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Posted by admin on August 12th, 2020 / No Comments

The star and executive producer of the bawdy historical comedy on boundaries, blood, and bare bottoms.

As Emmy nominations approach, Vanity Fair’s HWD team is once again diving deep into some of the shows that struck us most, and asking actors and creators how the season’s greatest scenes and characters came together.

The Character: Catherine the Great, The Great

In The Great’s first episode, a pink-cheeked Catherine (Elle Fanning) pilots a flower-entwined swing and burbles to a friend about how romantic her wedding to Russian Emperor Peter III (Nicholas Hoult) will be. But after Catherine is delivered from her sleepy German village to the Russian palace, her girlish dreams are dashed when she meets the tyrannical and narcissistic Peter. As she solemnly presents him with an evergreen as a symbol of their love, he turns to one of his minions and barks, “She gave me a twig. She’s not another inbred, is she?”

It’s the abrupt end of her innocent imaginings, as well as the start of a young woman’s campaign, aided by her wit and charm, to plot a putsch—after Catherine learns that if Peter just happens to be killed, she can claim the throne.

“It’s been phenomenal to watch Elle grow into this character as a performer, to balance a tightrope in bringing her to life as this woman who is naive but strong, and also powerless at times,” says Hoult. “[She’s] understanding this new world she’s been thrown into, and also her raison d’être.”

Fanning brings great depth and dimension to her character’s evolution, holding fast to Catherine’s humanity and vulnerability even as she grows ruthlessly cunning—particularly in the season’s final episode, when she learns just what her power grab will cost her. Below, Fanning explains what drew her to Catherine, the toughest part of filming The Great’s intimate scenes, and the surprising request she made as an executive producer of the show.

Vanity Fair: As Catherine immerses herself in court intrigue and consolidates power, she wavers between confidence and naivete. Was that a hard balance to strike?

Elle Fanning: [The role] challenged me in a way that I haven’t been challenged before. As a character, Catherine has one of my favorite qualities, which is that she’s extremely arrogant. She has a huge ego and doesn’t apologize for it, which was so fun to play. But she also questions herself, and has these weaknesses—these moments of really not knowing if she’s up for the challenge too—which was important to me. I’m not interested in playing “She’s strong all the time. She’s the bravest and she always makes the right decisions!” I don’t want to watch that.

I also love that she’s very romantic, but she learns that her love affair over the whole season is really her love for Russia. Which was interesting. Her most important quality, too, is her youth. Youth is such a big factor in the decisions she makes—and sometimes they’re a bit rash, but she’s young and she’s learning. And she’s a different woman at the end of it.

You have known your costar Nicholas Hoult since you were 14 and costarred in the film Young Ones. Did that familiarity make things easier during the sex scenes?

Yes. I felt so unembarrassed with him. He was very familiar with the rhythm of the words, because he was in The Favourite, so he helped keep my rhythm up and the comedic timing. He’s so incredible, in part because he adds so many layers to his character that could have been one-note. And we were just always on the same page. We wanted to create this dynamic relationship where they do love each other at times and she kind of pities him and sometimes she doesn’t want him to die.

The sex scenes were hard to get through because you’re in this position, which is already awkward or funny, and then you would have to say these hilarious lines. There’s one sex scene where Peter’s thrusting for an heir, like a hundred thrusts, and there’s a wide shot where we’re just in the background. We didn’t have to say anything, all he has to do is thrust. I’m just like, “Let’s get through it.” Thank god we’re not both earnest or take ourselves too seriously, because you’ve got to have fun.

You had an intimacy coordinator on the set. Was that the first time you’ve ever worked with someone like that?

The first time. She’s there for support and so that you feel comfortable, but she also makes sure that things look real, which is interesting. Like she’ll say, “Nick, you’re in the wrong position, you need to be lower.” And she provides great pillows, like crotch pillows and things that she sews herself, so you have a kind of separation.

I really enjoyed those scenes. [Writer] Tony McNamara and I would talk about how the show actually is not really sexually explicit at all, because all the girls—except for when I was with [court-appointed lover] Leo (Sebastian de Souza)—are basically fully clothed. Because we can’t take the corsets off! [laughs] In court, I’m sure they would just think it was much easier and more practical just to pull your skirts up.

In my scenes with Nick, I’m always fully clothed, because it’s just about getting an heir and that’s it. The only nudity we have on the show is bottoms! We all kind of get a turn. I have a bottom, Nick has a bottom, and Sebastian has a bottom. We all had our moment.

Speaking of outrageous scenes, you executive produce the show. Did you ever veto anything as too over the top?

Oh, I wanted it more [over the top]. [laughs]

More severed heads! Roll them in!

That’s me! People are so surprised by that sometimes. I mean, if you know me, you’re not surprised by it, but you might be if you’re only aware of my Sleeping Beauty persona. I always wanted to push it. I wanted things to be even weirder. I wanted more blood.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. [Source]



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