With a cast like Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant and Donald Sutherland, it takes a special sort of someone to stand out in the crowd. But that’s exactly what Noma Dumezweni has done in “The Undoing,” David E. Kelly’s adaptation of the Jean Hanff Korelitz novel “You Should Have Known.”
Known mostly for work in the U.K. (she arrived in England when she was 7 as a refugee from Africa with her mother and sister) and as a Tony nominee for “Harry Potter and the Cursed Child,” Dumezweni co-stars in the HBO limited series as Haley Fitzgerald, a powerhouse attorney hired by a wealthy New York psychotherapist (Kidman) to represent her husband (Grant), a pediatric cancer doctor who has been charged with the brutal killing of his mistress.
“The script came through and my manager, Larry Taube, said, ‘You’ve got to read this,’” Dumezweni tells Variety during a phone interview from Los Angeles, where she’s shooting HBO Max’s upcoming dark comedy “Made for Love” with Ray Romano, Cristin Milioti, Billy Magnussen and Dan Bakkedahl. “And I read the first episode and the Haley character wasn’t in there. But what David E. Kelly was saying in that first episode, I needed to find out what else happens. What is this? What is this world? I was really curious. And I didn’t even know at that point that Hugh and Nicole were attached to it. I just knew it was a David E. Kelly project. And then I got the sides to read for Haley. I just loved her energy. Then I get the part and then I see that Hugh and Nicole are attached and I’m like, ‘Oh my fucking God.’”
Tell me about getting into character. Haley is obviously a force.
First and foremost, the script. And then the next most important thing is the director. I had a lot of fear when I was doing the job because coming from three years of theater and going into TV, it is a different way of working. It’s a different way of telling stories. I remember [director Susanne Bier] saying, “No, we’ve got to get three years of theater out of you.” And in my head I was like, “Well, you saw my audition. You must’ve liked something from it.” I realized that seeing an audition on tape gives you only an inkling of what a person can do. So I came in very big, and I now understand that I needed to be smaller. Haley’s power is quiet and that law firm is a quiet firm. What Susanna taught me is the power of stillness, the power of quietness, the power of directness. I have to admit though, I was watching it with my daughter, who’s 13, and I was like, “Fuck, I look really good. No, not me. Haley looked really, really good.” But my daughter said, “Ah mom, you look great.”
When Haley goes home at night, what do you think she does?
She takes off those shoes and goes straight to her wine closet. Haley has got to have a great wine closet. And I think it’s a red in a beautiful glass. Everything’s going to be on point with Haley.
What was your first scene like with Nicole Kidman?
There’s a part of me going, “Well, just do your job.” I don’t need to be in their face. I will just be there because there have been times some people have not lived up to one’s hopes of who they are. But, oh my fucking God. Gorgeous, sweetheart, work fucking ethic. Hugh and Nicole taught me — and they do it in different ways — that it’s the preparation. And that’s what Susanne told me. You’ve got to be prepared.
How has it been shooting “Made for Love” during COVID? Did you have to quarantine when you got to L.A.?
They gave it two weeks for people’s arrivals. They’ve done it really well, all these different zones for different actors and crew. It’s been hard. It’s been weird. It’s also so quiet in L.A. It’s sad. In New York, it’s quiet, but you know people’s living is going on because you can walk everywhere around New York. But when the [presidential election was called], I drove around L.A. because I needed to practice my driving. Someone told me about this lovely road up to the Hollywood sign, so I took my daughter and we drove up and up. And I have to say, it was lovely hearing the beep-beeps and the hoot-hoots of people walking by.
The sixth and final episode of “The Undoing” airs on HBO on Sunday, Nov. 29.