Directed and executive produced 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), a couple with a seemingly perfect life until revelation after revelation brings life-changing secrets out into the light, threatening to undo it all. When a violent death ignites this slow undoing of an idealized life and throws Grace into an emotional maelstrom, she must figure out what that means for her family and how to pick up the pieces.
During this 1-on-1 interview with Collider, Noma Dumezweni, who plays the Fraser’s powerhouse attorney Haley Fitzgerald, talked about what her audition process was like for The Undoing, her reaction to learning who was in the cast, finding this character on set, embracing her inner boss. She also talked about what it meant to her to play Hermione in the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage show, and her upcoming HBO Max series Made for Love.
COLLIDER: What was this audition process like and how did you ultimately find out that you’d gotten the role?
NOMA DUMEZWENI: It happened very quickly, which was about two or three weeks after the initial audition. A script came of the very first episode and I thought, “This is amazing, but where’s my character. She’s not there.” Then they send me two sides of paper where she comes in later on, so I didn’t know where it came in, in the story, but I was like, “Oh, I really like her.”
I liked the first episode because it made me want to find out what goes on. I love a script when it does that. I went to the audition with the lovely casting directors, and then I did the thing on camera. A few days later, I found out that I’d gotten it. In that time, I had found out that Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant, and Donald Sutherland were gonna be involved, which I didn’t know reading it and going into the audition, and that blew my head in a really lovely way. It was two or three weeks from the initial read to getting it.
Did you also have to figure out who this woman is pretty quickly, or did you have some time to get a sense of her?
DUMEZWENI: It was quick. I was finishing a job, and then I started filming a week later. My head was in a different place when I came to this job. What was great was Susanne’s vision for Haley. We were doing it on the job, as it were, between her and Jerome Butler, my brilliant dialect coach, which was great for building the story of who Haley was. The truth is, when you see the name Haley Fitzgerald, any demographic could be played into that space. I was able to go, “This is my version of Haley.”
What I love, that Susanne made me do and course-corrected me on, was to be still. I don’t do still very well, but that was my learning curve and it was a steep learning curve. It’s about trusting that your body can do other things. I got to bring her confidence, her stillness, and her brilliance, but I also got to bring her life. That’s what I love about this job.
She also is someone who speaks with conviction and is not afraid to use colorful language when necessary. What did you do to find your inner boss bitch?
DUMEZWENI: It was in the writing. It was literally there, in the writing. What was great was acknowledging that sense of, “I am good at this. I am good at being a lawyer. I deliver muck to people. That’s what I’m known for.”
By the time Grace meets Haley, Franklin has already told her, “She sorts this stuff out,” so there’s already a rock and roll element to it. And then, you meet this Black woman and you’re like, “What’s that story? How did she get to be there?” That’s what I love. I can only do so much, but the audience does some of the work, as well. All I can do is own her bad bitchness and enjoy it.
Was there a moment of nerves, when you were giving verbal lashings to Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman?
DUMEZWENI: Every second. What’s lovely and gorgeous about Hugh is that man is such an actor. He’s become this character actor. He’s such a pretty boy, as we’ve known him in films, but he’s also this wonderful, diligent actor, and he wants to do it right. It’s more about the story. It was a joy working next to him because I could be with him, in terms of story.
By the time that we get to the end of the series, how do you think audiences will feel about where things end up?
DUMEZWENI: I have no idea because I, too, have not seen the very last episode. But if the other five episodes are anything to go by, you should be satisfied, you should have gone on a ride, and you should have had great talking points with friends. That’s what I love about this story. In the best, old-fashioned way, it makes you want to tune in the next week.
Did you have a favorite scene to shoot?
DUMEZWENI: The first day in court. It was the first day and I was gonna have to say all of those words, in front of all those people. I was working the scene with two other people, but there was a whole courtroom of people. I got really into it. Haley was having to sell the story to the auditorium, or the courthouse, and that was joyous, to try to get that balance.
What was it like to get to be a part of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, to perform it in the West End and on Broadway, and to get to originate a stage version of an already beloved role?
DUMEZWENI: What was it like? It was an absolute fucking privilege. It truly and utterly was. That’s why I’m sitting here now, is the truth. If I hadn’t had that experience, I doubt I would be sitting here in front of you, answering that question. To do it in the West End was a joy. I had never done a show that long. We, as actors, were there to fulfill the vision of the director, the storyteller, the writer, and J.K. [Rowling]. For them to say, “Yes, we want you to play Hermione,” amongst all of the other people, it was great.
You’ve also got an upcoming HBO Max series, called Made for Love. What was it about that project that interested you and who are you playing in that?
DUMEZWENI: That’s a lovely one. That’s why I’m in L.A. We’re finishing that up from the pandemic. We’re catching up with it. For me, it’s always the people that are involved with. With The Undoing, the script was David E. Kelley with Susanne Bier directing it, and then I found out who the actors were. With Made for Love, S.J. Clarkson was the director who brought me on board, and then I found out that Cristin Milioti and Billy Magnussen. I’m always about who’s gonna be playing in the ring. I’m an actor. I read plays. A play is to be played with, a story is to be told. I’m a scientist in that. I can give you a lawyer and I can give you a scientist, thank you.
The Undoing finale airs on Sunday, November 29, at 9/8c on HBO.
“We all have our baggage, we all have our main triggers and our fight or flight responses.”
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