Do not adjust your set — that really is Connie Chung on HBO’s “The Undoing.”
The retired newswoman, whose 30-year career spanned broadcast (ABC, CBS, NBC) and cable (CNN, MSNBC), makes an extremely rare appearance playing herself opposite series star Hugh Grant in an upcoming episode of the crime drama — in which Grant plays Dr. Jonathan Fraser, a seemingly respectable, compassionate Manhattan pediatric oncologist accused of brutally murdering his married mistress, Elena Alves (Matilda De Angelis).
Nicole Kidman plays Fraser’s suspicious wife, Grace, and Noah Jupe their teenage son, Henry. The cast also includes Donald Sutherland, Edgar Ramirez and Lily Rabe.
Chung, 74 — who’s been married to talk show host Maury Povich since 1984 — spoke to The Post about her role on “The Undoing,” which she filmed late last year in the windowed, street-level Manhattan studio of PBS station WNET.
How did this all come about?
It was actually the all-girls network. Ellen Chenoweth, the renowned casting director … was handling “The Undoing” and was looking for a network anchor who could play him/herself, but who was not working now. Ellen is good friends with a girlfriend of mine, Vicki Gordon, who was a senior producer and executive story editor at “60 Minutes.” Vicki said, “How about Connie?,” so when Ellen called me and told me it was a Nicole Kidman/David E. Kelley project, I was in. She said I’d be playing myself on a news program similar to the type of show I would host on CNN, and that I’d be questioning the Hugh Grant character, who’s suspected of killing his girlfriend. I really didn’t know much about the plot and they gave me nine pages [of dialogue] to learn.
Did you make any changes to your lines?
I looked at the script and realized it wasn’t the way I would ask questions … the language and approach … one of the lines was, “Why did you flee?” Newspeople wouldn’t say that; they’d say “Why did you run away?” or “Why did you leave the scene of the crime?” So I asked if I could change a few little things, and [co-producer] Matt Tinker called me back — he worked on “Big Little Lies” with David E. Kelley and Nicole Kidman — and I asked him if it would be OK. He said, sure, go ahead and say what you want to say and I’ll run it by David. I thought, “Geez, I’m rewriting David E. Kelley?” That blew me away. Remarkably he was OK with it … So I memorized the lines I wrote in the context of the scene and when I got to the set, the director … looks at it and says, “What happened to the other script?” I said, “They let me rewrite it” and she said, “No, we’re not doing that, we’re going back to the original script.” It was hard for me to memorize the other lines; when do news you don’t memorize questions or lines or anything.
Were you nervous while shooting your scene?
No. I was fascinated with how Hugh Grant … got into his [acting] zone. I was sitting there trying to remember my “new old lines.” I was on the side with Grant, who wasn’t very chatty because he had a bad back, and I asked him if he remembered when I interviewed him for [the 1994 movie]”Three Weddings and a Funeral” and he said no.
You’ve been out of the news game since 2006. Were you rusty playing yourself?
It was a completely different situation because it was not real and that, in and of itself, was unusual. One thing that was different for me was that we had to do many takes of the same scene from different angles. It was very tedious, frankly. In TV news, we’re one-and-done and we do not repeat questions. We usually have one-to-three cameras all running simultaneously because we can’t manufacture [the interview] again. It’s just verboten. If the [person being interviewed] walks out, then we have it from three different angles.
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