Television has always been about relationships — those depicted on screen and the ones between the series and the viewers. As characters debate whether to trust one another before venturing into whatever premise the plot sets forth, those watching at home have to decide if it’s worth their time (and, sometimes, money) to follow such journeys.
So, it’s fitting that several of this year’s Emmy-contending lead actors play characters who are either deciding if they can trust their spouses or are trying to convince their partners that they are good people.
Paul Bettany’s vibranium-made synthezoid from Disney Plus’ “WandaVision,” Regé-Jean Page’s Duke of Hastings on Netflix’s “Bridgerton,” Josh O’Connor’s depiction of Prince Charles from Netflix’s “The Crown” and Hugh Grant’s scheming Dr. Jonathan Fraser from HBO’s “The Undoing” all have crises of faith about whether they can either trust their wives or get those women to trust them.
In “WandaVision,” Bettany says his Marvel Cinematic Universe character is just as confused as to why he’s in a Nick at Nite-tinged alternate reality as the rest of us. This means he has to wonder if Wanda (lead actress nominee Elizabeth Olsen), the Sokovia-born witch he loves but has no memory of marrying, is capable of nefarious sorcery that could potentially hold captive innocent people.
Bettany considers Vision, who he says is “usually not behind the curve,” to be an everyman in this situation — a mash-up of Dick Van Dyke in his titular sitcom, Jimmy Stewart in the movie “Rear Window” and Tom Hanks in his general wholesome Hanks-ness.
“He exists for Wanda. He loves her,” Bettany says, even as he starts noticing so much weird stuff happening. And this becomes problematic, Bettany admits, because although Vision is “no angel,
this character at his core, is decent — and has a desire to transform into something better than he is right now.”
Telling this story as a limited series worked, Bettany says, because the audience probably knew the characters from the MCU movies already, “so you could really start somewhere weird. Like, for instance, a black-and-white, 1950s TV comedy” as a break between the loud, smash-’em-up movies.
On the flip side, there’s Grant’s pediatric oncologist from “The Undoing.” The majority of the six episodes, which focus on a murder investigation, tease out just how much of a narcissistic psychopath the character really is.
For Grant, that brought the challenges of keeping his wife (Nicole Kidman’s Grace) and son (Noah Jupe’s Henry) on Jonathan’s side, but also doing so with the audience.
Grant says the task, both through the script and the performance, was to slowly reveal his character’s true self. At the end, when he realizes his wife has turned on him, Grant says, “I allowed Jonathan’s real face to start coming through.”
Jonathan is the type of person who would believe his own lies, which, he says, “makes [it] much easier to be convincing” — and fool the audience with its preconceived notions about Grant himself. Upon the suggestion of executive producer and director Susanne Bier, Grant played into the lovable Brit stereotype audiences fell for in movies including “Notting Hill.”
“You’re brought up as an actor to be truthful,” Grant says. But “I couldn’t give a scintilla of that. It would have ruined the show.”