As determined and inquisitive as she is mysterious, Mabel Mora is the glue that holds the Only Murders in the Building podcast together And Selena Gomez, the actress who plays her, does the same for the show itself. She brings her own brand of humor, beauty and style to the show – and adds to the longstanding dynamic between the other two leads, Steve Martin and Martin Short, who have worked together for decades.
But playing Mabel has done a lot for Selena, too. It’s her first meaty, adult role – and it’s making a new audience sit up and take notice of her. Here’s our Take on Mabel, how Selena brought her to life, and the way they’re more alike than you might have realized.
Mabel is such an integral part of the Only Murders trio that it’s hard to imagine that she wasn’t always meant to be there – but in fact, the original plan for the show was quite different. When Steve Martin first dreamed up Only Murders in the Building, the main characters were all old men. But as the idea developed, it became apparent they needed more perspectives to bring some additional spark and relatability to the show. So they landed on the idea of bringing in a younger, female lead to share the spotlight with old friends Martin and Short. And that’s where Gomez came in – showrunner John Hoffman was quoted in Vanity Fair saying, “How do we take these two legendary, classic comedians and then put them up against the clash of something New York, being modern now and finding that classic-meets-modern all around New York? Once Selena Gomez was brought up, it was just like, oh. That really was the light bulb moment.” Mabel brings a youthful vibe to the show and is able to offer up a viewpoint that is very different from her two older friends. The juxtaposition adds to the show’s humor while also showcasing a heartwarming cross-generational bond that we don’t often get to see on TV.
The initial reactions to Gomez’s casting weren’t all favorable, with many reviewers speculating that she’d been cast in a blatant attempt to appeal to a younger audience. Leila Latif at the Guardian said that casting Gomez initially seemed like ‘stunt casting’ or ‘a cynical ploy to give the show cross-generation appeal.’ But since the show premiered in 2021, the trio has become a firm fan favorite. Latif went on to say that Gomez makes up a ‘career-best comedy trio’ with Martin and Short. And it’s true – she gives Mabel beauty, calm and deadpan delivery, which works perfectly in contrast with Martin’s uptight, particularly Charles and Short’s flamboyant, excitable Oliver.
While Gomez began her career as a child actor, her surprise success in music threatened to overshadow her acting career. But with Only Murderers, critics and audiences alike are finally starting to appreciate her acting chops. She plays the complex character of Mabel with nuance, drawing out the more difficult elements of her personality – like her vulnerability and loneliness. In season 2, she deftly performed Mabel’s deep conflict and confusion around Bunny’s murder – the genuine terror that she could have unknowingly had something to do with it, underpinned by the tragic back story of her father’s death, the trauma of which caused her memory loss Much of Mabel’s characterization was down to Gomez – she says she had a lot of input into Mabel, shaping the way she responds to people and events.
What’s more, her effortless cool has made Mabel a fashion icon. Mabel’s look is a carefully studied portrait of contemporary New York style – to the extent that in 2022, British Vogue added her to an elite list of New York fashion icons that included Holly Golightly and Carrie Bradshaw.
That Gomez is able to bring so much to Mabel isn’t surprising, given the amount that the pair have in common. Like Gomez, Mabel grew up an only child in a low-income, single-parent family with a protective mom. And in terms of their personalities, both Gomez and Mabel find it difficult to trust people at first. Gomez told the UK’s Sunday Times newspaper ‘Being standoffish is not foreign to me. Most of the time I don’t trust a lot of people,’ which resonates with what we know of Mabel; as a character, she can come off as harsh because she puts up such firm boundaries so she doesn’t get hurt.
So Gomez brings a whole lot to the character of Mabel. But there’s an unusual symbiosis between the actress and her character – in that Mabel brings a lot to Gomez, too.
Post-Disney, Gomez starred in a few high-profile projects in which she attempted to shake off her Disney kid image – namely, a supporting role in Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers in 2012. But given her sweet face and generally kind demeanor, she found it hard to move into more adult roles. Even her role in Spring Breakers wasn’t that much of a change of pace: Faith was still a goody-two-shoes who went home before the craziest events of the film kicked off. She did, however, find major success in pop music. Music allowed her to explore new sides of herself, but she’s always referred to acting as her true passion. Being unable to get people to take her seriously as an actress for years led her to worry that she’d never be able to find that one role that could really change people’s minds. Only Murders, with its all-star cast, proved to be a turning point for her – but even then, she noted that she was surprised that people loved her on the show and were finally taking her seriously.
Selena Finding Herself Through Mabel
She quickly began generating awards buzz, with people saying this was the best acting she’d ever done. And her veteran actor co-stars sang her praises, speaking about her onscreen brilliance and the way she provided a foil to the chaos of their characters. When she was snubbed for an acting Emmy in 2022, Martin told Variety,
Gomez has been open about the fact that the show has changed her life in wonderful ways
and has spoken about how working with Martin and Short is helping her to develop as a comedic actress. Being on the show also means she’s been able to work with other acting and comedy icons, a glittering roster of guest stars from Amy Schumer and Paul Rudd to Meryl Streep.
In addition to finally giving her the adult acting career she had longed for, playing Mabel also seems to have given Gomez some new insights into herself and what she wants in real life. After difficult past relationships, Gomez has spoken candidly about how having a friendship with Martin and Short has raised her expectations for herself when it comes to finding a partner. Watching Mabel grow and change over the seasons of Only Murders, finding herself and taking control of her life, is at the heart of the show. And seeing how the character is helping Gomez achieve her own goals in real life adds a special layer to the beloved series.
Only Murders in the Building’s third season is off to a great start and is getting rave reviews. And it looks like there are some big storylines on the horizon for Mabel, which will be a great chance for Gomez to continue to spread her acting wings. Show co-creator John Hoffman said of Mabel, “We learn at the end of episode one that she’s not going to stay in the Arconia much longer, and it just puts a heightened focus on this woman who’s facing 30 and looking at her life.” This season sees her facing a big, new personal challenge: moving on, both from the life she’s built and the literal building, and figuring out what she really wants to do with her life. She wants to be a designer but realizes that that isn’t an easy path – so just like Gomez, she’ll have to fight to create the life she wants for herself.
Gomez has been vocal about what she wants to do next, too: If anyone is primed for a part to sink her teeth into, it’s a post-Mabel Mora Selena Gomez. We can’t wait to see where her new confidence takes her!
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