‘This Is Exactly Like ‘Die Hard’!’: 15 Trivia Tidbits About ‘Only Murders in the Building’
With every other person sporting their own true-crime podcast these days, it was only a matter of time before someone decided to mock all of it. Surprisingly, that someone turned out to be Steve Martin, who, along with co-creator John Hoffman, dropped a mystery dramedy series on us.
Featuring Martin, Selena Gomez and Martin Short as three lonely New Yorkers who team up to solve themselves some murders while, naturally, podcasting about it, the show was an unexpected hit thanks to its subtle lampooning of everything true crime. With the third season dropping this week, get yourself in the mood for some murder mixed with comedy, and read on about the making of Only Murders in the Building...
Martin Immediately Knew He Wanted Gomez for the Show
Martin said that casting Gomez as Mabel was an absolute no-brainer. “You get a list of names, you know, you’re thinking, ‘Sure, they’d be good, they’d be good,’” he once explained, “and then they say, ‘What about Selena Gomez?’ and it’s just — yes, of course. There was no question except, ‘Can we get her?’ We knew she would enhance the show in so many ways, the number one being talent.”
He went on to praise her performance, saying that she’s “learned to underplay when necessary. Marty and I are pretty manic, and she’s this solid, solid rock foundation. She’s nicely, intensely low-key.”
Da’Vine Joy Randolph Got Cast After Martin Saw Her in ‘Dolemite Is My Name’
Playing the acerbic, no-nonsense character of Detective Williams, Randolph said she “1,000 percent” got the gig because of her performance in Dolemite Is My Name. “Steve Martin told me he saw Dolemite, was very impressed — ‘You held your own,’ that whole thing — and that was a straight offer from him and the showrunner,” the actress told The New York Times. “It’s such a wonderful working environment. Lovely hours. You’re out by like six, seven o’clock. You go have dinner, a life. And just to be around Steve Martin and Martin Short — they still have this childlike anticipation and excitement, like it was their first project. That blows me away every single time.”
The Show Did An Entirely Silent Episode
Except for a single line spoken at the very end, the entirety of Season One’s “The Boy From 6B” was devoid of audible dialogue as we follow Teddy’s son Theo, who is deaf, throughout the story. James Caverly, the actor who plays Theo (Nathan Lane plays Teddy), has been deaf since birth, and he helped shape the episode with his insight and personal knowledge. “James said his superpower is he sees or notices things your average person wouldn’t,” director Cherien Dabis explained. “He has that ability to notice details, and I loved and wanted to portray that. It can really help us get inside Theo’s head, and we need to see the world the way he sees it.”
The episode received multiple Emmy nominations, winning Outstanding Sound Mixing.
To play the father of a deaf son and act opposite Caverly, Lane had to learn American Sign Language. “I did not know ASL, and when I was asked to do it, I thought, ‘Oh, this will be a blast; I get to hang out with Steve and Marty.’ And there’ll be high jinks, and we’ll just laugh and laugh — which, you know, all happened,” Lane told The Wrap. “My wonderful interpreter was a gentleman named Doug Ridloff, who’s also an actor, and he helped me tremendously. Doug was incredibly supportive of me speaking his language and trying to get it right. It’s one thing when you’re working on your own, but then you’re thrown into an emotional scene, and you’re trying to remember how to do it all. It was very challenging. ASL is such a beautiful language, and I loved having that challenge.”
Michael Cyril Creighton Is Allergic to Cats
The actor who plays Arconia resident and cat lover Howard Morris is allergic to cats, and the episode where his neighbor, Jonathan, joins him for a romantic evening only to have an allergic reaction to Morris’ cat actually happened to him. When Creighton first met the man who would become his husband, he didn’t know about his allergy, “but the first time I went to his apartment, he made me dinner, and I broke out in like the worst hives ever,” Creighton explained. “And it was because he had a cat.”
The Main Cast’s Costumes Reflect Their Characters
The show’s costume designer, Dana Covarrubias, has worked on some great comedies, including Broad City and Ramy. Covarrubias used the three leads’ profiles to create costumes that would reflect an essential truth about each one of them. Martin’s character, Charles-Haden Savage, is “the kind of guy who wants to wear the same thing essentially every day” because Savage has a thing with obsessive repetition. Oliver Putnam (Short) is a struggling theater director and a P.T. Barnum of sorts, and so “he knows how to get what he wants and uses his clothing to do it.” As for Mabel Mora (Gomez) and her love for colossal coats and oversized jerseys, Covarrubias explained that she “uses her clothing as armor” because she hides secrets, often big ones.
Besides New York City being a major influence on the show’s style, Covarrubias also found inspiration in classics like Rear Window and neo-noirs like The Big Lebowski, Clue and So I Married an Axe Murderer.
The Original Idea Was to Have Three Old Lead Characters
Martin told The New York Times that he first came up with the concept of the show when a host of a party he attended suggested he write something for three other guests who were “older Broadway actors.” Martin said that the idea “came almost immediately, that they lived in a building and they all were interested in crime. But they didn’t have the energy to go downtown, so they would only do murders in the building.”
His co-creator Hoffman was doing Grace and Frankie at the time, and Hoffman was the one who suggested they don’t focus on the age but rather on three lonely individuals. “On that show (Grace and Frankie), there was already a lot about growing older and issues around that,” Hoffman said. “I very consciously said, ‘I don’t want to do that again.’”
Sting Gave the Cast a Private Concert During Filming
Sting, who shows up in Season One as an Arconia resident and suspect, delighted the cast and crew by entertaining them with some of his greatest hits while filming his scene. “There’s the moment when he gets up with his guitar and sings sort of an impromptu song about Tim Kono,” Hoffman explained. “And when we were doing takes of that, he would get up, and each time he would — instead of playing the impromptu song, because we’d already gotten it — play one of his famous songs, and it was different each time. So literally, we had like a Sting concert happening, unplugged, on our set. We were just in love with him. He was just brilliant.”
Short Revels in Playing Self-Absorbed Narcissists
“Anyone who is self-absorbed but doesn’t think we’re aware of it is always funny,” Short told Time. “To me, one of the funniest images was when Richard Nixon looked into the camera and said, ‘I’m not a crook,’ but above his lip was sweat so we knew he was lying, and he knew we knew he was lying. I find those scenarios funny.”
Gomez’s Fame Made It Difficult to Do Exterior Shoots
Aaron Dominguez, the actor who plays Oscar, said that folks would go gaga over Gomez whenever they were filming on the streets of New York. “With a person of Selena’s star caliber, there were people all over the place, paparazzi and fans everywhere,” Dominguez said. “During what felt like chaos at (all) times — because we were trying to shoot a scene and there were people everywhere yelling her name — we were trying to stay within the scene.”
Season One’s Main Plot Comes From Personal Experience
Hoffman said that he had a close childhood friend who, as a grown man, was found shot dead in what appeared to be a murder-suicide. Folks seemed to think Hoffman’s friend was the shooter, but the creator said that he just couldn’t believe it and had a “profound drive to understand” what had happened to his friend with whom he’d lost touch over the years. He became obsessed, visiting his friend’s family and talking to reporters and neighbors to learn the truth. It was eventually concluded that his friend was, indeed, the one who was murdered.
Martin Co-Wrote His Character’s Song
In Season Two, we’re treated to the revelation that Martin’s character, Savage, once produced and sold a record singing as his old TV show character, Brazzos. The song “Angels in Flip Flops” was co-written and recorded by Martin himself.
The Heritage Hidden in Mabel’s Marigold Jacket
During Mabel’s first introduction scene, she’s sporting a fake fur coat that, according to the costume designer, hints at both her and Gomez’s Mexican heritage. In Mexican lore, marigolds are known as “the flowers of the dead” and are often placed on graves during Día de Muertos to help those deceased find their way home.
Short Is Not a Fan of Dips
While Short’s character Oliver loves him some dip, Short himself is not much of a fan. “I don’t care about dips, personally,” he’s said, adding that they’d usually just use “‘oatmeal or something fake” when filming his dip scenes.
The Origin of Including a Famous Arconia Resident in Every Season
Season One saw Sting feature as the famous-in-real-life resident of the Arconia, and Season Two gave us Amy Schumer moving into Sting’s apartment.
Hoffman said that the idea of featuring actual celebrities in the building came to him when he first went to meet Martin in person. “I was getting in the elevator, and two older women got in the elevator with me, and it was winter, and it was cold, and they were bundled up,” Hoffman told The Wrap. “And I thought, ‘Okay, I love older women in New York.’ I just love them. I think they’re the most valiant people. Like, it’s hard to live in New York… And then I looked to my left, and it was one of my idols, Elaine May. And I thought, ‘Oh, God, it’s Elaine May. And she lives in that same building.’”
Hoffman continued, saying that it made him think of the reality of all these people living together in a big NYC apartment building. “You’re there, and you’re like, ‘Oh my God, this person lives in the penthouse. This person lives in the largest apartment in the building, and how exciting is that?’ And then you just see them doing daily things. And you have sort of an agreement with them that you are very nice to them, or you just regard them with a nod and you keep their privacy,” Hoffman explained. “There’s some undercurrent of, ‘Oh, there’s that famous person. But we all live with him, so we’re all going to play a game of respect.’”
Amy Ryan Cried While Filming the Concert Scene
The show was created and filmed during the peak of the pandemic, and Amy Ryan (who plays the deliciously wicked Jan Bellows) said that the scene in which her bassoonist character is exposed during a concert made her openly weep.
“Before we shot that scene, they said, ‘The conductor will come out, and then we’ll start; Amy, just organize your sheet music, and everyone else tend to your instruments,’” the actress remembers. “On action, the whole orchestra started playing. And it’s the first live music I’d heard. This is probably one of the most magical moments of being on the show. I just burst into tears. I hadn’t heard live music in so long! They’re only doing scales and warming up, and any other time on a set, musicians usually play to a playback or something, but this was real. It just floored me. And then we did it again, and I burst into tears the second time too. It was just an extraordinary moment, being surrounded by all that music.”