HBO's The Undoing was a taut psychological thriller and murder-mystery that gave audiences another winning TV performance from Nicole Kidman, and proved how valuable Hugh Grant can be within an episodic format. But despite only having the briefest amount of screen time thanks to her character's plot-activating death in the premiere, actress Matilda De Angelis was an instant, though often nude, stand-out. De Angelis quickly developed Elena's mysterious and provocative influence, and those elements were maintained throughout the six-episode season largely through callbacks and flashbacks honing in on Elena's beauty and sexuality. (In case anyone forgot this was HBO.)
As Elena, Matilda De Angelis was a prism of womanhood; as a wife, as a mother to both a school-aged boy and an infant, as a wife in an extramarital relationship, as one arc in a circle of mothers, and so on. That concept held true in some respects even when it came to scenes calling for De Angelis' nudity, which involved her breastfeeding, her to-be-unexplored attraction to Nicole Kidman's Grace, and her sexual relationship with Hugh Grant's Jonathan. Not everyone would be so comfortable putting their full body on display for a marquee TV series, but De Angelis told The Independent she agreed to the role's sporadic nude moments because the series' director, Susanne Bier, was a woman. In her words:
I felt really safe with Susanne. Really, really safe. I knew she could understand me completely and that she’d do what’s best for me and the project and the character – I never had to worry about that because she’s a woman.
By and large, Matilda De Angelis' comfort seemed to be present and accountable when she was on screen, too. As much as the premiere utilized Elena's body imagery to explore characters' emotions, social stigmas and more – and as much as that imagery was echoed throughout the rest of the season – De Angelis' nudity never came across as gratuitous or lurid as it might have with other directors running things. Her rampant sensuality, even in death, was clearly meant to reflect Grace and Jonathan's psychological states far more than it was meant to titillate viewers.
Matilda De Angelis also shared that Susanne Bier gave her a sense of power and control while filming such intimate scenes with and without co-star Hugh Grant, which went a long way in making her feel comfortable with everything she did for The Undoing. That feeling was bolstered by the show's use of an intimacy coordinator. In her words:
They would come and say, ‘You can take Hugh’s hand and put it wherever you want.’ When you feel empowered and in control of things, that’s easy. The problem is when you don’t have that control. That’s when it can be brutal.
Given its house-of-cards structuring that relied so heavily on viewers developing suspicions about nearly every character who appeared, The Undoing definitely needed all of its puzzle pieces to work together harmoniously. And had Matilda De Angelis not felt perfectly comfortable with everything the HBO drama asked her to do, that performance possibly wouldn't have been able to properly support the madness surround it, which would have weakened the season's impact right from the start. Here's hoping every future job the actress finds in Hollywood and beyond will be just as agreeable.
The Undoing has wrapped up its six-episode season on HBO, with no signs of a second season happening just yet. (Though the miniseries' ratings were probably solid enough to warrant a renewal if the creative team wanted to make it happen.) You can currently watch the entire thing on the HBO Max streaming service. And while waiting to hear if Season 2 happens, check out our Fall 2020 TV premiere schedule and our Winter and Spring 2021 TV rundown to see what new and returning shows are on the horizon.