When HBO’s original series The Undoing aired last year, the Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant starrer quickly became the perfect antidote for captive audiences around the world to escape their pandemic frustrations. The whodunnit thriller, directed by Susanne Bier from a script written by David E. Kelley, emerged as one of the most addictive linear TV hits of 2020, and was HBO’s most watched original series of the year.
“I’ve always been a fan of psychological thrillers,” Kidman, who plays wealthy New York therapist Grace Fraser, told Deadline’s Virtual House. “I like the tension and the thrust of them.”
The six-part limited series, laden with cliffhangers at the end of each episode, kept luring in audiences each week in a noisy landscape of binge-watchable content. It’s these cliffhangers, said Kidman, that played an integral part to the show’s success.
“Even when we were doing them, I remember reading them [in the script] and going ‘wow,’” she said. “And that’s really hard. It looks easy because [Susanne] makes it look easy and [David] makes it look easy but it’s really hard.”
Grant, who plays Grace’s paediatric oncologist husband Jonathan, who is accused (and ultimately guilty) of the violent murder of the woman he has been having an affair with, said that being cast as a villain was a real draw to him joining the project.
“I very much wanted to know how it ended,” recalled Grant, after reading the first few scripts. “I’m not accustomed to television and not seeing the whole script from beginning to end. So, I cornered David [Kelley] in a hotel in Los Angeles and made him tell me I was the murderer and made him swear that he would stick to that.”
The series was shot entirely in and around Manhattan and Long Island across six months in 2019, making it one of the last major television shoots before the pandemic brought chaos to the world. Kidman reveals that Bier’s vision was to create a dark fairytale and the director purposefully weaved New York City to the forefront of the story.
“This why there are so many magical moments,” said Kidman. “New York was such a great location and I don’t think it’s been shot as a dark fairytale before. It’s never been used as a forest and it’s got a forest feel to it.”
Costume designer Signe Sejlund, production designer Lester Cohen and editor Ben Lester, were also on hand at the event to tell us how they carefully constructed a cinematic feel to the series.
Lester was keen to weave in shots of New York city to stop scenes just barreling into each other. “Sometimes you want a moment either for that mystery or emotion to linger for a bit and open up,” he said. “It was really rewarding because we had a couple of screenings and people from New York were telling us that they hadn’t really seen New York pictured like that.”
Sejlund, a longtime collaborator of Bier, who was responsible for those iconic coats of Grace’s, told Deadline how the goal was to create a “classic and timeless” wardrobe for Nicole’s character.
“The coats are fairytale-like and pretty bold,” she said. “But it’s the whole thing together – it’s Lester’s work, it’s my work, it’s the whole thing that comes together to create that world that is a visually modern fairytale.”
On Grace and Jonathan’s opulent home, Cohen said it was important that audience believed that Grace had a perfect existence. “Our goal was to create this sort of hearth for this perfect family to live in,” he said.
Check out the video above.