IImagine, if you will, a city of New York in which there are actually people.
They are everywhere. They swarm the streets on their way to work, bumping their shoulders as they pull up their jacket collars at a crosswalk on a chilly fall evening. (Remember bumping into people?) They’re on their way to crowded cocktails, ready for events, on their way to dates, or rushing to pick up their kids, ricocheting off their classmates like carefree pinball machines in the schoolyard while they wait.
New York City from HBO’s new thriller series Cancellation is an integral part of the show’s tapestry of intrigue as the psychological tango of stars Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant, or the symphony of gasps composed by its unfolding mystery. But the palpable claustrophobia of what once looked like the world’s largest small town is completely unrecognizable at the moment.
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Cancellation, which will be released on HBO on Sunday, is one of the latest TV productions to complete its entire filming in pre-COVID New York.
Oscar-winning and Emmy-winning director Susanne Bier (In a better world, The night manager), who directed all six episodes of the series, is known for taking her camera around the world and viscerally capturing the place, whether in an orphanage in India for the years 2006 After marriage or travel to Cairo and Mallorca for The night managerfilming on site. But she never imagined the New York City she captured Cancellation would be a nostalgic document for “before” New York.
“I think human beings are quite adaptable,” Bier, of Copenhagen, where the Danish director lives, told The Daily Beast. She explains that principal photography, which took place in the second half of 2019, was finished and photo editing was in full swing when Europe and the United States shut down. This meant completing the edits on the series via FaceTime and Zoom calls with crew members scattered across the globe.
Bier shot the series like a movie, using as many outdoor locations and practical settings as possible: real Tony Manhattan apartments, real walks in Central Park, real city sidewalks tangled in pedestrian traffic. To put things in perspective on the difference a year makes, producer Stephen Garrett said New York magazine, “There were, I think, 110 productions shot in New York at the time, and one of our big fights [was] to keep other people’s trucks out of the back of our shot.
The series features Kidman and writer-producer David E. Kelley, who previously worked together on Big little lies.
Kidman plays Grace, a relationship therapist working on a book about how people ignore warning signs when they see their partners. Read all the irony you want that her marriage to Jonathan de Grant, a pediatric oncologist, seems like an Upper East Side fairy tale. Their apartment could just as easily have been staged by Architectural summary. (Who knew wallpaper could be so classy?) Their son, played by Noah Jupe, is gifted and kind, and Grace is a valued volunteer at her private Ivy-pipeline school.
In fact, the most scuffed tension of his life stems from having to attend a sultry, black-tie auction for school in a luxurious penthouse, which Jonathan has to leave early with his horse to attend to. an emergency with one of his young patients. When he comes home late at night, bereaved by the patient’s plight, he and Grace make love.
It shouldn’t surprise you if you’ve seen marketing material, taken note of the Big little lies comparisons, or read one of the previous hints that this is a thriller that, quickly, the walls of that perfect life begin to crumble around the couple.
There are comments on wealth, 1% delusions and carnivorous tendencies from the media tabloids. This is the kind of series that Bier enthusiastically asks me over the phone for as our conversation ends, “Who do you think did it?” – but to say more about it, that would spoil the fun.
Pulling the curtains on this very specific New York City subset is one of the main reasons Bier, who was emerging from the massive success of directing Bird box for Netflix, wanted to do the project.
“Like a lot of other people, I was walking through Central Park, looking at these apartments and wondering what it was up there,” she says. “And what if anyone who belonged to this untouchable part of society was faced with a real tragedy or a real scandal.”
When she got Kelley’s first screenplay for Cancellation, “It blew me away that there was a story about that.”
Kelley first received the novel from Jean Hanff Korelitz in 2014 You should have known in the pasture-Big little lies years. He did two seasons of the Water Coolers series, which traded on similar themes of secrets and what volatile relationships can get a person to do, before returning to it and realizing how his psychological exposure and emotional could be accelerated into a thriller. .
That Kidman is playing Grace makes a lot of sense. There are few greater pleasures in today’s television and film landscape than watching Kidman play a steely, installed force whose facade cracks until the emotional levee breaks. When viewing in recent roles, including Big little lies, The goldfinch, erased boy, and Bomb, it’s not entirely accurate to call her a type, as that would suggest a lack of uniqueness that she ends up bringing to each character, well, undoing.
“She’s like a medium,” Bier says. “Like in the old days, when you have these spiritual sessions where mediums kind of became spirits, she’s like that. She just becomes someone else. And all she does is this other person. After saying cut, you almost expect her to wake up in some sort of trance state. “
Although she is celebrated for the way she has documented the third world and world class divisions in films like In a world and After marriage, Bier has also proven his ability to capitalize on the celebrity image of A-List performers – the perception that is so often beyond their control – to great effect.
Sandra Bullock was perfect for Bird box, a movie that required a star so convincing that audiences could believe she would lead them to safety even without one of her senses at her disposal. The night manager has proven the appeal of both leaning in and completely overturning audience expectations for an actor’s ‘type’, with Tom Hiddleston also close to playing James Bond, a role he has campaigned for often, without actually being 007, and his Hugh Laurie foil as someone almost unilaterally wrong, rather than relentless endearing.
There is a bit of that to Cancellation, in which Kidman plays this aforementioned type of Nicole Kidman. At the same time, here’s Grant trying again on the charming character who still fits like an old blazer and then setting the garment on fire.
“I always think of the audience,” says Bier. “Part of the fun of casting is accepting whatever expectations are, and then possibly changing them or turning them upside down.”
It was his idea to cast Grant as Jonathan. Despite his common status and that of Kidman as icons in the Paddington Cinematic Universe – they respectively played villains in the two beloved films, which they took great pleasure in joking about Loss press tour – the actors had never worked together before. Kidman loved the idea, but was sure Grant would never accept it, with the romantic comedy legend notoriously fierce about the roles he is accepting lately by his own admission.
Then there was the question of what happened the last time he and Bier were supposed to work together. As he told Kidman in an interview with Marie Claire“I was amazed that she wanted me, because I ruined her life, you know, about 10 years ago when we were developing a movie together. I kept saying, “This script doesn’t work”, and she kept saying, “I think it works”. And in the end, I left, and by that time she kind of turned down every other job in the world.
For Bier, however, it was water under the bridge. As she saw it, how could you not want Kidman and Grant to be reunited in these roles?
“It’s really obvious that they should be a couple!” she says. “They’re both really sexy and they’re both really lovely. And yet, Hugh Grant has a sadness, an obscurity to him that adds depth, but is also a little out of control. So I think there is this feeling of ease but also a potential danger.
The idea of lurking danger joins the list of means by which Cancellation could be seen as another attempt to replicate the Big little lies hits: Kidman and Kelley on HBO, Privileged School Politics, Violence and Sex Play, Betrayal and Secrets.
They talked about it all on set, sometimes at length and especially when Kidman was in a scene that looked too much like the previous ones in Monterey. “It was important that this show was his and not an extension of Big little lies», Says Bier. “So I really wanted it to be almost a straightforward thriller.
When we speak, Bier has just wrapped up his first project – a commercial shoot in London – since COVID restrictions were lifted and shooting around the world could take place safely again. She was worried about it, but also surprised at how quickly security protocols became second nature and, aside from the things that took longer to work, it started to feel normal.
It’s interesting to watch Cancellation, only his second series after his adaptation of John le Carré The night manager, and how different these two are. And in turn, how distinct they are in almost every way from the horror movie Bird box, which in turn was in a completely different genre from their Danish repertoire and their reviews of European intruders in the third world.
The variation is intentional, she says. And also, it turns out, fruitful. She is the first female director to win an Oscar, a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a European Film Award. One wonders how she feels about being a trailblazer.
“I feel like I have something where I’m not going to be stopped by a wall,” she said. “I’ll tear it down if I have to go.” So I think I always felt that I had a very strong will to accomplish whatever I set out to do. This landmark has never been a conscious landmark. She laughs, “But it’s very satisfying.”
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