“I had an English accent… and the rhythm is so specific… but once you get into that rhythm, you perform in a different way.” – Elle Fanning on ‘The Great’
Though based on historical fact, Hulu’s The Great is a comedic take on the rise of the real-life Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia. Maleficent star Elle Fanning portrays Catherine, and the series was created by Tony McNamara, the Oscar-nominated screenwriter of The Favourite, and co-stars Nicholas Hoult as Peter III, Emperor of Russia. In an interview with Refinery29, Fanning speaks about the miniseries’ use of colorblind casting and goes into detail about how she gets into character.
Although The Great is set during 18th century Imperial Russia, the miniseries utilizes colorblind casting. Regarding that approach to casting, Fanning remarks, “That was important for all of us. You see these period shows where it’s just all these white people, and for us, it was about getting the best actors for the part. We opened it up to anybody who wanted to try out, and I think that makes our show more real. We don’t care about it being accurate to the time. It’s what we’re living in today, and people from today are watching our show. I want people from now to be able to relate to the show. We want to have everyone represented.”
Catherine the Great was one of the most powerful female rulers in world history and is vastly different from any role Fanning has performed before. On getting into character, she explains:
“I definitely do, but for this one there were a lot of different challenges. I had an English accent. I’ve done that before, but Tony’s writing is so particular, and the rhythm is so specific — and then you add the accent on top of that. That might sound technical, but once you get into that rhythm, you perform in a different way. Nick was used to it because he had done The Favourite. But it’s also a comedy, and I haven’t done a ton of comedies. [I’d] see on the page like, Oh this is a joke. I have to tell a joke. You have to not be embarrassed. As the months went on, I got more into [Catherine], and I found her more. It was great that it’s a TV show because you have more time, and you can really lay out her arc and gradually build. It was nice to imagine [her]step-by-step, laying down those clues to her growing as a person and making decisions. We filmed in a studio — all the sets are built by our amazing production design team — so you feel kind of transported when you’re in there.”