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Selena Gomez puts her true crime fascination to good use in ‘Only Murders in the Building’

Selena Gomez, Martin Short and Steve Martin, right, star in Hulu’s “Only Murders in the Building.”
(Craig Blankenhorn / Hulu)

In 2017, Selena Gomez — pop sensation and former teen star — was lamenting the fact that she couldn’t seem to lose the sparkle of her Disney Channel “Wizards of Waverly Place” image. “Sometimes I feel defeated,” she admitted. “I’ll audition for a part I feel very passionate about, tell them I’m willing to go places. But I think they think I won’t go there.”

“Only Murders in the Building,” Hulu’s TV series about three neighbors in an Upper West Side co-op who band together to solve a killing, should dispense with the Gomez-doubting. As Mabel, she goes toe-to-toe with comedy legends Steve Martin and Martin Short, using a parched delivery and aloof millennial vibe to create a space for her co-stars to bounce off the walls. Recently, Gomez spoke from her apartment in New York, having just returned from wardrobe fittings for the second season of the series.

You were originally cast from a Zoom meeting. After signing off, did you realize you’d nailed it?

True crime is something that my mom and I bond on. It’s kind of dark, but we’re interested in forensics and the psychology part. I ended up talking for an hour about that. Originally, I was going to audition. But I think [after that] conversation, they were like, [snaps fingers] “This is the girl.” Because after we got off [Zoom], they immediately called and asked if I wanted the part.

Everyone assumes that you didn’t know much about Steve Martin and Martin Short. But the flip side is: What did they know about you?

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I think they knew a few of my songs. I don’t like putting people on the spot. To be honest, I really don’t think they knew who I was. [Laughs]

Was it difficult joining in on their well-established chemistry?

Steve and Marty have this history, this back-and-forth that comes so organically. They’re so good at what they do, and it’s funny even when the cameras aren’t rolling. Trying to find my lane between them was kind of hard. At first, I didn’t know exactly who Mabel was. I look at the first episode and think, “If only I knew what I knew by the 10th episode [about how we’d] settle into these characters.”

If Mabel wasn’t as formed in the script initially, what appealed to you, then, about playing her?

I was excited to play a character I felt connected to. I think I’m pretty dry and sarcastic in general. And it was safe. It was good for me to put my toe back into that and feel comfortable playing Mabel. I took such a long break. It’s given me confidence.

You’d been away from series TV since 2012 when “Waverly” ended. How did you hit the refresh button?

I watched a lot of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” She’s not at all [like Mabel]. But she wants to solve the crime, understand what’s going on. And she’s a badass. I felt that Mabel was a bit like that. But I didn’t do much in the way of preparing. [Uneasy laugh] That’s kind of nerve-wracking, now that I think about it.

Martin’s and Short’s working relationship began in 1985 on the set of “Three Amigos!” What did you pick up from watching them do their thing?

They’ve been friends for longer than I’ve been alive. But once they started making mistakes, it made me more comfortable. They’d just go for it, and if it didn’t land, it didn’t land. What I learned from them was to not take it so seriously. Just to have fun, even when the mistakes happen.

And you, in turn, introduced two 70-somethings to Cardi B and Megan Thee Stallion’s steamiest collaboration. Why?

We’re a very musical set. We’ll sing all these beautiful songs. There’s lots of “Singin’ in the Rain” and Broadway. Billie Holiday, Joni Mitchell. But sometimes you’re on set for hours and hours, and I had the idea one day of putting “WAP” on in the background to see if they’d notice. It was just hysterical. Their reaction was like, “Wait. Wait, wait, wait.” I even showed them live performances, and they were floored. Like, “People can do this nowadays?” I was like, “Yeah, they can.” So the real answer to [your question] is that [playing “WAP”] came from … boredom.

Did you always know who the building’s murderer was?

We actually didn’t know until, like, episode seven or eight. So we were all playing the guessing game on set. It was fun. My guess was way off. I [thought] it was going to be something more to do with me.

According to your co-stars, there’s a new amigo.

It took me a minute to earn my spot, and they’ll tell you that. But yes, now I’m a third amigo.

What does Chevy Chase have to say about that?

I don’t know. [Long pause] Maybe I should call him and check?


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