It’s pretty much a guarantee that anything Nicole Kidman stars in will be a hit—and that Kidman herself will be phenomenal in it. Because she’s Nicole Kidman, after all. From playing Satine in Moulin Rouge! to taking on Virginia Woolf in The Hours, Kidman has become ubiquitous for inhabiting the roles of complex women, both real and fictional. Most recently, the Australian actor drew accolades for her portrayal of Celeste Wright on HBO’s Big Little Lies, playing a wealthy, privileged woman from Monterey, California who, despite having a seemingly perfect existence, is hiding a private life most people couldn’t imagine. It’s a reality that Celeste herself can’t even imagine, and struggles to grapple with, during the show’s two seasons. And in much the same way, Kidman’s latest character, Grace Fraser, finds herself struggling to cope with the reality of her own world falling apart.
In The Undoing, premiering on HBO Max and Crave on October 25, Kidman plays Grace, an affluent New York City therapist with a charismatic British husband who cures children’s cancer (played by the charming Hugh Grant) and a talented son who attends one of the city’s most prestigious schools. Her life is perfect; that is until the young mom of one of the kids at her son’s school turns up dead and Fraser’s husband simultaneously disappears without a trace. (Mystery and thrills ensue.) Kidman is also an executive producer on the series.
Ahead of the premier of her show, Kidman chatted with FLARE during a roundtable interview about the hardest part of getting into character, how (unsurprisingly) lovely Hugh Grant is, and just why—amidst calls for more diversity on television—people should watch a show about a rich white family in shambles.
Nicole Kidman is drawn to complex characters like the one she plays in The Undoing
If fans of BLL are wondering why Kidman would take on a character so seemingly similar to the one she played on her *other* hit HBO show—just swap Celeste’s law career for psychology, her neutral cashmere NoCal wardrobe for rich, jewel tones that stand out against the concrete of NYC, her sleek blowouts for wild curls, and her abusive husband for an adulterous one—there’s a reason: Kidman is drawn to complex characters who are, often, their own worst enemy. On top of being able to work with talented actors, “I was working with a great director and a fantastic writer, David E. Kelley, who had worked out this intricate psychological map for this woman, and to have the opportunity to put that on screen for six hours was really exciting to me,” Kidman says of her role in The Undoing. Throughout the six-episode series, Kidman’s character experiences visions; whether they’re flashbacks, premonitions or her own imagination is unclear to the audience, and perhaps to the character herself, making Grace an unreliable narrator in some ways as she flip flops between believing her husband is innocent and guilty. “I’m really interested in human nature and the way in which we kind of can force ourselves to believe things that are actually not there. That’s fascinating to me, the desire to see somebody a particular way and therefore not seeing the things that are right there in front of you. All of those things I think are really wonderful kernels of emotions to sort of explore and ripen on screen.”
But that doesn’t mean that it’s easy to take on a role like the one of Grace. “It was a really uncomfortable state to exist in because it wasn’t the place I wanted to be in,” Kidman says. “Obviously it’s much nicer to be doing something where it’s filled with joy and love. And this was not; this was far more of a roller coaster, the demise of a relationship and the pendulum swinging back and forth all the time.” Which is why Kidman says one of the most difficult aspects of the role was staying in the psychological state of her character as she “traverses the whole emotional gamut in relation to her relationship, her family, her life being taken and turned upside down.”
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In news surprising no one, working with Hugh Grant was a joy
Despite how emotionally taxing the role was for Kidman, there was at least one upside to taking it on: her c0-stars. Namely, her philandering and not-as-he-seems husband Jonathan Fraser, played by Hugh Grant. “He is so wonderful,” Kidman says of working with the British icon. “He’s so funny. He keeps me on my toes, but he also makes me laugh and he’s incredibly disarming and I would just love to work with him again.” Despite Grant’s character being a grade A jerk throughout the series (no seriously, potential murder aside, he’s still the worst), Kidman says she’s crazy about Grant. “He pretends like he’s just sort of winging it, but he’s so prepared and he’s just wonderful to work with,” she continues. “There’s a reason he’s such a big star.”
Kidman’s a bookworm and loves to bring stories to the big screen
Adapted from the 2014 novel You Should Have Known by Jean Hanff Korelitz, The Undoing is only the latest project of Kidman’s that has gone from paperback to the silver screen. And she clearly has a penchant for finding and financing shows and films based on books; through her production company Blossom Films, Kidman has helped develop Big Little Lies and Rabbit Hole from book to television and film, respectively. While Kidman acknowledges that she reads a lot, it’s truly a family effort when it comes to finding new inspiration and projects to adapt. “I’m lucky that I have a sister who reads a lot,” she says. “She can make a little money on the side when she sends me a book; she gets a finder’s fee if she finds something and it goes ahead and gets made.” (Kidman’s sister Antonia Kidman is the one who—while living in Singapore—read the book The Expatriates by Janice Y.K. Lee, leading to the upcoming Amazon Video adaptation by Kidman’s company and executive produced by Lulu Wang.)
As a fan of literature and theatre, Kidman says she’s always keeping her eyes open to find new, good material—something that isn’t *always* easy. “When you love storytelling, you tend to find the things—even if other people are not jumping on them or interested in them—you find the genesis or the seed that actually can be ignited into something bigger,” she says.
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Yes, it’s another show about wealthy white people—but there’s a lot to learn from the story
While we’re always here for a good book-to-screen adaptation, that doesn’t mean that everything with The Undoing is A+. During a time when there is an increased demand for greater diversity on screen, it can be difficult to see what exactly viewers can learn from yet another story about a rich family’s problems. The world Kidman’s Grace inhabits is one that’s extremely white and privileged—something that the series itself acknowledges via newscasters reporting on the murder of Elena Alves, a hispanic woman and fellow mother at Grace’s child’s school. So, why do we need it? In essence, we don’t. Because, Kidman says, the series isn’t necessarily intended to convey a deep political message. “The story was ultimately a thriller. It was against the landscape of a really strong, twisty-turn-y thriller,” she says. “It’s not meant to have some huge political message behind it.”
“But,” she continues, “as Hugh Grant always says, it’s fantastic seeing these rich, privileged people fall apart.” (Which is 100% true.) And just because The Undoing doesn’t necessarily have a political message, and focuses on a certain tier of society, doesn’t mean that Kidman can’t illuminate other diverse communities and stories through her other work, which is something she tries to do via the films her production company chooses to develop.
“My company has always been trying to tell stories that are on the forefront of championing women or female directors,” she says. “My opportunity to tell some of those stories is still, hopefully, on the horizon.” She points to her work on films like Boy Erased, about conversion therapy in the United States, as well as her upcoming film The Prom, which features a diverse cast directed by Ryan Murphy. “It’s sort of the landscape that you choose, but it’s also having this wide range of projects and trying to tell stories in all those different aspects and knowing which lane you’re in when you’re telling them,” she says. “Because I think what happens sometimes is people are trying to cover everything.” Instead, Kidman sees power in carving out roles and projects for people in different communities, focusing on them and creating compelling stories for them. “Trying to do it all in one is very, very difficult and almost impossible,” she says. “So it’s more about finding the different places in which you can tell the stories, and having the opportunities to do it and champion [that work]. And I’m still hopefully only just beginning or at least in the middle.
“That’s exciting, the prospect and having the power to be able to go and [say] ‘I’m gonna put my weight behind this now.'”
And the fashion is captivating, too
Like Kidman’s character Celeste in BLL, Grace instantly stands out on screen—and in her own life—due to her sense of style. She rocks supple silk skirts and chic knits (all with a tall boot, of course) from the first moment we see her on-screen. And this is all intentional, setting the character apart from those around her and acting as a shield of sorts against the events she’s faced with. “I enjoyed [the clothes] in the sense [that] they did feel like the character,” Kidman says. “They didn’t feel like anything I’ve ever worn on screen before.” Every visual cue was an intentional choice by director Susanna Bier, from Grace’s lion-esque hair (something Kidman says Bier never let her tie back), to the colour of Grace’s eyes under stress (red-rimmed, for the record, and meant to be a tell of where the character shows her stress), to the lush coats. Throughout the series, Grace repeatedly wears one green coat in particular, which looks almost more like a cape as she runs back and forth across the city, interrogated by the police and retracing her husband’s steps. “The coats are like a comfort,” Kidman says. “They’re like a protection and a shield; the green coat is a very particular choice by Susanna. She had the coat made and she wanted that almost fairytale quality to it. That then turns into a nightmare.”
And it’s this attention to visual detail—which Kidman says you don’t find in every director—that really made the role fun. “I love when you work with these directors that have such strong opinions and visions,” she continues. “What I don’t like is when someone’s directing you and they don’t have a clue what they’re doing. That’s terrifying.”
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Real talk: Kidman is scared about the future
While Kidman filmed The Undoing before the current COVID-19 pandemic, it’s difficult not to acknowledge the very different world that everyone, including those in the film and TV industry, face now that they’re heading back to work. Just a few weeks out from getting on a plane to film a movie with Robert Eggers and her former BLL costar Alexander Skarsgård in Belfast, Ireland, Kidman says she’s afraid—for the future of movies as well as just generally the current state of the world. “I’m going there and I’m a bit scared. But I have this strong calling, which is a commitment to cinema, to art, to storytelling,” she says. “I love auteurs, I love directors that are blazing trails, whether it’s through [being in] this time period and still determined to try and get their projects made so that art gets out in the world, so that those stories are told [and] so that people respond. I’m committed to helping those people tell those stories.
“If I can’t produce the show, then I will show up as an actor. I’ve devoted my life to it since I was 14 and I will continue to do so. And I’m still here now,” she says with a laugh. “So we’ll see; hopefully I’m talking to you [again] in December and it all was OK.”
The Undoing is available on HBO Max and Crave starting October 25