The Undoing star Lily Rabe decodes the mysteries of Sylvia

Lily Rabe in The Undoing. Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO
Lily Rabe in The Undoing. Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO /

Lily Rabe discusses The Undoing and fans’ interest in Sylvia.

The Undoing became TV crime drama viewers’ new obsession as fans sunk their teeth into every episode of the HBO miniseries. But almost as intriguing as who killed Elena was the character of Sylvia, played by Lily Rabe.

Now that the miniseries is over and the secrets are out, Lily spoke to Precinct TV about the strong reaction to The Undoing, playing the character that everyone had a theory about, and her next TV project Tell Me Your Secrets that might just become equally addictive.

SPOILER ALERT: This interview contains discussion about the entirety of The Undoing. If you haven’t seen all six episodes, you will be spoiled.

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Precinct TV: The Undoing proved to be a massive sensation. Did you have any idea while you were filming that it was going to be as buzzworthy as it was?

Lily Rabe: I never know. When I sign onto something, I’m never able to tell how it’s going to be received. I just know that it’s a part I want to play and a group of people that I want to work with. But I had a feeling while we were making it that it could hit a very sweet spot for people, but it’s been more than I could have imagined, for sure.

The [fan] theories and the passion behind the theories, it’s all been thrilling. It’s a part of the experience that I couldn’t have ever anticipated. And I love that it’s still going on. The show has amazing fans.

PTV: A lot of those theories ended up being about Sylvia. Does that change how you portray a character, when so much of her is open to interpretation?

LR: I think all of the characters in the show—there are question marks around everyone. And I think it’s always most interesting to play someone who, it’s not what you see is what you get. There are lots of layers to sort of keep pulling back. And not only that they’re going to surprise the audience, but that they also may surprise themselves, which is what happens to Sylvia.

I believe that relationship [between Sylvia and Grace] surprises both of them. It changes over the course of the show tremendously. It ultimately qualifies as a real deal friendship, but still, viewers were very dubious, and I get it. We have all been burned or disappointed in our own friendships. But I think it’s important to focus on the takeaway of the fact that the really good ones, those really great and enduring friendships, those female bonds, that there is nothing better. There is nothing women will won’t walk through fire for for the people that they love and are devoted to.

That’s really the takeaway, but I understand why people went through what they did watching it, and I thought it really spoke to the brilliance of the show, and to [director] Susanne Bier and the way she edited it—that everyone is called into question. No one is to be trusted.

The Undoing
Lily Rabe in The Undoing. Photograph by Niko Tavernise/HBO /

PTV: So many scenes in The Undoing were truly shocking. Whether it was with Sylvia or not, was there a particular moment that took you by surprise?

LR: That discovery of the hammer is pretty unbelievable, in the greatest way. And every bit of it. That moment between Grace and Henry is, I can sort of feel it thinking about it. It’s so powerful because it is one thing for her to have to question her husband, but to question your own child in that way, it’s sort of like the roof is blown off and the house is already in pieces.

That moment, and then also at the end, when Haley turns to [Jonathan] and says what she says about the hammer. All the hammer moments were really jaw-dropping in a great way for me.

PTV: You go from The Undoing to Tell Me Your Secrets, which now the secrets are flat-out in the title. What can we expect when that show premieres on Amazon Prime Video in 2021?

LR: That was actually the same producer, Bruna Papandrea, who produced The Undoing and we had also done a movie together that I did with Ryan Gosling in New York years ago. I think Bruna is an absolute genius and she also produced Tell Me Your Secrets.

One of my favorite things about it is you cannot get ahead of it and all of the characters, you don’t know whether to trust them. You really don’t know who is a force of good, who is a force of evil or somewhere in between. I love an unreliable narrator as a viewer. And it’s a wonderful thing to play someone who is questionable and messy and human.

There’s a lot of mystery, and there are a lot of moments along the way where we’ll think one thing is happening…and then I can guarantee you, you will be wrong and you will be surprised. So I hope it will be a ride that people can go on, much like this one was.

PTV: So many of your roles have had that kind of grey area or big secrets, whether it’s The Undoing or American Horror Story. How does that affect you as a performer? Do you want to take that ride, or do you need to know some of the information in advance?

LR: Honestly, it depends on the project. And it depends on the story, on the role, on the situation. With something like American Horror Story, there are times that we’re shooting and no one knows the end. That’s part of that process and everyone is in it together. And that’s part of that process and everyone is in it together, and that’s part of what’s wonderful about that process.

But then something like The Undoing, it was a bit more like doing a movie, where there’s the beginning, middle and end and you know it all going in and it’s one director. Both things are wonderful and can lend themselves to affecting my approach in different ways. Even with The Undoing there was a lot of freedom. The way Susanne works, it wasn’t like everything was set in stone.  There was a fluidity and a wonderful and collaborative process of discovery along the way for all of us.

But it’s different case to case. Tell Me Your Secrets was somewhere in between in that regard. I knew a lot, but there was a lot that I didn’t know, and I would find certain things out along the way. And so it was a bit of both, which was perfect for the show and for the part that I was playing.

PTV: Is there something that you’d recommend that The Undoing fans watch if they want to see more of your work before Tell Me Your Secrets comes out?

LR: Go watch Miss Stevens, I would say. That’s a movie that I did with Timmy Chalamet and directed by this wonderful woman, Julia Hart, who also wrote it. When people come up to me and say things about my work, it really lights me up when the thing that they have seen and want to talk about is Miss Stevens and that it’s affected them in some way. It’s always particularly meaningful to me. So I would say go watch Miss Stevens. It’s available on all sorts of streaming options, as far as I know.

PTV: Any final remarks that you want to leave The Undoing viewers with?

LR: During this incredibly difficult time in the world, I just hope that everybody is staying safe. I’m so glad that people have been able to have something like The Undoing to watch, and hopefully bring them some welcome distraction, and I hope that we can keep bringing people entertainment while they stay safe in their homes.

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The Undoing is now available on HBO and HBO MAX. Tell Me Your Secrets premieres in 2021 on Amazon Prime Video.