Only Murders in the Building creator and stars on that Sting surprise, what's next
This post contains spoilers for the first three episodes of Only Murders in the Building.
Did Sting… stand too close to Winnie? Could he… very much stand losing her? Was he her… king of pain?
Sorry, we'll just come out and say it: Did Sting poison Winnie after killing Tim Kono?
In the wee hours of Monday night, Hulu's Only Murders in the Building unveiled its first three episodes of mystery/drama/comedy/Manhattan mischief that introduced viewers to the curious trio of fading TV actor Charles (Steve Martin), aspiring artist Mabel (Selena Gomez), and down-and-out director Oliver (Martin Short). These three lonely tenants of a Manhattan co-op — who discover that they're obsessed fans of the same true-crime podcast — start poking around a suspicious death in their building and recording a podcast about their adventures, leaving no suspect unturned. And at the end of episode 3, titled "How Well Do You Know Your Neighbors?," who turned up as a surprise candidate for the kill but rock royalty in the form of Sting?
Indeed, this Police man was extremely gruff with Oliver in the elevator, growing defensive when Oliver asked if he knew the deceased, Tim Kono (Julian Cihi). Sir Sting showed no mercy toward Oliver's bulldog, Winnie, nudging her out of the way, ordering Oliver to "control" her, and adamantly stating that he did not like dogs. Later, when Oliver returned to his apartment, there was a menacing note on his door: "End the podcast or I end you." Worse yet, on the floor moaned Winnie, seemingly poisoned with powder. While Oliver fretted, "Oh my god, who would do this to you?" we heard his chilling narration: "Your most well-known neighbor might be the one you know the least," and Sting sang to camera a familiar yet newly ominous directive: "Don't Stand So Close to Me."
What appealed to the OMITB gang about transforming the music legend/rainforest guardian into a prime suspect? "Well, it's just so unlikely, you know?" Martin chuckles to EW. "But also in a building like that, there are often celebrities who live there and that makes sense. It's not just a guest cameo. It's actually something that could happen. In the building I live in, Mitch Miller used to live there. Do you know Mitch Miller? Sing Along with Mitch? It was like a '60s thing. No, you're too young. Don't look at me like that, you youngsters."
Martin and [casting director] Bernard Telsey had long been friendly with Sting, paving the way for this guest-starring role, which came together rather fast. "We were kind of stunned by how quickly the yes came, and suddenly I was on a Zoom with him," says co-creator John Hoffman. "And he was, of course, in a French Chateau in the middle of a pandemic. We couldn't stop looking at his bookshelves. It was like, 'How old are those bookshelves behind you?' It was the most beautiful, perfectly apt setting to be Zooming with Sting."
Sting proved to be more than willing to grump it up in the episode, even providing his own riff on a key joke. "He ran with everything we asked him to do — he was completely into it," shares Hoffman. "And beyond that, he came on set so prepared. It was scripted that he had to express not liking dogs, but he went further with it. In the joke about when Marty [as Oliver] says, 'Do you have a dog?' And then Sting nods and says, 'I have a dog. I don't like him either.' He threw it in, in a first take. Marty and I were talking right after the first take: 'Oh my God, he's hysterical!' He just dove in. He didn't surprise us all because he's brilliant. But I think the gamesmanship was clear from the moment he stepped on set."
Given that only three episodes have aired — bringing viewers just under a third of the way through the season — how viable is Sting as a suspect in this case, really? "More viable than you would think," responds Hoffman with a laugh. "And they find that out in very quick order. When this note appears on Marty's door at the end of episode 3, it's the first time there is actual confrontation about what they're doing and that shocks him. You can think a lot of things about what you're going to do, and you're thinking forward on your own plans as podcasters and investigators — until someone snaps back. And that shakes your world, if you know it's someone in your building, someone's coming for you. This moment happening with Sting in the elevator hits him in a way that makes him awaken to that idea and the potential for retribution."
Perhaps Oliver, Mabel, and Charles are about to learn things about Sting they couldn't dream of (the blue turtles). "There's a lot to be revealed about Sting in the next episode," hints Martin. Furthers Hoffman: "This show has a lot going on that's very meta. Sting's reveals, in episodes 4 and ongoing, are about the particular issue of being someone well-known and having a big problem in their own life that occurs. And then having to manage the perception around what you say, what you do, how upset do you get about that, what are the repercussions of a huge celebrity having a problem with somebody, and how far that could go. And then the guilt and the shock — being someone famous who could potentially be responsible for someone's death is what we were dancing around."
Sting did issue a prickly "Are you suggesting I had something to do with it?" response when Oliver asked if he knew Tim. And the trio learned that Tim was fired after losing a client big money. So, what are the potential ties that bind here? "We do find out there's a stronger connection between Sting and the victim," says Hoffman. "It's also a situation where it's someone he was working with and someone who was tangential to a real problematic moment. The trick there is: How do you balance your own temperament enough not to have it feel out of control or too influential on someone else's life? That's what he's been tortured by — an encounter he had with someone where it got out of hand."
In lighter Sting-based news, another musical moment awaits, with Sting performing a song about the trauma at hand. During the filming of that scene, all in the room were treated to a "Sting unplugged concert in the most magnificent way," says Hoffman. Recalls Short: "When we were doing our coverage and it's over his shoulder, every time in that moment, he'd stand up, he wouldn't do the song in the script. He'd go 'Roxaaanne!' Or he'd do: 'Every move you make.' He'd do one of his massive hits, every take." Adds Gomez: "It was surreal being on set."
Sting is hardly the only celebrity to pop up in the series. After briefly appearing in the first episode, Tina Fey returns in episode 4 as host of the podcast that our trio worships, All Is Not OK in Oklahoma. "She is at first disarmed by this collection coming toward her, and then there is a creeping intrigue about who they are and what they might be doing," hints Hoffman. "There's also upcoming in an episode down the road where she takes the moment that happens in episode 4 with our trio and makes it a benefit for herself in a public setting."
Meanwhile, a complex, loaded relationship between Oliver and chicken wrap king/podcast patron Teddy Dimas (Lane) will further reveal itself. "All of that will come into play as we go forward, as we grow to understand the levels of psychological depth to Teddy, and the motivations that have driven him in ways that we may not see yet," says Hoffman. "And also how far he might go to protect what's important to him."
There's also the matter of that mysterious Post-It note ("G.M. 1/ 31 @ 4:30 PM SHORE ROAD") found by Mabel, who is slyly conducting a fact-finding mission on the side, given her mysterious history with Tim. "The track that Mabel is on in her own investigation, separate from Oliver and Charles, is highly complex and personal," says Hoffman. "She's off and running when she thinks she's got this idea of how all of this might connect, and that's all she wants right now. She's driven very much for her own safety in regards to solve the case, but also because she has involved two other men she's starting to like a lot and she wants to get part of the question in her mind out of the way."
What sorts of twists and turns will be lying in wait for viewers in the remaining seven episodes? "It's going to take a twist and a turn that doubles onto itself many times," says Hoffman. "There are many twists yet to come. There are many complications that are both funny and surprising and are laid in. I'm very detail oriented. Steve Martin [who co-created the show] is very detail oriented. Dan Fogelman [the This Is Us creator who is also an executive producer on Only Murders] is very detail oriented. We're all very knowing about how we watch a story and how it has to lay out in a track that makes sense, and then in hiding things and revealing them by the end of the season. I hope you'll be completely surprised at the way it all unfolds, both in grand who-dun-it? reveals and grand comedy."
You can also wrinkle your brow in guessing whom Short might be referring to when he says: "Just because we don't think someone is the new suspect doesn't mean they're not."
Oh! And forgive us for not providing intel on this critical matter sooner. Given that viewers last saw Winnie quivering on the ground at the end of the episode, what fate awaits this poor bulldog? "First of all, I am one of the biggest dog lovers you'd ever meet," says Hoffman. "We took great care in every way. It was a challenge because Winnie is a delightful bulldog and Winnie as a character is very important to the show. So hang tight, she's a fighter."
The next episode of Only Murders in the Building streams Sept. 7.