In one of the first scenes that we see Grace and Jonathan Fraser, played by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, respectively, in the upcoming drama The Undoing, they are at a party. Dressed to the nines and congregating in the kind of seductive New York City apartment many of us will only enter via our television screens, Grace and Jonathan are a tantalizing pair. Witticisms zip back and forth. Their chemistry is electric. Yet there's an ease and candor between their characters that only happily married people share. It's like they’re the only couple in the room. Now just imagine being on Zoom with them.
Prior to the October 25th premiere of the HBO limited series—directed by Susanne Bier, written by David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies), and co-executive produced by Kidman—we dropped in on a video call between the actress and Grant to discuss their new show and on-screen marriage. It was just like being one of those party guests in The Undoing: pleasantly unnerving and equally captivating to be in their presence, even if you haven’t the slightest understanding of all their inside jokes. Press play (or keep scrolling) to eavesdrop on two of Hollywood’s most capital-A A-listers reminiscing about their first meeting, Meryl Streep’s acting lessons, and, of course, Paddington.
Hugh Grant: Is that you, Nicole?
Nicole Kidman: It's me. How are you?
HG: We're interviewing each other? [Hugh fiddles with headphones] Is there a right and a left? Yes, there is. Okay. How’s that?
NK: Yeah, that's excellent. They look, very, very large in your ears.
HG: Yeah, I've got very small ears. Charming little shells.
NK: Did... I'm not asking... I feel like I'm interviewing you now.
HG: Well, I'll interview you.
NK: (laughs) No. Yikes.
HG: I'll ask some really intimate and personal things about your private life.
NK: (laughs) I knew you were gonna do that.
HG: How's your marriage?
NK: Just stop it. Very good actually. How's yours?
HG: Very good, yes. Magnificent. Thank you.
HG: I think that wraps it up.
NK: And how is our marriage?
HG: Yeah, how is our marriage?
NK: It's in trouble. (laughs)
HG: How many of these interviews have you done, because I've done a few now and I find there's nothing I can say that isn't a spoiler.
NK: I keep saying, ‘Well, you're not gonna put that in the, uh, article, are you?’ It's really hard to talk about it...But maybe we could throw some red herrings out there. You think? Take people on a wild goose chase.
HG: Yes, okay, let's do that. So this is the first role in which you've been married to me... it's your first gay role, you have this... this affair with this woman.
On their first, memorable, meeting...
NK: We met in our 20s, Hugh.
HG: Yes, we did. Was it that dinner at the Ivy in London? You, Tom Cruise—
NK: Yes. And you were with Liz—
HG: Yeah, Elizabeth Hurley, and... I don't know. John Duigan? Who knows who was there?
NK: My sister was there.
HG: Yes, your sister, with whom you spoke in a secret language.
NK: Yup. Which you were very intrigued by.
HG: I still am, to this day.
NK: We still have that secret language. I literally, just before this interview—this is how close I am to her—I just got off the phone with her.
HG: And would a human being have understood a word you said to each other?
NK: Someone that knows the Betterga language.
HG: The what?
NK: (laughs) The Betterga.
HG: How's it go? Do a bit for me.
NK: No. I'm not gonna do it.
HG: I just remember you two saying, ‘Iggy piggy wiggy.’
NK: Oh, we did that one, did we? We have a few.
HG: I see.
NK: Yeah, yeah, and you couldn't understand a thing. We spoke for a long time, right? And you couldn't understand anything.
HG: Not a word.
NK: And that was the first time we sort of crossed paths. And then I think there was something where I think I really wanted a role...maybe I was gonna do a small role in Love, Actually at one point.
HG: Were you?
NK: Yeah. Yes.
HG: Which part?
NK: I can't remember. It was not a big role. And I really wanted the role that Julia Roberts played in Notting Hill.
HG: Did you?
NK: Yeah, I did. But I wasn't well known enough, and I wasn't talented enough... So, finally our paths aligned—
HG: Yeah, at a lot of parties and, sort of awards things and things like that. I remember always seeing you—
NK: We have a photo! What about that weird photo that you showed me? Of us at some... I thought it was the Golden Globes or somewhere. I couldn't remember where it was taken. Don't you remember seeing that?
HG: Yeah, vaguely.
NK: I couldn't remember it. My memory's a bit shot.
HG: You smoke a lot of pot.
NK: (laughs) So rude. Yeah. Constantly stoned.
HG: It was an issue on our filming.
NK: (laughs) I don't... you're gonna... you cannot say anything in jest.
HG: No, no, that was a joke, it's not true. And then... we were in Paddington.
NK: We're gonna have our own film as the two villains. That would be kind of entertaining.
HG: I agree with you. I regret that we didn't put Paddington in The Undoing. Just in the background of one shot.
HG: Where you got the extras passing by [on] Fifth Avenue: Paddington just should've walked across the shot. (laughs) While you and me are having a big fight about something.
NK: In the paparazzi.
HG: Maybe he's a paparazzi.
NK: You never wanted to be in any of my films. Did you want to be in Moulin Rouge, or—?
HG: You didn't offer me anything.
NK: No. I wasn't in the position to offer you anything… We're very much at the beck and call of a director as actors, we have very little power, right?
HG: I had a flash of power in the late ‘90s, but I blew it. (laughs)
NK: It's come back, it's come back now, I'm telling you.
HG: Yeah, okay.
NK: You can wield the sword of power.
HG: I don't want to wield power anymore anyway. You know this as a producer, it's just more responsibility. I think it's really nice just being the actor who shows up, does your acting work.
NK: It is a lot of worry.
On getting Hugh to sign onto the highly-guarded project...
NK: Susanne Bier came and the minute she read the script, she said, ‘We have to get Hugh.’ And I said, ‘He'll never do it, he doesn't like working.’ Is that right, Hugh? Or do you like working now?
HG: No, I hate it. I fear it.
NK: I said, ‘He'll never do it.’ And she goes, ‘Hmm,’ in her Susanne way. ‘I feel like he will. He'll do it. I will talk to him. And I will make him do it.’ Is that what happened, Hugh?
HG: I was amazed that she wanted me, because I ruined her life, you know, about 10 years ago, when we were developing a film together. I kept saying, ‘This script doesn't work,’ and she kept saying, ‘I think it does.’ And in the end, I walked away, and by then she'd sort of turned down every other job in the world.
NK: When did you walk away, at the last minute?
HG: But I always said that I might. But no one believed me. Then I did. Anyway, it was very ugly. But I was amazed that she came to me. She's a brilliant director. Her Danish films, I've always loved. Then there's you, dripping with your Oscars. Then there's, you know, David Kelley; it was a very high pedigree thing.
NK: But you still danced around a bit.
HG: I did, I did. I did. I had issues—
NK: You're hard to get.
HG: Well, it's hard to get anyone if you only give them one script out of six. So you don't know what's gonna happen, and what's gonna happen to your character.
NK: You have to trust us… You weren't difficult, you were never difficult, you're just... extraordinarily talented and intelligent.
HG: Yeah, yeah, yeah. (laughs)
NK: Say, thank you.
HG: Thanks, Nicole. That's very nice.
NK: And fun. And really fun, may I add, which, when you're doing something like this, is really good.
HG: We almost had fun some days. I think we did. I almost miss it.
NK: And also now with everything that's happened, I really miss it.
HG: You had your family with you, which was, I think, very sensible. I thought, Oh, fantastic opportunity to get away from my screaming children. I left everyone in London. And then as soon as I got to New York each time I came out to film, I missed so much. It was, it was awful.
NK: You were miserable. (laughs)
HG: I remember almost every scene I acted in made me cry. I remember Susanne Bier having to say, ‘Hugh, you're only asking for a cup of coffee, so maybe tears are not appropriate.’ (laughs)
NK: I know. You would be flying back and forth: New York, London, New York, London.
HG: Yeah, crazy jet lag.
NK: And then it took five months to shoot this thing. And we shot the whole thing out of sequence. I mean, talk about having to be rigorous with the story and with the performances, right? I found that really hard.
HG: Yeah, that was tricky. And of course, Noah, who plays our son, in some scenes looks two years younger than in scenes that we shot at the end. He did an enormous growth spurt during those five months.
NK: You're not meant to point that stuff out.
HG: We're indoors one moment, looking like a child, and then he steps out of a door, and he's got a beard.
NK: Stop. (laughs) I love the way in which it twists and turns. I love the way in which you never know what's gonna happen next.
HG: [Some scenes] were heavy. They were very heavy.
NK: Yeah, you were gutted—
HG: I mean, you've done a lot of very serious acting in your life. I haven't. I was more worried about making silly little jokes work. And I don't know which is worse, more stressful: to try and keep something light when you're, you know, in the 14th hour of filming in some location where you're losing the light and everyone's in a panic, or whether it's trying to summon up emotions. It was watching Meryl Streep, when I did that Florence Foster Jenkins [film], and she said, ‘I made a promise to myself. I'll never do an emotional scene where I haven't actually gotten myself into the emotion first.’ I thought, Christ, that's a big ask. (laughs) But I did try. And you definitely do it.
NK: I do it. Yeah. I finished the thing shattered, actually. I did find it really long and taxing emotionally.
On the show's star-studded cast...
NK: But we were able to share the load. We had some fantastic actors.
HG: Lily Rabe.
NK: Edgar [Ramírez]. Matilda [De Angelis]. Matilda was brave. She showed up.
HG: Astonishing. Do you know what my wife said... what she noticed is, ‘Oh, they're all so hot.’ I think that's either a Susanne thing, or maybe it's you as a producer. She fancies every man and every woman in it.
NK: That's good.
HG: (laughs) I said, ‘What about me?’
NK: You've been moved out. (laughs) That's Susanne, isn't it? Except I really wanted Edgar. I begged Edgar; I begged Lily to do it.
HG: Oh, did you?
NK: I wanted those two. I just thought they would be great in there. And then when [Susanne] said, ‘Donald [Sutherland],’ I said, ‘Oh, Donald, could we get Donald?’ And so she sort of had a relationship with him. So it was the two of us, and then everyone sort of came in around that. I couldn't believe [it]. We just got lucky with our cast. But I'm glad that your wife thinks they're all hot, I'll pass that on.
HG: She loved the whole series. And she hates everything I've ever been in.
NK: And Keith [Urban, Kidman’s husband] loved the whole series, and he is brutally honest...He didn't fall asleep. He just kept saying, ‘When can I watch the next one?’ And I kept saying, ‘Well, not tonight, not tonight,’ and [he] kept begging for another one, which was kind of nice.
HG: It is, it's brilliant.
NK: I hope that happens with the audiences.
HG: I've spoken to a few journalists already, and they've all said the same: that they had to binge watch the thing with their whole family. And I say, ‘Okay, in your family, who's the perpetrator?’ And they say, ‘Oh, well, we all disagree.’ So that's a testament to David's writing.
NK: Totally. He's a master. He wrote all six hours. That's why this feels like a film. Because you don't have different directors coming and directing each episode. This is all one director, one editor, one writer. And that's rare.
HG: In fact, I call it a film, because I refuse to say the word ‘television.’ (laughs) I'm too snobby.
NK: But you've done television now.
HG: Oh, I'm sure I haven't.
On their instant on-screen rapport...
HG: You're very keen in scenes that we really talk to each other. And that's very good for me. Because sometimes I can disappear up my own ass. I think you're very, very good at making us connect.
NK: Yeah, well, I like you. So that was a really easy part. I remember lying around on that bed when we were shooting in the bedroom, and talking to Susanne and thinking, Huh, this is the good part. I'm gonna miss this. Because there was something very relaxed, obviously, because I'm Australian and you're British, we have that—
NK: —similar, I don't know, it's just a sense of humor. It's good chemistry.
HG: I think so. We did a very heavy scene down by the side of the Hudson, and...
NK: I pushed you. No, remember when I pushed you in the scene, and Susanne came running over and goes, ‘Don't push him,’ and you were like, ‘Oh, push me.’
HG: It was a good push, what's wrong with that?...No, but in between takes, I quizzed you on every detail of your private life, past and present. And you were amazingly forthcoming. I remember because I tweeted everything afterwards.
NK: (laughs) Great. It'll be going in your book, right?
HG: Yeah, it'll be going in my book.
NK: We talked...I trust you...But that's also part of working together, I think, when you really click, then you sort of sit and you do talk and you share things and you open up. You're incredibly honest. I'm always like, ‘Hugh, shush, you can't say that.’
HG: I really miss that... I remember on this film, for the first time in years, I had no phone. I left my phone in the hotel every day. And so it was like the old days. I actually chatted to people.
On each other...
HG: Nicole's definitely enigmatic. She's a sphinx.
NK: I'm not. (laughs) You just said that I sat on set and answered everything...and was very forthright. That is not the definition of enigmatic. So you've contradicted yourself.
HG: But at the same time, I couldn't tell you exactly who you are or what makes you tick. Not really. I think—
NK: But I couldn't tell you that. Can you say who you are and what makes you tick?
HG: No idea. I now have got to 60 and I have no idea who I am.
NK: [You are] just very, very lovable. Yeah. Deeply lovable. Susanne and I both say that. We have enormous affection for you, Hugh.
HG: That's so nice. And I have enormous affection for you.
NK: That's a good way to have started a show and ended a show.
HG: Yeah, I agree. Well done, us.
NK: (laughs) And I would love to go, um, on another adventure with you someday.
HG: Yeah, let's do it. Paddington 3.
NK: Here we come. Yes, actually. We'd get the bear. The bear wouldn't survive. That would not do well. The film would flop.
HG: It begins with the death of the bear. It's dismembered and devoured.
NK: Oh, god.