En español | Nicole Kidman, 53, knows exactly what she wants from her TV or film characters. “Give us roles that show us warts and all, an authentic female with all of the flaws, virtues, ideas and complexities, where you don't have to be under 40 to be the lead.”
Like the best of her roles — which earned five Golden Globes, two Emmys and an Oscar — Kidman's latest, Manhattan therapist Grace Fraser, is a woman who isn't “shrouded in a golden light,” she says. Working again with her Big Little Lies writer/producer David E. Kelley (The Practice, Ally McBeal) on the new six-part series The Undoing (HBO, Oct. 25, 9 p.m. ET), Kidman plays another upscale character whose world is shockingly rocked by a violent death, in this case the mother of her son's classmate at his $50,000-a-year private school. And on top of that, Grace is plagued by ambiguous doubts about her marriage to a prominent, famously kindly pediatric oncologist (Hugh Grant, 60).
"You're constantly second-guessing everybody and their behavior and what they're saying,” says Kidman. “It's meant to be that classic Hitchcockian thriller where you're not sure what the motives actually are.”
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Kidman and Grant, together at last
This element of uncertainty about the characters’ intentions and motivations is what drew Kidman's costar Grant to his first American TV project. “I love the idea of people being lots of different things and sometimes extremely conflicting things,” explains Grant. “We have a tendency to oversimplify things especially in entertainment, he's ‘a goodie’ or ‘a baddie,'” he says. “My experience in life is [that] I've known people who are capable of both extremes simultaneously; they are both real, it's not like one's a mask, they are both real.” Kidman agrees: “I don't know if any human being's purely innocent or purely guilty anyway in terms of human nature.”
In The Undoing, it's evident that Grace the therapist does not believe people can change. Offscreen, Grant concurs with this view. “I don't think a leopard can change his spots. The Jesuits always say, ‘Give me a child until he's 7 and I'll show you the man,’ I'm afraid that may be true — which means three of my children are cooked, that's it.” But there are some cracks to this theory, as Grant discovered a surprising talent that emerged while under pandemic quarantine. “I'm a good hairdresser — next time you're in London, I'll do your hair.”
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On location in New York City
But it's New York City's exclusive Upper East Side, not London, where the series sets itself among the posh brownstones and elite private schools. And where the four-month shoot took place in a 2019 before-COVID world. “It was all pretty taxing,” recalls Kidman about the series schedule, in which Danish director Susanne Bier, who won an Oscar for best foreign language film in 2011 for In a Better World and an Emmy in 2016 for her direction of the John le Carré adaptation The Night Manager, chose to shoot the episodes as if they were one big movie. While this infused much needed energy, it meant shooting scenes out of sequence. Kidman says she had to work extra hard to “keep track” of Grace's “emotional journey” while often filming on the streets of New York City, adding even more complexity.
What Kidman didn't plan on was what an emotional gut punch it would be to watch the series in 2020. “Now I look back and think, Oh, to be in New York and shooting. It seems like a long-lost dream, but at the time it was grueling. There was a lot of life on the streets. ... I look back and see crowded streets and I see a New York that makes my heart break.”
Tune in to The Undoing (premieres Oct. 25, HBO and HBO Max).