Hugh Grant on “The Undoing” and the place his “Notting Hill” character is in the present day
Director and executive producer of Susanne beer and created and written for television by David E. Kelley, who also doubles as the showrunner, the HBO Limited Series The undo follows Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) who lead a seemingly perfect life until the revelation of secrets and lies threatens to undo everything. When a violent death changes everything, Grace needs to find out what it means to her family and how to save the pieces.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, we spoke to Grant, who gave no hint of spoilers, while talking about how he needed to know the answers to the secrets of the story before signing up. In addition, Grant debated whether he thinks audiences will be surprised when they learn the final outcome of The Undoing, the appeal of having Kidman as a co-star, and delved into his work Notting Hill and Cloud atlas.
COLLIDER: When The Undoing approached you, what were you told about it? Did you read the scripts with prior knowledge or did you let this story be revealed to you as you read?
HUGH GRANT: I can’t remember if you sent me an episode or two, but it wasn’t more than two. Even though I loved them and loved them, I couldn’t sign on the dotted line until I had a long meeting and said, “Come on, you have to tell me how this is going to go. A man needs to know. “So they worked it out and told me what was going to happen. I signed up and just before we started shooting they changed their minds slightly. Then they changed it again. But it turned out to be the movie I thought was going to be.
Without spoilers, how did you react to getting the answers you were looking for?
Grant: I needed certain answers and I got them. I can’t tell you more. I’m so sorry.
Were you surprised at the answers? Do you think the audience will be surprised when we find out the answers?
Grant: Well I hope so. I just hope that the audience will get bamboozled by it and argue among themselves about who is good, who is bad, who is guilty and who is not guilty. I think David Kelley did it incredibly well. When we were filming the court scenes it took about two weeks to film and each day a different character was on the booth. At the end of the day we asked the extras who had never read the script but were there day after day sat: “Okay, who do you think is guilty here?” And every day they had a different answer. I think that’s great evidence of David’s ability.
Once this crime has been committed and everyone is looking at your character, there are many people who believe he is guilty which means they must also think that he is capable of it and that would make him kind of angry. What do you think of him and has that changed over the course of the episodes?
Grant: My attitude towards him hasn’t changed, but that’s all I can say. I can’t answer that without giving something away. If you feel that this is a largely innocent man, then he is definitely sincere. If you think he is guilty and is lying, then I’d suspect he is one of those liars who believes in his own lies.
After spending much of your career in romantic comedies where you’ve been very personable and charming, there is something liberating about playing a man like this, although there are times when the audience has to wonder if he is is a bad guy.
GRANT: The darker the better, as far as characters are concerned. All actors prefer to play darker and more complex characters.
When you are dealing with someone like this who is rich, educated, and prominent, think about how you can make them accessible to the audience to give them that human element, or do you think this can make them more interesting too and make it more complicated?
Grant: Sure. I don’t know if you saw the TV series A Very English Scandal, in which I played a politician who was involved in an assassination attempt. He was a completely despicable person in many ways, but it was important that people somehow like him too. I think you always have to do this and you can’t do it if you don’t like her yourself. You must love them as you might love a member of your family, though you can see they have terrible flaws.
How did you have the experience of really coming to terms with this marriage?
Grant: Well, I thought it was all very well written. One of the premise of the novel was that sometimes we choose as our partner and our partner someone we know, not who we want, but we fill in the gaps because we want them anyway, and I find that very interesting.
Was it fun doing this with Nicole Kidman?
GRANT: Obviously, doing serious dramatic scenes with Nicole was a huge draw and a source of fear because she’s a genius in the field. It’s easier when they’re brilliant. It’s like playing tennis with a professional, not a 60-year-old.
With all of the romantic comedies you’ve done over the years and everyone loved them, there’s one of the characters you’ve played that you’d love to come back to years later and see what the relationship really is like has developed?
Grant: I’m sure they were all disasters. These films were all lies. I’m sure my character in Notting Hill and Julia Roberts’ character went through the ugliest divorce imaginable with really expensive, nasty lawyers.
I think that would be a completely different genre and it could be a very dark story.
Grant: That’s a brilliant idea. It would be really traumatized children who were torn apart.
One of my favorite projects that you’ve done is Cloud Atlas, such an unusual film. There aren’t many ways that you can play so many different characters in one project. What are your fondest memories of how you did it and worked with the Wachowskis?
Grant: Well it was harder than I thought being the cannibal in particular. I assumed I could do it, and they were so smart with the hair and makeup that I thought, “I look great. That’s the character. “And then I was put on this rock in Germany and asked to watch Tom Hanks eat and look really hungry and jealous of the person he was eating. And suddenly I realized that I have absolutely no idea how I play this One of the Wachowskis came and said, “Come on, man, it’s like you’re just so hungry for meat.” I said, “I can’t. Give me a funny line.” The cannibal had no funny lines Lines.
The Undoing will air on HBO on Sunday night at 9 / 8c. Episodes can be streamed on HBO Max after they air on HBO.
Christina Radish is a senior reporter for film, television and theme parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.