'The Flight Attendant': Kaley Cuoco on the 'Huge Twist' No One Will See Coming

Kaley Cuoco TCA Portrait
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After 12 seasons playing plucky Penny Hofstadter on CBS's The Big Bang Theory,TV's top-rated comedy when it ended in 2019, Kaley Cuoco knew it would be a tough act to follow. She didn't think she could win: "If I had chosen a sitcom, [people would] be like, 'Oh, my God, enough.' And if I chose a drama, I never would have won anybody over."

Then she read Chris Bohjalian's 2018 thriller The Flight Attendant. "I got such a chill and thought, 'This could be really incredible if we get the right team together,'" she says. "[The decision] was simple for me."

That clarity is something her character in the refreshingly unpredictable HBO Max adaptation desperately lacks. As the eight-episode season begins, first-class flight attendant and world-class party girl Cassie Bowden meets a handsome passenger (Game of Thrones' Michiel Huisman, a series regular) on her flight to Bangkok. The next morning, she wakes up in bed beside him. Her hangover is expected; the sight of her date covered in blood—and dead!—comes as a shock.

Flight Attendant Kaley Cuoco

(HBO Max)

Most of their boozy evening together is a hazy memory as she flees his hotel, then the country. When she can't get him out of her head, Cassie accepts that she'll have to retrace her steps and try to solve his murder…before two inquisitive FBI agents (Greenleaf's Merle Dandridge and Glee's Nolan Gerard Funk) pin it on her!

Cuoco, who's also an executive producer, preps us for takeoff. 

Cassie is so different from Penny. How would you describe her?

Kaley Cuoco: She's the fun flight attendant who looks completely put together but really is falling apart inside. She's an alcoholic, but obviously doesn't want to admit it. She is a disaster, but at the end of the day, she has a good heart and she wants to do what’s right. 

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She doesn't call the cops in Thailand, and yet, when she's back stateside, she's almost too zealous in her efforts to learn more about the man.

She's absurd! When I read the book, I was like, "Who would be this stupid? Who would do these things?" But I watch so much Dateline, and I see so many people get so terrified they pretend something didn't happen. The panic really does take over your body and your mind. Then you start making terrible decisions and get stuck in an even worse situation.

We see flashes of Cassie as a child that are a whole other puzzle. How do those – and her concerned brother, Davey (T.R. Knight, Grey's Anatomy) — tie into the story?

Throughout the series, we find out how much emotional damage Cassie has from her childhood, and that she has kept it in for so long. I have some great scenes with T.R., and [the siblings] go down memory lane. It's sad and sweet at the same time, and very telling as to why she is doing the things that she's doing. She runs from her problems, but she can't run from this horrendous situation she's thrown into. She has to face it all.

Zosia Mamet The Flight Attendant Annie

(HBO Max)

Are Cassie's pals, fellow flight attendant Megan (Rise's Rosie Perez) and lawyer Annie (Zosia Mamet, Girls), as messed up as she is?

Yes! Everyone has secrets. Rosie has an amazing storyline, and we'll find out Zosia works for some terrifying people. We have a huge twist at the end that no one will see coming.

So you're clearly hoping for a second season with Cassie, but do you miss Penny?

Oh, I do. I love that character. I owe everything to Penny and to that show. And if [Big Bang cocreator Chuck Lorre] asked me to do another sitcom, I would do it in a heartbeat. 

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What kind of TV would we catch you watching to unwind?

I just really love reality TV. I get so sucked in. [Bravo's] Below Deck, I can't get enough of. [TLC's] 90 Day Fiancé, [Lifetime's] Married at First Sight. [ABC's] Dancing With the Stars is back. When you look at my TiVo and see what's on there, I'm embarrassed. If Karl [Cook, my husband] doesn't hear from me for a few hours, he's like, "How many shows have you watched?" I'm like, "It's lady-TV night! Leave me alone!"

The Flight Attendant, Premiere, Fall 2020, HBO Max