Susanne Bier holds the distinction of being the only female filmmaker to win an Oscar, Emmy, and Golden Globe. The Danish director is back in the awards conversation for her latest project, The Undoing, which contends for four Golden Globes. Awards Radar caught up with Bier as she’s about to start on an exciting new series to discuss her past achievements and the state of the increasingly diverse industry.
Q: What interested you about The Undoing and how did you become attached?
A: I got the first draft of the first episode from David Kelley. I love his writing – that’s the first thing. I knew Nicole was going to play Grace, and that was also incredibly compelling. But then I liked the world, the whole notion of being able to do a show where New York City is a character, but most of all the concept of being very close to someone whom you think you know and then you don’t, I just thought was really interesting and irresistible.
Q: It’s been compared to Big Little Lies – is that something you had seen beforehand?
A: Yeah, of course I’ve seen Big Little Lies. I do think it’s quite different though. I love it, but this is more of a classical thriller. It’s hard for me, because I’m so involved in this, and it’s much easier for me to see the differences than the similarities.
Q: Were there elements of the story for The Undoing that surprised you, or did you always have a sense of where it was going?
A: No, it was very clear from the beginning. There was never any doubt about where it was going to go. The tricky thing was how to get there, and to seduce the audience so that you want to be confused but not actually cheating.
Q: You mentioned New York as a character. You’re Danish, Nicole is Australian, Hugh and Noah are English, and Donald is Canadian. Is there anything particularly American about this story, or does it just happen to be set in New York City?
A: Well, what is New York? New York is exactly all those things. Part of the fascination with New York is that it’s so multicultural. You turn down a street and it’s another village. I think that’s very truthful to being New York.
Q: Before The Undoing, you won an Emmy for The Night Manager. Do you prefer TV to film, and are their notable differences that attract you to either format?
A: I mean, I also won an Oscar for a feature film! (laughter)
Q: We’ll get to that in a minute!
A: But since you’re bringing it up, I don’t really prefer one to the other. Doing miniseries is a huge endeavor, and the quality is also that you get to be very detailed about characters within a feature film that you just wouldn’t be able to do because of the span of time. I like both. I keep comparing it to a short story and a novel. A miniseries is a novel and a feature film is like a short story, with the same kind of accuracy needed.
Q: I remember seeing After the Wedding and In a Better World and being completely blown away. You’ve made a lot in English recently. Do you have plans to make films in Danish again anytime soon?
A: I think I probably will. Right now, I’m doing English again. I wouldn’t mind doing a Danish film at some point.
Q: We’re finally starting to see female filmmakers recognized this year in a bigger way with three Golden Globe nominees for best director. Do you see a shift happening in the industry?
A: Look, I see a shift happening in the world, in society. Kamala Harris is one example. I hope that it’s true for the film industry as well. I don’t think it’s quite landed where it needs to yet, but I do think that there’s a slow embracing of gender equality and changing inequality in all manners. For my taste, it’s moving a bit too slow, but I hope that we’re getting there.
Q: On the subject of gender, the American remake of After the Wedding changed the genders of the two main characters. Do you believe that it’s possible to take a story like that with two male characters and change them, and does that add anything to it?
A: It’s interesting. It’s been done for a long, long time in theater. I do think it’s absolutely possible. At times it changes the interpretation of the text and the language. I do think it’s interesting. Is it always possible? No. I think it needs to be specific. I am someone who always thinks that the story and storytelling is most important, and that needs to be right. I don’t believe in enforcing a notion onto storytelling if it doesn’t work.
Q: You’re in Atlanta now about to start working on The First Lady with Viola Davis and Michelle Pfeiffer. What can you share about that project?
A: It certainly deals with female characters. It’s about three hugely impactful women who haven’t quite been recognized for their impact: Betty Ford, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Michelle Obama. Of course, both Eleanor and Betty have passed, so we can see their impact on the world in a very clear way. With Michelle, who fortunately is still very much alive, we definitely see her impact on the world as it is, but we also anticipate her impact being even greater. I keep suggesting that she’s going to be in a few seasons because I’m still curious what’s happening with her.
The Undoing is available to watch in its entirety on HBO Max, and make sure to also check out our conversation with star Lily Rabe!