The Undoing star Hugh Grant on âlate fatherhoodâ: âIt made me a better actorâ
The Undoing star Hugh Grant on ‘late fatherhood’: ‘It made me a better actor’
Nathalie Tomada (The Philippine Star) - October 22, 2020 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — British star Hugh Grant became a first-time father at the age of 51. Nine years later, he’s a proud dad of five. Hugh, who just turned 60 last Sept. 9, swears by the good things this later-in-life fatherhood has done to him, including how it has made him a much better actor.

Fatherhood and family life were brought up by the actor himself during a recent virtual roundtable with select foreign press, The Philippine STAR included, to talk about his new television drama for HBO, The Undoing, where he stars opposite Oscar-winning Australian actress Nicole Kidman. It is his second foray into a series after top-billing the critically-acclaimed A Very English Scandal in 2018.

Based on Jean Hanff Korelitz’s novel You Should Have Known, the six-episode mystery-thriller-whodunit follows Grace and Jonathan Fraser (played by Nicole and Hugh) who are living the only lives they ever wanted for themselves — or so they thought. Overnight, their lives are turned upside-down after a violent death and a succession of shocking revelations. In the wake of a very public disaster, Grace is forced to create a new life for her child and her family. Directed by Oscar-winning Danish filmmaker Susanne Bier and written for television by David E. Kelley, The Undoing premieres this Monday, Oct. 26, 9 a.m. exclusively on HBO and HBO GO with a same day encore at 10 p.m. on HBO.

Whether by design or by default, his screen roles — as the press pointed out during the interview — were getting deeper, darker or just very different from what many movie fans remember him most — the “quintessential” leading man from our favorite romantic comedies Notting Hill, Four Weddings and A Funeral, Love Actually, About A Boy, Bridget Jones’s Diary, Two Weeks Notice, the list goes on.

‘I was not aware during my sort of 30s, 40s, that I was missing. You know, whole parts of my personality were involved with love, but I think I probably was. And now I have five children and a wife (Swedish film producer Anna Eberstein) that I really love. And that's incredibly helpful to acting. Suddenly, the emotions are accessible... to the point where actually I could cry on almost any scene in this mini-series.’

According to Hugh, it’s a blessing to have gotten out of the rom-com love interest mold. Interestingly though, in The Undoing, he gets to parlay his signature charm as a character who is not what he seems to be. He also turned on the charm and dry humor that had us smiling most of the time during the Zoom interview. Here are excerpts:

In an interview, Nicole Kidman revealed how difficult it was to convince you to join the series. Why the reluctance and what did Nicole say or do to ultimately convince you to star in The Undoing?

“I’ve heard this now but I don’t remember speaking to Nicole before I signed on to do the project. I think she may be referring to the fact that, despite the fact that this came to me with an incredible pedigree — it was her, it was Susanne Bier, it was David Kelly, it was HBO — and despite the fact that I loved the script, and I knew I would end up doing it, I did torture them for a bit, because that’s just what I do. I think it’s really me having stage fright and looking for a way out, because I’m so scared of acting and performing. So I did put them through the hoops for a few months. But I knew from the beginning I was going to do it.”

What was the most challenging part of playing this new character?

“The challenging bit was when there was loss, it’s a lot of emotion to perform. And one thing I learned from Meryl Streep when I did Florence Foster Jenkins, she always said that she prided herself that she never did an emotional scene without somehow creating that emotion in herself before she did the scene. So, you know, she disappeared, got into that emotion and so I’ve tried to copy her, but it’s really hard work and exhausting.

“And also the balance between your duties, your character which is always to be as true as you can to what you’re feeling and thinking in that particular moment. And your duty to the overall story, series in this case, and they might not be exactly the same. For instance, if you’re absolutely true to your character in one moment, you might give something away that this story doesn’t want to give away in this story of mystery and duplicity. So, that’s tricky.”

Can you talk about how television has changed you as an actor, in terms of the opportunity to play characters in much longer form narratives and explore darker and more ambiguous characters that are maybe not always readily available in mainstream films?

“Well, maybe you’re right. Maybe it has to do with television. But also, I’ve said many times, I think it’s just that I got old and ugly and I’m not appropriate for romantic comedy films anymore, which has been a great blessing.

“But yeah, it is a kind of an interesting script, writing, because you’ve got 700 streaming companies fighting each other like cats and paying writers to write interesting stuff and I think I do notice I don’t watch a lot of television largely because I can’t work with anything. But when I do watch it, someone else puts it on for me. I noticed that people are able to take much bigger risks now than they have been in cinema for the last 10 or 20 years. It’s almost like going back to those sort of the heady days of cinema in the ‘70s when risk-taking was still doable and people wanted freshness and twists and not just repetition of standard entertainment kind of formula.

“(But) I changed I think just because I got offered different things. You know, I’ve got out of the romantic comedy thing. And also think just having children made me a bit of a better actor. Actually, I got better at accessing emotions. I’m less squished and pressed.”

In the limited HBO original series The Undoing, Grace and Jonathan Fraser (played by Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, respectively) are living the only lives they ever wanted for them-selves until a tragic death and a chain of terrible revelations happen.

Can you talk more about how fatherhood has affected your acting?

“Well, I was not aware during my sort of 30s, 40s, that I was missing... Whole parts of my personality were involved with love, but I think I probably was. And now I have five children and a wife (Swedish film producer Anna Eberstein) that I really love. And that's incredibly helpful to acting.

“Suddenly, the emotions are accessible, you know, in this particular series. I accepted the job partly to get a little break from my children because they were driving me mad. You know, I’m quite old and they’re young and the noise is unbearable.

“Oh, great, great, so I go to New York with a bit of peace. But every time I landed literally in JFK from London, I felt intense sadness and I missed them really badly to the point where actually I could cry on almost any scene in this mini-series. I would ask for a cup of coffee and cry, and Susanne Bier would say, ‘Maybe that’s not appropriate in this particular scene.’ So, it’s just very helpful. It’s all very accessible.”

How do you manage your time as a father and actor?

“Well, it’s hard for everyone, isn’t it, but there’s always Facetime. And if you feel you’re not spending enough time with your children because of work, a good pandemic really helps. And you’re suddenly in their presence for months and months and months and months.”

You have your birthday coming up, how are you gonna celebrate your birthday? And how’s life during this season with all the masks and everything?

“I’ve had my birthday. Thank you very much. Last month. What did I do? Well, I went out for a strictly COVID legal dinner of less than six people. And we all mumbled at each other through masks. It was really fun.

“What I’ve learned is The Ellen DeGeneres answer to this (life during the pandemic question). I’ve been very, very lucky. I’ve had no problems whatsoever.”

HUGH GRANT
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