'The Undoing': Show profits from Jekyll-Hyde dissonance between Hugh Grant's romcom roles and real personality
It has been oh-so-long ago since he shook his tush at the camera in 'Love Actually'. And even though he pops up on our screens with alarming regularity during the holidays, he hasn't been "romcom Hugh Grant" for a while. In fact, he has played increasingly nasty characters from the rogue playboy in 'Bridget Jones' Diary', to a corrupt politician in 'A Very English Scandal', to a sleazy private investigator in 'The Gentlemen'. And yet, his filmography with titles like 'Four Weddings and a Funeral', 'Notting Hill' and the aforementioned holiday-favorite 'Love, Actually', means he will forever be embedded in public imagination as the awkward but affable Englishman who gets the girl.
Never has an actor hated roles that bagged him his fame more than Grant. He has told his adoring public repeatedly on talk shows and print interviews that he, in reality, is furthest from his on-screen persona. While he was everyone's celebrity boyfriend in the 90s and 00s, snippets from his private life included cheating on his then-wife Elizabeth Hurley with a sex worker to later becoming a father of three children from two different mothers (neither of whom he was married to).
In recent press outings, Grant has made it a point to reveal how it is a relief to finally be able to play the antagonist and shed his "celebrity boyfriend" image as he has grown "‘too old, ugly and fat" to be a leading man anymore. While publicising 'The Undoing', Grant said: "Christ, it's such a relief [to play bad guys]. I can't tell you. Richard Curtis, who wrote all of those romantic comedies did a lot of — it always used to make him laugh that people thought I was that nice...Englishman, because he knew that exactly the reverse was true." On his role in 'The Undoing', he said: "If you've seen two [episodes of the show], you know I'm not entirely as lovely a I seem in [Episode] 1."
Anyone who has read the book on which the show is based will know that Hugh Grant's character, Dr Jonathan Fraser, the saintly oncologist is not so saintly at all. In fact, Grace (Nicole Kidman) will discover in the episodes to come that she knows very little about the man who sleeps next to her every night and takes care of children sick with cancer every day. In Episode 1, Hugh Grant's romantic lead charm is on full display — he is the dream husband, kissing his wife on his way out and still very much in love with her. He even sneaks a quickie in the shower. He is a loving father to his son, taking the time to walk him to his violin lesson while he gives him some solid life advice. And later, at the hospital, he comforts a very sick child.
This is what we imagined Hugh Grant, the romcom boyfriend growing up to be — the romcom husband. Grant hits all the notes he is famous for — the trademark grin, the affable air, the loving asides. David E Kelly wants us to buy into his act just like Grace has and it is difficult not to. It is only when Grace fends off questions from the police, growing increasingly uncomfortable that we first realize something is wrong. Something in Grace's gut tells her that her husband is connected to Elena Alves' (Matilda De Angelis) murder. Her repeated phone calls to him go unanswered and when she finds his phone in the night stand drawer, the Hugh Grant romcom persona the episode has spent so much time to establish, starts crumbling.
He is supposedly at a out-of-town "convention" staying at a Hyatt. So Grace calls up every Hyatt but still doesn't find him. The perfect husband has disappeared and a sinister absence is all that is left. The show brilliantly uses Grant's fame and what we know of him to set up the character of Dr Jonathan Fraser. The character reflects the dissonance between his leading man persona and his real life messiness and acerbic personality. We know who the true Grant is but we want to hold of to the illusion of the on-screen romantic characters Hugh Grant plays.
This is precisely Grace's position. She "knows" in her gut something is off but she wants to keep believing in the myth of her perfect husband. This makes her as delusional as her patients and us, the audience, who still drool over the British prime minister in 'Love Actually'.
New episodes of 'The Undoing' airs every Sunday at 9 pm ET on HBO Max.