The Undoing Director Susanne Bier Scored HBO’s Biggest Series Numbers


The Danish director received an Oscar with the artwork movie “A Higher International.” Now, the Emmy winner for “The Evening Supervisor” enjoys attaining a much wider public.

[Editor’s Note: The following piece contains spoilers for “The Undoing,” including the ending.]

Susanne Bier is in call for. HBO reached out to “The Evening Supervisor” Emmy-winner to direct the restricted sequence “The Undoing”; she didn’t must pitch. That’s now not simply because she’s a sought-after filmmaker — and since skilled ladies administrators are a prize get at the moment — however the Danish Oscar-winning auteur (“A Higher International”) has an advanced ability set that comes with one thing onerous to seek out: she is aware of how to succeed in a large target audience.

Actually, showrunner David Kelley’s six-hour “The Undoing” now not most effective drew a large target audience when it performed on HBO and HBO Max final fall, however the numbers went up episode by way of episode till the climactic “whodunit” finale, which delivered three million audience throughout all platforms. It used to be the most-watched HBO night time for an unique sequence since Kelley’s “Large Little Lies” finale in 2019.

This time Kelley tailored Jean Hanff Korelitz’s 2014 novel “You Must Have Identified,” and with government manufacturer Nicole Kidman already on board, Bier knew the sequence could be a luxurious must-watch for HBO Max subscribers. Obviously, she knew what to do with the thriller drama set within the wealthiest enclaves of New york society.

For something, when she learn the primary model of the sequence pilot, she noticed that Kelley had left the script open to tug within the route of a drama or a mystery. She voted for the latter, she mentioned at the telephone from the Atlanta set of Showtime’s “The First Woman.” “It could include the mental tangles and the spider’s internet, however it will additionally toughen the viewer enjoy,” she mentioned. “David used to be prepared to do this for all of the consecutive episodes, and harnessed that method.”

And when Bier referred to as Kidman and Kelley to mention she used to be on board, she advised them she sought after Hugh Grant because the husband. “He’s were given one thing devoted and sort, and weirdly, charmingly, humble, about him,” she mentioned. “When you don’t in reality suppose he’s able to having a depressing facet, I all the time felt that Hugh Grant did have a depressing facet. I had definitely that it needed to be him.”

She used to be proper, as Grant delivers an alluring megastar flip. Simplest he may make you root for this reckless husband who’s fired from his absolute best process as a pediatric oncologist for shedding his head over Elena, the horny mother of considered one of his sufferers. Perhaps he didn’t dedicate this dastardly crime!  “He’s superb at improvising,” Bier mentioned. “Making a song within the automotive with the son, he’s so good, so insanely psychopathic and fascinating. Additionally, like maximum nice actors, he’s scared at the day, once they get to the set and feature the concern, the phobia, of now not doing the scene of their thoughts. It’s inspiring with him and Nicole; they have been extremely inventive.”

David E. Kelley, from left, Susanne Bier, Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Noma Dumezweni speak at the "The Undoing" panel during the HBO TCA 2020 Winter Press Tour at the Langham Huntington on Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020, in Pasadena, Calif. (Photo by Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP)

“The Undoing” panel right through the HBO TCA 2020 Iciness Press Excursion.

Willy Sanjuan/Invision/AP

As an intruder from Denmark, Bier has needed to do deep dives into American tradition, from presidents and their better halves to the upscale corridors of excessive society New York. “I in finding it interesting,” she mentioned. “It lets in me to delve into an international and be told a large number of issues. I’ve by no means studied such a lot American historical past!”

For “The Undoing,” the director used to be “meticulous,” she mentioned, “about getting to understand the entirety in that global, precisely what logo of shoes the mothers put on when selecting up the youngsters, all of that. I used to be obsessive about accuracy.” Govt manufacturer Kidman’s curly-tressed psychiatrist strode across the town in pricey clothes, however she stood out from the opposite personal faculty mothers. “She’s of the arena, however with the sensation that she doesn’t essentially need to be on the earth 100 p.c — her hair and garments are other from the opposite ladies. They’re similarly pricey, however somewhat extra Bohemian. She doesn’t have a area filled with stuff, her good looks is a part of her persona, and you wish to have her to have this supposedly satisfied marriage and the entirety, as those two stunning other folks have amusing in combination. There’s a large number of certain issues till their global falls aside.”

Bier took care to arrange a plausible absolute best couple. “It’s very unhealthy to suit,” she mentioned. “If it’s too absolute best, the target audience will probably be tremendous suspicious immediately. You’re hitting the precarious steadiness the place you construct accept as true with.  They argue a little bit within the morning, there’s a model of an implausible marriage the place they get alongside at all times, have intercourse at all times. That is slightly a special dance. We have been ensuring we didn’t pass overboard with the heaviness, so the target audience doesn’t say, ‘I’m going to move now.’ Audiences get it.”

“After the Wedding ceremony”

IFC Motion pictures

Whilst a few of us would possibly treasure Bier’s lauded artwork motion pictures — since her debut in 1991, Bier made her title with a sequence of well-reviewed and compelling dramas in Denmark together with her long-time writing spouse Anders Thomas Jensen, from Dogme movie “Open Hearts” to the Oscar-nominated “After the Wedding ceremony,” the Oscar-winning “In a Higher International,” and “Brothers” (which used to be remade by way of Hollywood) — Bier is obviously leaning into competing with the large boys by way of turning in industrial hits. She represents the director’s department at the Academy of Movement Photos Arts & Sciences Board of Governors, and this yr took at the position of co-chair for the World Movie Committee.

Whilst Bier directed the hit Danish comedy “The One and Simplest,” starring Pierce Brosnan, her English-language outings reminiscent of length drama “Serena” (Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper), and Dreamworks’ “Issues We Misplaced within the Fireplace” (Halle Berry and Benicio del Toro), didn’t yield a lot field place of business. Then again, her Netflix debut movie “Hen Field,” had greater than 80 million overall subscribers watch it, consistent with unverified numbers from the streamer.

"Bird Box"

“Hen Field”

Saeed Adyani / Netflix

It’s so much more straightforward to succeed in an enormous international target audience at the moment, obviously, by means of some of the large streaming platforms. And after her Emmy-winning route of the John le Carré sequence “The Evening Supervisor,” Bier can do no matter she needs.

The very first thing Bier shot in “The Undoing” used to be the grisly homicide of Elena Alves (Matilda Alves) which drives the marital court drama, and pops up in flashbacks all the way through. “Who killed Elena Alves?” is the query that lured audience each and every week, as suspicion is forged on a number of gamers, from Jonathan Fraser (Hugh Grant) and his psychotherapist spouse Grace (Nicole Kidman) to their son Henry (Noah Jupe), as main points are published.

“Elena getting murdered used to be a pleasing approach to get started capturing,” Bier mentioned. “I determined to shoot extra of that stuff than used to be within the script. I suspected it could be extremely helpful. There’s serendipity on this business. It’s bizarre, there may be a type of randomness that every now and then turns into defining. As a result of we had the homicide, I saved pondering all the way through that it generally is a pink line inside the storytelling.” Within the enhancing room, Bier intercut shiny visuals of the gory killing all the way through the sequence, development as much as the finale, after we see who in truth did the dismal deed.

And he or she leaned into the splendid way of life of her protagonists. “Portraying that lavish global of wealth,” she mentioned, “piques voyeur hobby. We’re all the time excited about enclosed worlds, now not solely the rich. However this actual global is inaccessible. There’s one thing in regards to the global of New York privilege and entitlement — I all the time questioned what it used to be like. We’re death to get within the mansion. It is a probability to explain it and benefit from the lavishness and spot the sub-layers, the horror, the boldness, the loss of accept as true with. Having the combo of darkness and the sweetness is an impossible to resist cocktail.”

The Undoing HBO Hugh Grant Nicole Kidman

Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman in “The Undoing”

HBO

Remember the fact that, Bier additionally did a refresher route on Alfred Hitchcock. “I had to be trained once more,” she mentioned, “to not imitate or reproduction from him however to get a way of what he did.” She made positive that whilst the highlight shifted from one MacGuffin to every other, she didn’t lie to the target audience. “It changed into a phenomenon, the place other folks have been enticing with it. My 90-year-old father used to be calling me each and every week, pronouncing ‘It’s important to inform me!’ We seduce and confuse other folks however we didn’t cheat with the rest that wasn’t in keeping with the characters and the reality. That makes me indignant; I don’t love it after I’m being lied to. I really like being seduced.”

Matilda de Angelis in "The Undoing"

Matilda de Angelis in “The Undoing”

Niko Tavernise / HBO

These kind of characters become now not really nice other folks. Bier went with the reasonably unknown Noma Dumezweni after casting director Ellen Chenoweth despatched her a casting tape. “We had a hobby from a few far more well-known actors. However there used to be one thing bold about her. She’s actual uncooked presence regardless of being so refined. For those who put someone in that triangle [with Kidman and Grant], it needs to be someone similarly enforcing, with other power.”

Within the enhancing room, Bier used to be prepared to stay a rhythm of longer scenes even with the chance of shedding ahead momentum. “You don’t need to lose a way of intensity,” she mentioned, “within the police station interrogations, scenes with Nicole and Donald [Sutherland, as her father], and Hugh, Nicole and the boy having lunch.”

Obviously, Bier believes that mainstream leisure generally is a automobile for taking political topics (say, prodigious wealth isn’t a recipe for happiness) to the loads. She sees a transparent ethical compass within the scrumptious wrapping of “The Undoing.” “The purpose is obvious,” she mentioned. “Within the justice gadget, privileged or white other folks have some of these benefits. [Fraser] would have got off, been a loose guy, had Nicole’s persona now not learned [what he did] and outsmarted him. I’m now not claiming that it’s a political piece, however you’ll be able to articulate a standpoint as a result of you could have one thing this is amusing and entertaining.”

At a time when such a lot of individuals are ignoring info, Bier figures that she’s sneaking tactics of taking a look on the global into their brains. “When one thing is tremendous entertaining, and now not essentially extremely difficult,” she mentioned, “there’s a possible replicate in it. The rejection of the uncomfortable reality is so prevalent presently. It’s now not a slender, difficult, and sophisticated Danish arthouse movie with a extra evident standpoint, however that may goal a smaller staff of other folks. I controlled to get substance to a helluva lot extra other folks than one thing extra really extensive. We wish to confront our unwillingness to stand truth. We wish to perceive there’s a transparent tendency in our minds to peer what we need to see. There’s one thing to be mentioned for popular culture with a center.”

Subsequent up: Aaron Cooley’s Showtime sequence “The First Woman,” that includes Viola Davis as Michelle Obama, Michelle Pfeiffer as Betty Ford, and Gillian Anderson as Eleanor Roosevelt, which Bier is in any case capturing in Atlanta after the sequence used to be halted because of the pandemic final Might. “We’ve completed Michelle Pfeiffer and Dakota Fanning [as Betty and Susan Ford] and Aaron Eckhardt [Reverend Jerry Falwell],” she mentioned, “and we’re beginning Viola Davis.”

Bier will thread the cradle-to-grave strands of 3 first women via 10 one-hour episodes. “It’s beautiful thrilling and somewhat daunting,” she mentioned. “It’s like doing 3 and a part high-level options in a row, without a breaks in between. Then we lower all of it in combination.” Thankfully when it’s in every single place, she’ll disregard all of the rigidity and tough paintings: “It’s like giving beginning.”

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