Don’t bother with your finale theories for The Undoing. The ending is almost “impossible” to guess, says Matilda De Angelis, who stars as Elena Alves in HBO’s thrilling new miniseries. Her character is violently killed in the first episode, but her demise is central to the show’s whole narrative. For the past five weeks, viewers have been obsessing, speculating, and downright spiraling over the core mystery—who killed Elena?—only to get thrown off by new bombshells and plot twists with each episode.
So far, Jonathan Fraser, played by Hugh Grant, is being tried for allegedly committing the crime. A married, wealthy child oncologist, he treated Elena’s son, and then also had an affair with her. Further complicating their connection, both their sons go to the same prestigious school. And while De Angelis can’t confirm or deny the identity of Elena’s killer (she already knows the answer from reading the script), she says that viewers are in for a shock no matter what.
“Try as much as you want, but believe me, it’s impossible,” she tells BAZAAR.com. “I think I’ve changed my mind about 100 times while reading the script. And I was sure like, ‘Yeah, it’s this, it’s this, it’s this!’ And then, no.” Showrunner and screenwriter David E. Kelley (Big Little Lies, Ally McBeal) is “a genius, a master,” De Angelis says.
This marks the first American role for the Italian actress, who is already an award-winning rising star in her home country. Her acting debut was for Matteo Rovere’s Veloce come il vento in 2016. She was nominated for two David di Donatello Awards, the Italian equivalent of the Oscars. And she appeared in a handful of festival-favorite projects in the following years.
Video-calling from Venice, De Angelis is already on the set of her next project: a film adaptation of Ernest Hemingway’s Across the River and into the Trees, which will star Liev Schreiber, Josh Hutcherson, and fellow Italian stars. Here, she talks to BAZAAR about The Undoing, embracing nudity, and when she knew she wanted to be an actress.
Your character is so alluring and very much a center of the whole story. What brought you to the role? What was the audition process like?
My audition process was actually very fast, because I did a self-tape from home. My brother helped me, so we did it in four or five hours, because I was really nervous to get it right. And basically, after four days, I was on a plane to New York. I got the part very, very quickly. Very, very, like this [snaps]. It's been weird for me. Because it was my first international project. And I honestly didn't think I could ever get the part.
What is it like transitioning to an international role?
It brings a lot of pressure, because it's very rare for an Italian actress to be a part of a project this big, this important, with such a huge production. I knew Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant were on the cast, so, for me … it's pretty unbelievable. It never happens. It's strange. It's really cool. I feel very lucky.
Since you mentioned Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, what was it like working with them? What were they like as scene partners?
Great. The best. I was intimidated by them. I think it's pretty healthy and normal. It would've been really strange the other way around.
When I met Nicole, I found this beautiful and nice and warm human, and she's been so nice to me. Very welcoming. She really made me feel at home. It's beautiful working with her, because she has this amazing energy, amazing instinct. Despite the many, many years of work, she's not a technical actress; she’s really wild and free, and I can say pretty much the same thing for Hugh Grant. We had so many difficult and very complicated scenes together, and he's been really supportive and really, really nice. He has this British humor that I love, and he made me laugh. It was a dream for me. Really unbelievable.
Tell me about Elena. What came to mind when you were reading the script and becoming this character?
I was really intrigued by Elena, because she is the mystery of the story. The thing that I loved the most and the thing that drew me to her, was that I couldn't completely get her. It's really difficult to understand her. Even while reading the script, I was like, "Why is she acting like this? Why is she doing that and that?" You can see her as a very, very sexual and sensual and provocative woman. And then, I realized that there was so much more beneath the surface, and under this femme fatale attitude and behavior. I think she's really fragile and really lonely and really desperate. And she has this melancholy all the time, and I'm really attracted to these kinds of characters. Elena is really confusing, even now.
There are scenes where she's nude and very exposed. How do you, as an actress, prepare for scenes where you're vulnerable like that?
It's not the first time that I found myself in these kinds of scenes and situations. Four years ago, I did hard work with a coach to overcome these boundaries that we have towards nudity sometimes, which is mainly the most natural thing in the world. But it's something that we learned to be ashamed of or [consider as] something really weird. But if you start thinking about nudity and about your body as a tool to express yourself and express emotions, suddenly nudity is not that big a deal anymore. And it's actually liberating. I've learned how to be even more proud and even more bold and even more confident while naked.
And sometimes, I think, emotional nudity is way more complicated, way more difficult. I find myself in difficult positions, in very normal scenes where I had to be really vulnerable and exposed in an emotional way, rather than physical.
Absolutely. There are also some gory and jarring flashbacks and crime scenes. What was it like filming those? Was it uncomfortable working with the prosthetics and the blood?
Fortunately, I had to suffer for just a day. It was cool for me, because it was the first time experiencing that kind of, you know, American great stuff that I heard about. Like, "Oh, my God, prosthetics and special effects. Oh, my God!" And I was really, really, really excited, really happy about it. It was a game for me that day.
I remember I was walking around with my face falling apart, and I was just having so much fun. But now, looking at these scenes, I think, "Whoa, it's gross." Really, it's hard to watch for me.
Do you think it's possible that the show could do another season? There's already so much hype around the series.
Well, I don't know. It would be great, I think. I'm dead anyway—
More flashbacks, maybe?
Or maybe flashbacks, yeah! Like Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks, or something like that. I could be … you know, my twin shows up or something like that. [Laughs.] Yeah, it would be great. I think it's a great show, so why not?
You've already worked with Nicole Kidman, Hugh Grant. You said you were working with Liev Schreiber. I'd love to know who else is on your dream collaborator list. Who would you love to work with?
Well, too many. But if I can choose, I would die to work with Cate Blanchett. Or, I don't know, Timothée Chalamet?
When did you know that you wanted to be an actor? Was there a moment for you when you realized?
There was a moment, because I didn't train to be an actress. I never went to a school of acting. I just started acting in a very strange and casual way. So I think I realized that I wanted to be an actress when I saw my first movie [Veloce come il vento in 2016] coming out, and I felt so happy and excited. And my first movie was in Italy, a huge breakout for me, and I wasn't completely aware of that. And then I realized, "Oh, my God, I'm so happy. And I want to do this job for the rest of my life, and I want to be better and better and better every day." So I think, yeah, like five years ago, six years ago, I realized that I wanted to be an actress for the rest of my life.
So when your first movie came out, you still weren't sure if this was what you wanted to do?
No, because I got the part because the director wanted, for the protagonist of the movie, a nonprofessional actress. He liked my rawness and my instinct and my attitude, and it was perfect for the role. But when I did the movie I had so much fun, but I really didn't know what I was doing at all. Like nothing. But I had so much fun. And then, when the movie came out, I realized that I was so proud of seeing myself in there, and I was really happy about it.
And I felt so sure, so confident about myself, which is something really rare for me in my life, you know? And I feel great only when I act, when I perform. These kinds of emotions made me realize that I wanted to be an actress. But before that, it was just a fun game that I had the chance to do, but nothing more. I mean, I was planning to go on studying, go to university, and do whatever I was planning to do before doing the movie.
What would you have studied, if you didn't act?
Languages, [to be] a translator.
What's the one movie you couldn't stop watching growing up?
Oh, my God, well, growing up, Léon by Luc Besson was one of my favorite movies, and I think I've watched it a hundred times.
And how will you know if you've "made it"? Is there an accomplishment for you that you look forward to?
Wow, that I've made it? I don't know if [those are] two words that I'll ever say in my life, so I never thought about that. That's a very hard question for me. I hope that I will never say I made it. I think there's always a possibility to be better and do better even when you're like Beyoncé.
If there's any tease or tidbit you can tell us about the finale, what would it be?
Well, it's going to be crazy. It's going to be … it will blow your mind absolutely, because as I told you, I think it's very hard to understand who did it, how, and when, and why. And I think it will really, really, really upset you. Really upset you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Photos courtesy of HBO, Francesco Ormando, and Matilda De Angelis. Design by Ingrid Frahm.
You Might Also Like