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Steve Martin on his new Hulu series with Martin Short

Steve Martin, at age 76, isn’t a wild and crazy guy anymore. He is a determined one.

Unable to rest on his laurels, he found himself mid-COVID on a Zoom call with honchos from Hulu, where Martin was pitching a new TV series. “My idea was actually about a circus with clowns who get into amusing trouble,” he said on a weekday call from his Los Angeles home. “Of course, the network said, ‘Great idea, Steve Martin. We’ll just rewrite that a little bit.’”

The rewrite is “Only Murders in the Building,” debuting Aug. 31, which incidentally is a 10-episode murder mystery written by Martin about true crime. It does star two lifelong clowns in the form of Charles (Martin) and Oliver (Martin Short) who join forces with Mabel (Selena Gomez) as strangers who investigate a grisly murder that occurs inside their fancy Upper West Side apartment building. They use the skills they learned obsessing about true crime to unravel the complex secrets.

Martin, in little black glasses set against a blue shirt and a swatch of white hair, further explained: “The series features a plethora of stars, and I don’t usually like to use that word unless I’m endorsing ‘The Three Amigos.’”

When he’s not working, Martin lives in LA with his wife, journalist Anne Stringfield. They are parents to a 11-year-old daughter, Mary.

Is it safe to say that you’re a fan of true crime?

“Fan” is the wrong word. I’m interested in the solving of crimes. Plus, I loved the idea of setting this series in New York. I was asked if working in New York now was the plan because it would bookend the fact that earlier in my career I did “L.A. Story.” If I had thought of bookends, I’d be a genius, but I didn’t think of it this way. I just wish I could say it was the 40-year-plan, but no. But back to the series. I do listen to a lot of true crime podcasts. I’m a deep well when it comes to the topic.

After so many years in the business and projects what made this series feel different for you?

This is one of the most unusual things I’ve ever done because it had a plot and I don’t usually do things with plots.

Is it tough for you to decide to play it serious or go for the goofy Steve?

I decided with this one that it was very important to play it straight, or it wouldn’t be real. So I did play it straight, and the strange thing is that the piece looks like a spoof. Honestly, the comedy came after the casting; if you cast three serious actors, it would be a very different show. The comedy came from the casting.

Was it your idea from the start to re-team with Martin Short?

The show wasn’t conceived for me and Marty. I thought it would be cast with older actors. Then one day, Marty said, “You know your new show? Maybe …” I said, “I’ll do it if Martin does it.”

Are you competitive with each other over the laughs?

The truth is we get along so well on a humor level. We don’t get too neurotic with each other. We’re not competitive with each other. He will say, “You take that. It sounds like you.” I’ll say, “Sure.” And then I’ll take the next line, too.

The episodes are filled with famous cameos.

Don’t tell Marty. His role was just a cameo. We gotta keep that a secret.

Or he might get upset?

Remember, you never want to express backstage dismay or upset or you’ll send the show right down the toilet.

Your costar Selena Gomez is always on the run from the paparazzi. Do you still run from the prying eyes?

Marty and I could barely walk down the street because the paparazzi was so crazy. We actually threw Selena out there and for some reason the paparazzi stuck with her as we followed along. Our plan worked. With the paparazzi, I’d open my trailer and yell, “Coming out in 10 minutes!” I was hoping for flashbulbs! The truth is, I’m dying to talk about my personal life. No one asks.

What is it like to be a father later in life?

It’s fantastic. You have all the time in the world, plus you’re set and secure in your life. You’re not in that building part of your career. You can spend the time with family.

You’ve done your two-man comedy show with Martin in Las Vegas. Describe the experience.

It was wonderful to be out on the road with him in places like Vegas. You’re there with your friend, and it was so much fun while also being this creative journey together. We never expected the tour to grow to that extent. And now to move onto TV was never the plan. We never even talked about doing another movie together again.

Your career never seems to dim. Can you explain it?

I’m very lucky to have this career this late in life. I have this thing that is so fun and creative. Marty says that he said yes to the project first and then he had me audition.

Finally, what is your idea of great Sunday if you’re not working? Maybe it involves the outdoors?

The treadmill is the closest thing to the outdoors that I get and it’s inside my home. Sunday is for movies, books and family. Not in that order. And the key is not to plan too much. My friend Marty Short says, “Enjoy life. Walk along. The birds are chirping.” The point is Sunday is about just letting go. You have a day. Let life take its course.

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