Fanning stars as peasant girl turned royalty in ‘The Great’
Who knew the emperor of Russia was such an insolent brat?
So selfish, immature and cruel are the ways of 18th century monarch Peter (Nicholas Hoult, “The Favourite”) that in the anti-historical comedy series “The Great,” premiering Friday, May 15, on Hulu, his new bride Catherine (Elle Fanning, “Maleficent,” “Somewhere”) finds he stands against everything she believes in. And for that, he must go.
A simple girl from a peasant family, the naive Catherine arrives in Russia ready to embrace her arranged marriage to the mercurial Peter. But life on the throne isn’t as she envisioned it. It’s backwards, depraved and dangerous and she soon finds herself imprisoned in a union with a man she can’t stomach. And just when she’s on the brink of suicide, her servant Marial (Phoebe Fox, “Eye in the Sky”) poses another option – to overthrow him. And like that, Catherine the Nothing will become Catherine the Great.
Created, written and executive produced by Tony McNamara (“The Favourite”), the series takes an irreverent and fictionalized approach to the story of Catherine, whose 34-year rule was so successful it was considered the Golden Age of Russia.
In her first comedic role, Fanning had to strike a balance between the pathos and the humor of her character, which was a learning curve for the actress, as she told a recent gathering of journalists in Pasadena, Calif.
“There’s a very specific tone to the show as you can see and just finding that tone …” Fanning explains. “And also I had to learn, I think, with comedy also not to feel embarrassed. I’ve learned so much in the process of this, of bringing my walls down and going for it a bit more. And that’s kind of the key thing I’ve learned. Like alright, don’t be embarrassed. Be Brave. Be Catherine. Pull a face, go for it, try this wacky thing. It’s like on the set, that’s the fun of it and the joy of it, that we get to experiment and go there and do things that you would never do on a regular film set.”
As Peter, Hoult plays it over the top as a spoiled manchild who can think of things only in terms of how they affect him.
“I just love Tony’s writing …,” he says. “So when he gave me the script to this and I read the role of Peter, I mean, there’s all those brilliants turns of phrase and lines of dialogue that you’d never expect to see or get anywhere else. But they’re all underpinned with (these) really emotionally charged and dynamic characters. So each day going to work I kind of (look through the script) and I’m like, ‘This is just a joy.’ So yeah, I’m very happy to be playing him. And he’s a bizarre character, but a lot of fun.”