bobby Cannavale On Reteaming With Melissa McCarthy And Finding Humor In Tony’s Desperation

bobby cannavale's tony skittsh about getting in the pool on nine perfect strangers
(Image credit: hulu press)

Spoilers below for the first three episodes of Hulu’s Nine Perfect Strangers, so be warned!

In releasing Nine Perfect Strangers’ initial trio of installments, Hulu gave viewers enough line to bait us, hook us, and then pull our jaws down with that hook, as Nicole Kidman’s Masha was revealed to be drugging Tranquillum House’s current visitors. That includes Bobby Cannavale’s Tony “Smiley” Hogburn, the former football player harboring both emotionally and physically deep-seated pains, with addictions and traumas that have soured his geniality. But after a few days of Masha’s smoothies and a few run-ins with Melissa McCarthy’s shame-stricken author Frances, Tony is already seemingly finding some light in the darkness.

Ahead of Nine Perfect Strangers’ premiere, I had the pleasure of speaking with Smiley himself, Bobby Cannavale, as seen in the video above. When I asked what drew him into playing a character with such a dark and moody headspace, he said it was partially because he wasn’t quite sure how to play that kind of self-defeating character, which led to him finding ways to turn that darkness back in on itself with humor. In his words:

Well, you know, one of the things that I was really attracted to in the role, Nick, was that this was a strange dichotomy of a guy who volunteers to be a part of this, and then spends all of his time resisting it. And I thought, 'Well, that's interesting. I don't quite know how you play that.' Of course, the writing was so good. and you know, I had such great scene partners. Of course, all those actors, starting with Melissa. But, you know, in thinking about it and reading the book, and really having a good think about it, I just thought, 'Well, you know what? This guy's at the very end of his rope. So what happens when you're there?' Well, you can go to some pretty dark places. You can present as somebody who really doesn't care. And I think Tony's a guy who knows how to use what he's got — his aggression, his size, his formidable kind of presence — to confront people. And so I think when somebody's that desperate, there's room for funny things to happen, people do funny things when they're desperate. So I thought that there was enough there really to, to, to, to work on and to try to discover why this guy was like this. And then you add, of course, the elements, the big surprise of how he's being treated once he's in there, I thought that that could lead to a lot of fun.

Tony is bordering on being a stereotypical Grinch-Scrooge when Nine Perfect Strangers begins, before it’s fully understood that being a super-douche isn’t the character’s most natural state. That said, it’s still easier for him to be harsh than it is for him to ask for help, which is exactly why he ended up at Tranquillum House being drugged by Masha; though I still have to admit that Bobby Cannavale has naturally likeable qualities that already made it hard to dislike Tony early on. Regardless, viewers get to watch amusing moments that play off of both Tony’s pill-hungry desperation and his dopamine-fueled playfulness. (And there’s definitely more fun to come, but that’s for a later time.)

(Image credit: hulu press)

While the star-studded Nine Perfect Strangers hasn’t made Tony and Frances BFFs or anything, it’s clear the creative team is bending their parallel paths to something more connected. Which is perfect for Bobby Cannavale and Melissa McCarthy, who have played enemies in Spy and Thunder Force and a couple in Superintelligence. Here, Cannavale gets to take on a much more nuanced and authentic connection with McCarthy as both characters start to peel back their defensive layers. When I asked the actor about working with McCarthy again in this capacity, he said:

Well a lot of times, I think, we've seen different versions of this, or we've heard different versions of people who meet and don't really like each other when they first meet. I think that the both of them meet in a pretty high-stress moment, you know? I think he has no idea what she's going through. I think he says to her right after he meets her, 'I can see that you're a tragic person.' And, of course, he could be talking to himself in the mirror. It's just a question of when they're going to figure out that their vulnerabilities, that their tragedies that they've dealt with in their lives sort of parallel each other, and that they can actually help each other. And so the writing, again, really supported it. Those characters felt very authentic to me. Knowing Melissa the way I do, that felt like she was gonna mine gold out of that, and I'd never quite seen her play something like that. But yeah, you know, it's really, again, just great to work with somebody like Melissa McCarthy, because her well is very, very deep, and she's got a lot of tools in the box. And so I'd never seen her play somebody quite that desperate, and yet still be that funny. But I think we share the same ideas about how funny that can be, desperation.

With the now-added context that seemingly all of the guests we’ve met in Nine Perfect Strangers have been imbibing on some form of intoxicant (against their will, no less, but that’s also something for another time), it’ll definitely be interesting to see how Tony’s body aches and mental woes will be affected by trading one drug for another. As well as how his not-quite-friendship-yet with Frances will expand or contract, assuming everyone doesn’t just pack up and leave in Episode 4. But that wouldn’t make for a very interesting next five episodes, would it?

Melissa Mccarthy on the phone in nine perfect strangers premiere

(Image credit: hulu press)

New episodes of Nine Perfect Strangers stream on Hulu every Wednesday at 3:01 a.m. While waiting for the next episode, be sure to keep up with all the upcoming premieres with our 2021 Fall TV schedule.

Nick Venable
Assistant Managing Editor

Nick is a Cajun Country native, and is often asked why he doesn't sound like that's the case. His love for his wife and daughters is almost equaled by his love of gasp-for-breath laughter and gasp-for-breath horror. A lifetime spent in the vicinity of a television screen led to his current dream job, as well as his knowledge of too many TV themes and ad jingles.