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Michael Devine On His New Miniseries The Undoing & Working With Nicole Kidman


The Undoing Series

Michael Devine, a former NYPD Detective, can now be seen in the upcoming HBO drama-thriller miniseries The Undoing starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. Essaying the role of Detective Paul O’Rourke, the actor gives us a glimpse of his new series slated to premiere on October 25, 2020.

by Haider Rifaat

You were a Detective Sergeant for the New York Police Department. How did the idea of acting come about?
I was an actor first. Growing up, it was all I ever wanted to be; it is what I went to college for. A few years after getting my degree in acting, I felt a shift in me—a higher call, I guess you would say. My father and grandfather were both cops; in fact, my father was killed in the line of duty when I was a kid. 

Despite originally choosing a profession far removed from law enforcement, I couldn’t deny what is in my blood, and I wanted to serve my community. So, much to the surprise of my family, friends and even myself, I put acting on hold and entered the New York City Police Academy in 1998. After a few years, I learned that there was marketability in being a real cop with a degree in acting, so for the majority of my time in the New York Police Department, I managed to juggle both careers.

Tell our readers about your upcoming HBO miniseries titled The Undoing. What is the show about?
The Undoing, which is based on a novel by Jean Hanff Korelitz, written by David E. Kelly and directed by Susanne Bier, is a psychological thriller starring Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant. It is a challenge to talk about because there are so many twists and turns and nothing is as it appears. The Undoing is slick and contemporary but intrinsically, it is a classic whodunit. 

How has your past training as a former NYPD Detective Sergeant helped you prepare for the role of Detective Paul O’Rourke?
There were moments shooting The Undoing where I felt I reached the intersection of both careers. Many of our scenes involved questioning witnesses and possible suspects and in real policing, there is an art to interrogation. The tone and tempo are nuanced. Edgar and I went to the 23rd Precinct, where our characters are assigned, and we sat with real detectives and watched videos of interrogations. It is a cat-and-mouse game, illustrative of some of the larger themes in the show. As we all know, David E. Kelly has mastered this genre, so the path was there for us to follow.

Is it safe to say that you are playing yourself in the series?
Not so much myself but I did take elements from detectives I know. Recognizing that my partner in The Undoing, played by Edgar Ramirez, is very polished and suave, I looked to provide a counterpoint to that and thought of detectives I know who may be a little rough around the edges. So I loosened my tie and threw in a New York accent which, ironically, took me years to eliminate in myself.

Michael DevineDid you get the chance to share the screen with mainstay actors Nicole Kidman and Hugh Grant? If so, how was it like working with them? What did you learn from their craft? 
There were so many skilled, veteran actors in the cast that I was admittedly intimidated. Most of my scenes were opposite Nicole Kidman, who is a hundred percent devoted to her craft and each day for me was a master class. We had some extremely intense scenes together and I always paid close attention in terms of her approach to the emotional, practical and artistic elements of the craft. The more intense the scene, the more time she took prior to the take to transcend deeper into her character and the moment. It is not a switch you can or should turn on and off.
Between takes, we talked at length about acting and she mentioned the emotional toll it can take as some actors can go so deep into a character and their circumstances that the actor’s subconscious may not know what is real. It is fascinating. For an actor of her caliber, it takes a lot of self-care and self-preservation.
From a practical perspective, it was compelling to watch such a skilled veteran. For example, I was particularly impressed by how adroitly she adjusted the size of her performance congruent to the size of the camera shot. Wide shots allow for larger gestures and expressions. Mid-shots need a delicate balance and close-ups are wholly internal. Without a doubt, I left The Undoing as a better actor, thanks to Ms. Kidman and the incredible cast.

You have essayed roles that are closer to your past profession. Do you plan to explore characters that are beyond your comfort zone?
More and more, I am breaking away from the cop roles. Landing a role that is not a cop is a double-win. I am particularly proud of having played a newspaper editor in Steven Spielberg’s The Post and recently, the role of Sal, the telethon stage manager on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel.  

In acting and every aspect of life, it is important to get out of that comfort zone and keep growing. I am especially grateful when casting directors and creative people see me solely as an actor. Having now retired from the NYPD, I am excited to return to my roots and focus entirely on my craft and I am looking forward to seeing what is ahead.
To conclude, I wanted your brief take on the Black Lives Matter Movement under Trump’s presidency. Elijah McClain, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd – all black nationals – lost their lives because of police officers. This ultimately led to nationwide protests this year. As a former Detective for NYPD and as someone who has played a role as a police officer in When They See Us, which is about the origins of the black lives matter movement, what do you make of this crisis, and how can black lives be safeguarded if Trump is bound for re-election in November?

Anyone who can’t acknowledge the fact that Black lives matter, needs to re-examine their hearts and minds, and has no place in my life. With regard to incidents such as those mentioned, it is important to understand that no one hates a bad cop more than a good cop. Thankfully, in my experience in law enforcement, the overwhelming majority of cops I know are selfless, down-to-earth men and women who are willing to sacrifice their own lives to ensure the safety of a person of any color. That said, I am not sure Trump is, in fact, bound for re-election. People need to vote with their hearts, minds and souls. The country’s future is at stake.

About Haider Rifaat: He is a Features Writer for OK! Pakistan, the international edition of OK! Magazine; writer for Arabian Moda, South China Morning Post and Flanelle Magazine. He is also an actor and the creator and host of Pakistan's first web talk show – The Haider Rifaat Show. He can be reached via instagram and twitter.