Hugh Grant on ‘The Undoing’ & The place His ‘Notting Hill’ Character Is Right now
Directed and executive producer by Susanne Bier and created and written for television by David E. Kelley, who also serves as showrunner, the HBO limited series The Undoing follows Grace (Nicole Kidman) and Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant), who have a seemingly perfect life until the revelation of secrets and lies threatens to undo it all. When a violent death changes everything, Grace must figure out what that means for her family and how to pick up the pieces.
During this 1-on-1 phone interview with Collider, we spoke with Grant, who gave no hint of spoilers while he talked about how he needed to know the answers to the story’s mysteries before signing on. Furthermore, Grant discussed whether he thinks audiences will be surprised when they learn The Undoing‘s final outcome, the attraction of having Kidman as a co-star, and touched on his work on Notting Hill and Cloud Atlas.
COLLIDER: When The Undoing came your way, what were you told about it? Did you go into reading the scripts with any prior knowledge, or did you have this story revealed to you as you kept reading?
HUGH GRANT: I can’t remember whether they sent me one episode or two but it wasn’t more than two. So, although I loved them and was riveted by them, I couldn’t sign on the dotted line until I’d had a long meeting and said, “Come on, you’ve gotta tell me how this pans out. A man needs to know.” So, they worked it out and told me what was gonna happen. I signed on and just before we started shooting, they slightly changed their mind. Then, they changed it back again. But anyway, it turned out to be the film I thought it was gonna be.
Without spoilers, what was your reaction to learning the answers you were looking for?
GRANT: I needed certain answers and I got them. I can’t tell you more than that. I’m sorry.
Were you surprised at what the answers were? Do you think the audience will be surprised when we learn what the answers are?
GRANT: Well, I hope so. I just hope that audiences are bamboozled by this and quarreling amongst themselves about who’s good, who’s bad, who’s guilty, and who’s not guilty. I think that David Kelley has done that incredibly skillfully. When we were shooting the courtroom scenes, they took about two weeks to shoot and every day there was a different character on the stand. At the end of the day, we used to ask the extras, who had never read the script, but who was sitting there day after day, “Okay, who do you think is guilty here?” And every day, they had a different answer. I think that’s a great testament to David’s skill.
Once this crime has been committed and everyone is looking at your character, there are a lot of people who think he’s guilty, which means they also have to think he’s capable of this and that would make him kind of evil. What do you think of him and did that change, over the episodes?
GRANT: My attitude toward him didn’t change throughout, but I can’t say more than that. I can’t answer that without giving stuff away. If you take the view that this is a largely innocent man, then he’s definitely sincere. If you take the view that he is guilty and lying, then I would guess that he’s one of those liars who believes his own lies.
After having spent a big chunk of your career in romantic comedies, which you were very likable and charming in, is there something freeing about playing a guy like this, where even though you change your mind about him throughout this, there are times where the audience is left to wonder whether he is a bad guy?
GRANT: The darker, the better, as far as I’m concerned with characters. All actors prefer playing darker and more complex characters.
When you’re dealing with someone like this who’s wealthy, educated, and prominent, do you think about ways to make him relatable to audiences to give him that human element, or do you think that also makes him more interesting and more complicated?
GRANT: Certainly. I don’t know if you saw the TV series I did, called A Very English Scandal, where I played a politician who was involved in a murder plot. In many ways, he was a completely despicable human being but it was important to make people kind of like him too. I think you always have to do that and you can’t do it unless you sort of like them yourself. You have to love them like you might love a member of your family, even though you can see they have terrible faults.
How did you find the experience of getting to really dig into this marriage?
GRANT: Well I thought all of that was very well written. One of the premises of the novel was that we sometimes pick, as our mate and our partner, someone who we know is not who we want them to be but we fill in the gaps because we want them anyway, and I think that’s very interesting.
Was it fun to get to do this with Nicole Kidman?
GRANT: Obviously, it was a huge attraction, as well as a source of some trepidation, to go do heavy dramatic scenes with Nicole because she’s a genius at that stuff. It’s easier when they’re brilliant. It’s like playing tennis with a pro rather than with a fellow 60-year-old.
With all of the romantic comedies that you’ve done over the years and with as much as everyone has loved them, is there one of the characters that you’ve played that you would be curious to check back in with, years later, to see how the relationship actually turned out?
GRANT: I’m sure they were all disasters. Those films were all lies. I’m sure that my character in Notting Hill and Julia Roberts’ character have been through the ugliest imaginable divorce with really expensive, nasty lawyers.
I feel like that would be a whole other genre and it could become a very dark story.
GRANT: That’s a brilliant idea. They’d be really traumatized children who were ripped apart.
One of my favorite projects that you’ve done is Cloud Atlas, which was such an unusual film. There aren’t many opportunities where you get to play so many different characters in one project. What are your fondest memories of making that and working with the Wachowskis?
GRANT: Well, it was harder than I thought, particularly being the cannibal. I assumed I could do that, and they were so clever with the hair and make-up that I thought, “I look amazing. That’s the character.” And then, I was put on this rock in Germany and told to watch Tom Hanks eating someone and to look really hungry and jealous of the human being he was eating. And I suddenly realized that I have absolutely no idea how to play that. One of the Wachowskis came up and said, “Come on, man, it’s like you’re just so hungry for the flesh.” I was like, “I can’t do that. Give me a witty line.” The cannibal had no witty lines.
The Undoing airs on Sunday nights on HBO at 9/8c. Episodes are available to stream on HBO Max after they air on HBO.
Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter of Film, TV, and Theme Parks for Collider. You can follow her on Twitter @ChristinaRadish.