"It's been wonderful (and) totally career changing," she said of her dual role as first-time executive producer and star of HBO Max's "The Flight Attendant" (due this fall) during a virtual Television Critics Association panel Wednesday.
Cuoco, 34, who said she loved her time playing Penny on the CBS hit "Big Bang," sounds equally pleased with voicing the title character of the animated "Harley Quinn" on the DC Universe streaming service last November.
"I had no idea it was going to be as insane and raunchy as it has become," she said. "I'm even shocked half the the time at the stuff I say, but that has been this enjoyable (experience) that started as a little side gig and turned into something more."
Cuoco, who appeared remotely with "Flight Attendant" co-stars Rosie Perez and Zosia Mamet and executive producer Steve Yockey, said she was looking for projects to produce when she happened upon a mention of the 2018 novel by Chris Bohjalian. (The limited series was filming the sixth of its eight episodes in March when production shut down due to the COVID-19 epidemic, delaying its planned May premiere. Filming is tentatively scheduled to resume this month, Yockey said.)
"I read one little snippet, a line (about) the book on Amazon. It just was one sentence and I got this weird chill," she said. "I called my team and said, 'Hey, I'd love to look at the rights to this book.' And their first question was, 'OK, so you read the book? You loved the book? And I was like, 'Oh, yeah. I totally read the book.' I had not read the book, but something said to me, 'Jump on this.' … Once they started getting into it, I read it really fast."
Cuoco plays Cassie Bowden, a hard-drinking "flight attendant (who) wakes up in the wrong hotel, in the wrong bed, with a dead man – and no idea what happened," according to the streaming service's description. It's quite a departure from Penny.
Cassie is "extremely, perfectly flawed. It was kind of an actor's dream to play someone like her. She's got a rollercoaster of issues, but a heart of gold and she's strong and just a great female character to play," Cuoco said.
The darkly comic nature of "Attendant" lets Cuoco expand her range without going too far afield.
"I've always loved comedy and sitcoms and grew up on it … starting out on my first series (ABC's "8 Simple Rules") with John Ritter, I just love the art of making someone laugh and not taking yourself too seriously," she said. "This was a great kind of a new path, but it wasn't so far off that people are like, 'What is she doing?' There's still that levity."
But there are new elements. "I loved the drama. I loved being scared. I loved the running. It's been completely new and different. I've really never done anything like it before, and I completely enjoyed it."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Kaley Cuoco: Soaring post-'Big Bang' as HBO Max's 'Flight Attendant'