The Undoing Star Noma Dumezweni's Most Challenging Scene to Film Isn't What You Expect

Theater superstar Noma Dumezweni plays Hayley Fitzgerald, the Frasers’ high-powered lawyer, in HBO's The Undoing. Here, she opens up about the multi-layered role.

By Jonathan Borge Nov 30, 2020 4:10 PMTags
Watch: Necessary Realness: All Hail "The Crown"

Did Jonathan Fraser have a chance in court without the help of Hayley Fitzgerald? Probably not.

HBO's psychological thriller The Undoing finally came to a momentous close on Sunday, Nov. 29 after six episodes that legitimately left us reeling. The series, created by Big Little Lies writer David E. Kelley, follows Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman's Grace and Jonathan Fraser, two wealthy Manhattanites thrust into the middle of a murder mystery after a mother (Matilda De Angelis) at their son Henry's (Noah Jupe) high-profile prep school is bludgeoned to death. Up until the end, the show had fans throwing out guesses for all the potential suspects—including Grace herself.

And while we'll save you from spoilers (The Undoing is best enjoyed without your handy laptop or cell phone nearby), there's no doubt the story was made significantly better with Noma Dumezweni's performance as Hayley, the Frasers' high-powered and relentless lawyer. The British actress, who played Hermione Granger in the original West End and Broadway productions of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, gravitated toward the role because of how different Hayley is from everyone else in the Frasers' posh Upper East Side circle.

The Winners and Losers of Fall TV 2020

"I went, who's she? Because she's not of this world but she totally seems to know this world," Dumezweni recently told E! News. "One of the lovely things that [director Susanne Bier] made me learn about Hayley was Hayley's stillness—just kind of getting quieter, just looking and observing. When you know your job well, you can sit back in it. To a large extent, that's what Hayley does."

While Hayley doesn't arrive until episode three, her character is at the center of the series' most tense scenes. For Dumezweni, it wasn't that courtroom exchange in the finale that got her sweating. 

Niko Tavernise/HBO

"The most challenging scene to shoot was those first two scenes you see of Hayley, when she meets the family," she said, explaining they were filmed early on in production, before she found her footing. "I remember those three particular days were the ones where I was like, ‘I don't know if I've got this.' I'm an actor. I'm not a lawyer. I am not of this world. I am not wealthy by any means as Hayley is wealthy. And that's the joy about being an actor. You go and investigate these worlds and experience them and explore them and therefore get to be these different types of people."

Part of the privilege of playing Hayley was also getting to see a Black woman stand in her power and dominate at work. "Post George Floyd, we're seeing things in a very different way," she said. "How can you not see this Black woman arriving in a world of elite power and money? I'm fascinated by that. Our lenses all now look at things slightly differently." 

Dumezweni said that in addition to slowly finding her confidence as Hayley, she also found great pleasure in getting to know the cast—which also included acting legends like Donald Sutherland, plus Lily Rabe, Edgar Ramirez and Ismael Cruz Córdova. "These are people I've loved watching as actors," she said. "There's something really gorgeous about meeting your heroes and then finding out that they are good people."

But it was one actress that left her particularly mesmerized. "To watch Nicole Kidman up close, it is an extraordinary thing," she said. "She's magnificent."

Ultimately, Dumezweni just hopes she gave viewers a fun time at home. "I hope it's a story well told," she said. "However you see it, from sci-fi to melodrama to thriller to psychological escapism to surrealism, if you, the audience, at the end go, ‘Oh, that was great, I went on a roll.' I hope you're sated and satisfied at the end of it." Mission accomplished. 

Watch Daily Pop weekdays at 11 a.m., only on E!.