MS. HORNADAY: Good afternoon. I’m Ann Hornaday, film critic for The Washington Post. Welcome to Washington Post Live.

I am thrilled to be joined by two iconic and award-winning actors, Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. They are the stars of the hit HBO miniseries, "The Undoing," and Nicole is also one of the executive producers on the show. Welcome to you both.

MS. KIDMAN: Thank you.

MR. GRANT: Thank you.

MS. KIDMAN: Glad we made it.

MS. HORNADAY: Indeed. It's always a plus when one makes it, isn't it?

MS. KIDMAN: Yeah, yeah.

MS. HORNADAY: It's really great to see you.

And, Nicole, I will start with you because "The Undoing" came right on the heels of "Big Little Lies," another binge hit in which you played Celeste, another well-to-do woman with a very complicated private life. So, tell us a little bit about how Grace, your character in "The Undoing" differed from Celeste and what they had in common.

MS. KIDMAN: I mean, for me, the interior part of Grace is what differentiated. I mean, obviously, they're both holding secrets. One is starting in a place--I mean, Celeste was starting in a place of true damage and trying to present affection, and Grace is starting in a place of thinking that she has a very, very good life and having it unravel. So, obviously, the place where they start is so different, and then the arc of the unraveling of both of them, actually, is very different.

For me, Grace was incredibly resilient, and her ability to watch, think, and process was probably the hardest part of the character because so much of the role is you're never sure what I'm thinking, and that was something that I was like, "Is this going to actually sustain six hours?" And I was very worried about it, and that's where I sort of joined hands with Susanne Bier, who is the most magnificent partner in terms of creating a character and understanding how to shape it and knowing what to do and what to give you and where to lead you and then having someone like Hugh and these brilliant actors to respond to, because so much of acting is responding, listening and responding.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, indeed, and as you say, it's all the more complicated when you're both playing these submerged layers that are not immediately clear.

Hugh, obviously, we know you and love you from your work in the romantic comedies that are now just classics of the--

MS. KIDMAN: Hi, Hugh.

MR. GRANT: Hi, Nicole. She gets needy if I don't--


MS. HORNADAY: We like to provide these forums for people to--you know, these little reunion forums. It's fun.

MR. GRANT: Yeah. Thank you.

MS. HORNADAY: But in recent years, Hugh, you've been playing--you know, you were the bad guy in "Paddington." You're the bad--you know, you have a complicated character in "A Very English Scandal" and now your character in "The Undoing." What's been attracting you to these--I don't know if we want to call them "villains" but darker roles.

MR. GRANT: They're pretty bad. I mean, one murderer and two attempted murderers in those three you've just mentioned. So, I think you can legitimately call them "baddies."

I don't know. This is the stuff I get offered now. I, perhaps thankfully, don't look or seem like a romantic comedy kind of guy anymore, or maybe people have rumbled the real me because I am quite complicated and I do love to kill. So, anyway, these are the parts I get offered.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, and thank goodness for that.

You know, Nicole, I'm fascinated by what--yes, go ahead.

MS. KIDMAN: Why do you have your beard? What are you doing now? You look particularly--

MR. GRANT: Yeah. Well, that's another complicated character in the movie version of Dungeons and Dragons. Did you play Dungeons and Dragons, Nicole? Anyone? No.


MR. GRANT: Well, anyway, it's an extremely popular game, and it's going to be an extremely popular film with me and my beard.

MS. HORNADAY: Stay tuned, America.

MS. KIDMAN: Did you play Dungeons and Dragons, Ann?

MS. HORNADAY: Never in my life. I don't think I've even--I don't know what I would--I don't think I'd recognize it if I saw it.

MS. KIDMAN: I'm with you.

MS. HORNADAY: Where were we? Where--

MR. GRANT: You're just being a bit snobby because it's a slightly geeky game, isn't it?

MS. KIDMAN: No, I'm not being snobby. I would play it if I knew about it, maybe. I'm just absolutely dreadful at any sort of game because I'm not a gamer. I put no timing on it.

MS. HORNADAY: I think, demographically, we just missed the game in generation.

MR. GRANT: Let's go back to "The Undoing" or something else.

MS. HORNADAY: Oh, all right. Okay. Well, let's do. I was interested, Nicole, in what you said about Susanne Bier because I know that it was important for you to have a female director for this. You have said that, and I wanted to ask you why that was important for this story. But then also getting back to just sort of having to kind of keep so many things hidden, how does a director direct that kind of a performance? I mean, what goes into your communication with her?

And I guess I would probably put the same question to Hugh because you had a very complicated job to do as well.

MS. KIDMAN: The first question with Susanne, it was important to have a woman hold me up because it's six hours, and I just felt entering into her psyche and the way in which Susanne viewed it and her compassion towards Grace and her understanding of Grace, actually, because she has--you know, she enters it through her own personality in a way, was really, really helpful.

On top of that, I had made a pledge. I think it was about two to three years prior at the Cannes Film Festival where I stood up and said, listen, I'm going to pledge because this is the only way to actually get things to change is that when you have some sort of position of being able to make choices for who's going to direct something or at least offer them to people, to try and have women directing--work with a female director every 18 months, and so that was part of my pledge and honoring that. And it was fantastic because it sort of--yeah. It was true to my promise but also completely necessary for the project, so--and I've wanted to work with her for years. As Hugh said, she's done some extraordinary films, and he had had a previous relationship with her. And I think we both just--you know, we're really fortunate to be in her hands. She's an incredible leader, and she has such weight and fortitude and strength and vision, which is a terrific thing as a director.

MS. HORNADAY: And taste as well too, I think, comes into it.


MS. HORNADAY: Hugh, do you want to add anything?


MS. KIDMAN: What I would call "European taste" because she really does allow things to breathe, and she has a particular way of looking at the world. And I thought that with such a commercial piece and with David's writing was such a wonderful combination because so much of it is the combination. I always say we're collaborators. That's what we do if we do it well. We all come in, and we bring things, and we collaborate.


MS. HORNADAY: Hugh, what was your relationship with Susanne like on set in terms of just, again, directing this incredibly nuanced and tricky performance?

MR. GRANT: Well, there's many things I like about Susanne, a lot of which Nicole has just said. You know, I loved her Danish films, and I do think it's a very happy and unusual marriage, this very European sensibility with very American script. You can see that. I mean, you know that. You're a film critic. It goes back to "Rosemary's Baby" and before.

But the other thing that would surprise me about Susanne, because I had almost made a romantic comedy with her about 10 years ago, was--and I didn't know this side of her--was that she's very--she's quite twisted and dark. She loved--the darker Jonathan was, the more fascinated she was, which suited me down to the ground.

For instance, in the murder scene, I was actually quite shocked by how far she wanted to go and how gruesome she wanted to make it. She's Scandi noir.

MS. HORNADAY: Which we love. Which we love.

MR. GRANT: Yeah.

MS. HORNADAY: Scandi noir is where it's at.

MR. GRANT: I married one.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, nothing wrong with that.

I think this is a really good time to play a clip, and this shows your relationship in just such a terrific way. This is Jonathan pleading for Grace's support when he's in jail. Let's take a look and then talk about it.

[Video plays]

MS. HORNADAY: Hugh, in an interview with the Post, Matt Hurwitz, you said you developed a whole backstory for Jonathan. Can you tell us a little bit about that?

MR. GRANT: Well, I had two backstories, one which I ended up using and one which was sort of thrown out just before we started shooting--or at least some parts of it were thrown out. Because I found in recent years that I act better if I'm less like myself if I'm playing a character, so I created a backstory that involved some--he had had a whole medical education in Paris. He had become very interested in French philosophy. He's quite pretentious. He was interested in that whole left-wing Parian 1968 thing. He dressed a bit like that. He had much longer hair, I imagined. He wore sort of more Bohemian clothes, and he read much more kind of esoteric, pretentious books.

Anyway, Susanne Bier probably quite rightly, just before we started shooting, said, "Let's get rid of all that because I think it might make him look too fishy," and the whole thing does fall apart if you can't at least make some of the audience think this guy could be innocent, so that happened.

But a lot of the backstory could still remain. It was, you know, all the stuff of him being a sort of star pupil at school, at medical school, and very kind of too good to be true, in love with his own mythology but very good at covering it up, like a lot of those narcissists. He could appear quite plausibly humble and charming but really very, very profound. An orgy of self-love was going on inside him throughout his life.

MS. HORNADAY: Right. And so, you're playing a person playing a person, essentially.

MR. GRANT: That also is going on. This was a complex matter because he has to keep the whodunit credible. Although all arrows point at me, circumstantial evidence, et cetera, I have to appear innocent, and the only way to do that believably or to bring that off, I thought, was for Jonathan to believe his innocence, and of course, that's something that a lot of sociopathic narcissists do when they lie, that they're not really lying. They believe their lies, and I think Jonathan certainly believed his lies.

So, in that scene that you've just shown, he really believes he couldn't take a human life. He believes that he's a healer and all those things.

MS. HORNADAY: Right. And it was--

MS. KIDMAN: What you also see in that scene is that you also feel it vibrate, you know, because there isn't that--and I've said this before. There isn't that thing where you go in and you--what I thought it was going to be, with the glass, where you're talking through the glass in the jail, and you're on the phone, you know, the scenes that you see regularly in films. This was sitting there with nothing between us. So, therefore, to feel the pull of that, of the humanness of him, that was fantastic as an actor to have that, and therefore, as a woman whose husband is really speaking like this in true--what she wants to believe and feel, to have those sensations moving and not locked was what was wonderful. And sitting there and watching Hugh do it, it was completely convincing, and I find that really interesting as a person where you go, "I want to believe this. I want to believe it. As much as there's so many things pointing towards it, I want what I had. So, I'm going to choose, even if it's 5 percent, so that I can believe it and run with that," which we see frequently occur, right?

MS. HORNADAY: Oh, absolutely.

MR. GRANT: Which was like the original novel, wasn't it? What was the title of the original novel?

MS. KIDMAN: "She knew"--what is it? "She know"--I don't know off--

MR. GRANT: I can't believe we're doing--

MS. KIDMAN: No, with a novel, you have to create the sense of something completely new because otherwise you're--and we did it with "Big Little Lies." We're re-creating. She already knew, yeah.

MR. GRANT: Isn't it "She Should Have Known"?

MS. KIDMAN: "She Should Have Known." But we don't want that title because it gives the whole thing away, but at the same time, it's really--I find it--and I'm so--I can do it, where I will choose to hold onto that one skerrick of what I think is true, because I so want that to be true. And I love that a whole series is based on that because it's a metaphor for so many things. You know, it's actually not just a show about a marriage, and for me, it feels like a much bigger landscape that you're playing with.

And the idea of--the other thing that I loved, Susanne was so committed to Hugh. You know, there was a point where it was like, "Oh, well, maybe somebody else could have done it." We actually threw that around for a moment, and Susanne was adamant that absolutely not. It has to be him always. You would never change that ending, because if you do, you take away the teeth of the whole piece.

MS. HORNADAY: Right. And I think--I know we've been batting different, alternative titles around. I think the novel was "You Should Have Known," not "She Should Have Known."


MS. HORNADAY: This is what I'm told by my crack team.

MS. KIDMAN: With the title, you wouldn't be how to do it, you know? I mean, you can do it as a book because you're going to get into it, and you're going to read it, but to tune in for six hours with a title like that, you'd be like, "Hmm. Hold on. We already know the ending." It doesn't work.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, and to your point, Nicole, you know, you're so right that this self-belief is obviously a theme in American politics right now, and I would dare say English politics too, that we have this sort of cultural thing going on with lies and mistruths and the extent to which people want to believe. But then this is also, as you said, not just about a marriage, but this is about Grace's relationship with her father, with her son. I mean, gender dynamics are running all the way through in such different fascinating ways.

MS. KIDMAN: Mm-hmm. Yeah. And as a woman playing with those--with your father, your husband, and your son and what that means, each of those relationships--I mean, the relationship with Donald is so interesting, with my father, because, you know, he really disliked the man that I've married. We had a childhood where he adores me and wants me--and the scene around the piano represents--or even playing chess and all the things that we used to do when I was a child, he's now got back. It very much suits him to have me living in the apartment with my son, and suddenly, he's not lonely. He's got me back, so it suits him. And all of that is fantastic to play with because I know that as the character. I mean, I know that, and I'm battling that, going, "I'm not your daughter, and stop trying to lead me towards leaving him," because he's been doing that the whole relationship anyway. He's never liked him. He never wanted me to marry him.

Those things are--and then the decision with your son to go, I want to get back. I'm actually--and this is a similar thing to be realizing. I will sacrifice certain things in my life to give you the life that I want you to have, which is a very, you know, deep complicated thing as well.

MS. HORNADAY: Right. It's a mystic thing, really.

MS. KIDMAN: Right.

MS. HORNADAY: A primal thing, I think, the mother and for any parent.

And, Hugh, you know, those early scenes of you with your son played so beautifully by Noah Jupe, I mean, he's just an extraordinary young actor. I think it's--the word "seductive" might be wrong, but it's just so disarming because your relationship is so good, you know? When you're walking him to school and joking around about the music teacher and it's just--like Nicole said, we want to believe that that's the real--that's the real Jonathan, but tell us. Can you just tell us about how you navigated that relationship with your fictional son?

MR. GRANT: Well, this is--it comes back to what I said earlier where I think Susanne wanted a bit of kind of what one might call a "vintage Hugh Grant" or, you know, the stuff I had done before. If I could wheel on some of that, you know, sort of charming character, then people might think he can't possibly have done it, and a good way to do that and a good vehicle for that, apart from scenes with Nicole, in fact, an easier, easier way to do it than the scenes with Nicole were with the boy. And yeah, so he was great to work with.

You know, he's--well, the weird thing about Noah, he plays an American, but he's actually from Manchester in England. We got on very well, I would say, and, you know, I've just gone through nine years of bringing up five children, so talking to children now comes extremely naturally to me. It's all I bloody do.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, you do it quite well.

You know, Nicole, I'm sure you don't remember this, but you and I were on "The Diane Rehm Show" here in Washington in 2015 talking about women in Hollywood.

MS. KIDMAN: Right.

MS. HORNADAY: It was you, Bruna was on, Melissa Silverstein, and we were sort of talking all about what needed to change.


MS. HORNADAY: You had formed Blossom Films, but you were sort of gearing that up. Bruna, of course, who is your co-producer here on "The Undoing" and was on "Big Little Lies," was getting her company started with Reese Witherspoon, and lord, how five years have changed things.

MS. KIDMAN: Yeah, I know, and it's fantastic, right? I mean--but it's--yeah. But it's because of, I think, so many people going, "Come on. It has to change," right? There's no more discussion about it or "Oh, wouldn't it be nice?" But, I mean, constantly going, "Yeah, we can talk about it, but let's actually do it. Let's actually do it," and that is the sort of, I suppose, what I've been committed to, what Bruna has been committed to. Bruna and I have just subsequently worked together again, and we continue to work together. We're also just starting--I'm about to go to Australia and start a group of--an anthology, you know. It's a big thing to still keep getting it made and making it diverse and being able to see all sorts of cultures and people and ideas.

But, you know, part of it is also just these streamers, these huge places going, "Yeah, we will give you the money to go do it." I'm about to do a thing with Lula Wang where Amazon is giving us the money to go make a film where I'm--she's helming all of it, and it is a very, very bold move. And they've gone, "Yeah. We'll let you do that." That would not have happened five years ago. It just wouldn't. So, it's really--huh? Sorry to cut you off.

MS. HORNADAY: Even in 2015--I'm sorry too. We have a tiny time lag, and I apologize if I'm interrupting. I'm very sorry about that.

But as welcome as those resources are and that platform is for this kind of very storytelling that we're talking about, I think those--you know, Nicole, you arrived on the scene with "Dead Calm," Hugh, "Four Weddings and a Funeral," you know those wonderful kind of one-off movies that people would go see in a theater. Is there a space for that kind of movie-movie in this ecosystem now, do you feel? I'd like to hear from both of you quickly on that.

MR. GRANT: Well, I think that's where it's really at. I miss celluloid too. I don't really approve of digital. There's something antiseptic about it, and, you know, when you watch a film with an audience, there's something going on. There's a special feeling in the room, and I think we all spend too much time watching screens by ourselves or with our little closed bubbles. Enough.

MS. KIDMAN: Yeah. And, I mean, just the idea of there is certain films that need to be seen on a big screen with a huge group, there's stories that you can sit and snuggle in your bed and watch on your computer or on TV and just sort of--and they work that way.

I mean, just recently, I went over to--and that was as part of supporting women but also supporting auteurs and being able to say there is still going to be those directors that are going to want to work on those big, big landscapes and tell these stories that warrant being seen on a big screen. And so, I went to Belfast, which I think is where you are now, right, Hugh?

MR. GRANT: Yeah.

MS. KIDMAN: Are you in Belfast? Yeah. And I'm on this film called "The Northman," which is--you know, it's a huge film, but it has to be seen on the big screen. And he shoots. Everything is in one shot. I mean, he is cinema, and I was really frightened to do it. It was during the pandemic. I was like--I remember asking you, Hugh, "What's the numbers like over there? Is it"--and I was deeply frightened, and I went, "God, but I'm still going." I'm insane, but I'm also committed, and I hated the idea of letting them down.

And so just that thing of, I think, now as much as we're also saying get behind changing, you know, in terms of women and the parity there, it's also get behind the auteurs now and go, "Yeah, I'll go. I'll go over to who knows where for some amount of time because I want you to get your movie made." And that's a big thing that we can do as actors.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, and may I just say, Nicole, you have made that your working principle for years now, and for that, the cineastes of America and the world are grateful. You've really been fascinating in terms of your choices of material and with whom to work.

But with that, I have to say we're out of time.

MS. KIDMAN: Oh. Well, yeah, I mean, onward, right? We all--we've got so much ahead of us that it's great to get this opportunity to go back, and I think also just I'm so excited to see what people are going to do in the future, particularly, yeah, the stories that the auteurs that they're choosing to tell now, because it is the--it is philosophy as much as there's the big entertainment. We need that. We need the art.

And just to do a call-out on a series that I'm watching now that's not big screen, but it's definitely an auteur is Barry Jenkins' "Underground Railroad." I've just been watching that and just sort of shattered, shattered, so yeah.

MS. HORNADAY: Well, I wish we had more time. Nicole and Hugh, thank you both so very much for joining us today.

MS. KIDMAN: Thank you.

MR. GRANT: I loved it.

MS. KIDMAN: Hugh, love you.

MR. GRANT: Yes. Love The Washington Post.

MS. KIDMAN: Bye, Ann.

MS. HORNADAY: The Post loves you both back, and we love our audience, and thank you for joining us.

Thank you. Thank you all. Thank you, guests. Thank you, audience. Please come back to Washington Post Live today at 2:30 p.m. Eastern Standard Time when my colleague, Michelle Ye Hee Lee talks with the star of the animated film, "Raya and the Last Dragon," Kelly Marie Tran.

I am Ann Hornaday. As always, thank you for watching.

[End recorded session]