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In Season 2 of the HBO Max hit “The Flight Attendant”, Cassie Bowden (Kaley Cuoco) is still contending with the rigors of her double life as a CIA asset and as a steward of the sky wrestling with being sober after her party-girl dalliances (which led to a dead body in her bed in the show’s first season) put her in jeopardy. But her newfound sobriety has her contending with her toughest individual yet: herself. And herself. And herself. And herself. And herself.“
When Season 2 was presented to me,” visual effects coordinator Elizabeth Rojas said, “it indicated that we were going crazy with Cassies. They were like, ‘Think “Orphan Black“!’” That’s right, instead of giving one all-out, draining performance in a rollercoaster-of-emotion season like this one, Cuoco had to give five. This conceit was not featured in the Chris Bohjalian book from which the series was drawn but sprung from the imaginations of the creators.
“We had Present Day Cassie, Gold Dress Cassie, Black Sweater Cassie, Future Perfect Cassie and Nihilist Cassie who came from Future Perfect Cassie,” said Rojas. “And then there was Young Cassie too (played by Audrey Grace Marshall).” The VFX team had to elaborately film Cuoco playing against herself in a setting called the Mind Palace, where different aspects of her fractured personality appear in human forms, with a giant bar as its centerpiece.
Rojas, who began her career in a photography studio before shifting to the visual effects world, praised Cuoco (also an executive producer) for her acumen in nailing a precise form of acting, which is not easy for a performer best known for being vibrant and spontaneous. “I think she looked at it as a challenge, and she was amazing,” said Rojas, who was floored by the “Big Bang Theory” vet’s ability to adapt. “She kept a running note in her mind for every single thing that each Cassie was doing. It was really, really impressive to watch. You could see just how much experience she has doing what she does.
”The process involved a rigorous mix of blending visual effects and greenscreen with the work of Cuoco and her doubles — including stunt double Monette Moio who gets a special mention in the credits of every episode. But don’t expect any old-fashioned split-down-the-middle master shots with Cuoco on either side of the frame; these Cassies are tactile and confrontational, even crossing each other at points in seamless flow.
“We didn’t want her to look sleek and cut-out, and we wanted her to look real,” Rojas said. “So, we were very careful how we set it up and made sure that every interaction maintained all shadows, all timing, all hair, everything. It was a lot of choreography on multiple people’s parts.”
Rojas cited Taylor Swift’s multiverse-ish music video for “Lover” as a key inspiration for the look of these scenes, even down to the giant martini glass featured in the Mind Palace and originally intended for a big VFX sequence until the crew couldn’t secure a proper Los Angeles water tank.
“There are all these extra problems that come up that you’re not expecting, so a lot of it tends to come down to problem solving,” she said, noting that a key sequence in which a car blows up in the Season 2 opener had to be rethought with VFX when they learned they could not get a permit to do such a thing on a Berlin side street.
But Rojas said that these spur-of-the-moment changes are better for the industry, especially when the subject of gun safety on the set came up. “There’s no reason to shoot a real gun. Like, none,” she said. “Doing a little gun flash is easy-peasy for VFX these days. And safety is important. Everybody on our production feels the same way.”