The lines between history and fiction are blurred in Hulu’s The Great, but it makes for sharp storytelling that contains the spirit of farce and mixes comedic and dramatic moments. Creator, writer and executive producer Tony McNamara, executive producer Marian Macgowan and co-stars Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult came to TCA winter press tour to talk about how the comedy series came together.
McNamara said he’s not really a fan of period pieces, even though he’s written two of them in The Favourite and The Great. He originally wrote The Great for the stage and it was produced for the theater, where he said he learned what worked comedically and what didn’t, “If you have a live audience, you know if you’ve succeeded or failed with comedy,” McNamara said. He wanted to write a twist on the genre that he’d want to watch and that his 21-year-old daughter also would watch.
As to why he wanted to tell Catherine the Great’s story, he mused: “It was about a woman who married the wrong man then asked, ‘”What do I do? Do I kill him?'” That seemed like a contemporary idea to McNamara. And yes, he also noted that Catherine mostly is known for possibly fornicating with a horse, but, he added, she also was an incredible woman who brought female education to Russia and kept the Enlightenment alive there. McNamara was careful to point out that The Great does play with facts, saying the show is accurate in various spots but, “we’re not trying to make a historically accurate document.”
Elle Fanning talked about working on her first comedy, saying, “It took a bit of getting used to the rhythm” and noted McNamara’s “delicious writing.” The Teen Spirit star said she likes to stretch things out and then they’d ask her to speed it up. The hardest part of the job for Fanning? “To learn to not feel embarrassed.” She related most to Catherine’s ability to manipulate people.
Nicholas Hoult made his film debut as a preteen in About a Boy and then starred in the series Skins when he was a teenager. In The Great, he plays Peter the Third, who, he said, “follows in Peter the Great’s footsteps, living in his father’s shadow, and he has Freudian issues with his mother. He wants to have fun, make an heir and be loved. He’s trying to better himself, but he can’t.”
Phoebe Fox, Adam Godley, Gwilym Lee, Charity Wakefield, Douglas Hodge and Sacha Shawan also star in The Great, which premieres May 15 on Hulu.