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19 July 2020 18:30

Met Gala The Metropolitan Museum of Art Elle Fanning

Elle Fanning stars as the legendary Empress of Russia Catherine the Great on the Hulu comedy series "The Great." The role has already scored her a TCA Award nomination. Fanning recently spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria about what drew her to "The Great," working with Nicholas Hoult and her time as a jury member at the Cannes Film Festival. So the script that I had spanned her whole life and then Tony was like, "You know what? So read this with a TV show in mind, possibly that we get to expand it and maybe the first season will be about the young Catherine and her rise to power." And I hadn't even seen "The Favourite," which Tony wrote at that point. Just the language and the wittiness but also the heart, I think it's a truly emotional story to me of Catherine and her rise and such a unique character.

Elle Fanning (‘The Great’) on her desire to ‘humanize’ Catherine the Great [Complete Interview Transcript]

And just learning about her, of course, we're not historically accurate all the time but there are amazing facts and things she did in her life that are completely represented in our show. I feel like, she is this historical figure that we know what she did. I'm kind of allergic to the term "strong female character." I don't really know what that means. I feel like I want to play a human who has many layers, who always doesn't have the right answer. And when she arrives in Russia, reality slaps her in the face and she's faced with this upside-down world and she's like, "I'm going to change it." I think there's two people in the world. Like, "OK, that person's fun." That's someone I want to know. She's looking at them too like, "This is not acceptable and I'm going to change it." Did that aspect of being the outsider inform how you were going to tackle her? So I guess in many ways she reflects the audience and how they're viewing this world that's a bit off-kilter. But I guess it's something that maybe I didn't try to think about too much. I think that that helps because our dynamic on-set when we're doing those scenes is we want to challenge each other. So it kind of is like Catherine and Peter in a way, because we were like, "All right, we want to top with each other and play around." Maybe it's because we were both young actors growing up. So we're just very similar actors and that just, I think, helped us immensely because we were really in it together and wanted to try to kind of do the craziest thing and we'd be like, "All right. Even when it's written, Tony doesn't write a lot of description either in the scene. I mean, I actually always think about Nick's lines because he's talking about, "Oh, I just blew my bag on Madame Dimov." I mean, as Catherine, her character, she was supposed to be shocked by that like I was shocked. And funny, I don't know if he said it to you but the other day we were doing one of these interviews and he said, "I don't write jokes." I'm like, "Wow." He's just a genius in that department. Gold Derby: When you're picking up a script, though, do you ever think, "Oh my god, this is too much. Nick and I would be looking through the scripts like, "Ahh!" You see a big paragraph and you're like, "Oh, it says Peter up there. EF: I think it's something that we did know, and weirdly enough, we worked together before in a small movie called "Young Ones." I was 14. It's like, "Oh yeah." You see each other and can relate to certain things and it's not necessarily something we talk to each other about all the time. But I think it's just a nod of understanding and the same relationship to the set. I think it's learning from the people before you that you've worked with and gotten to work with. He's obviously gotten to work with huge legends in the industry and learned from them and what you pick up from people, because I don't think Nick went to school for acting and I didn't either. GD: Yeah, I think that's so fascinating. I mean, that's, I think, why the show is also so modern and I love that it's told in this way because it brings these themes to modern audiences and are themes that we're still dealing with today, sadly. It feels like years ago because we're all at home now but what was the highlight from that incredible experience? I think that was really one of the best experiences of my life. Those weeks, getting to watch those films and discuss with people that I look up to on just a huge level, these artists and creatives and them actually giving me the respect to want to listen to what I had to say, I'm eternally grateful to them for allowing me to have that opportunity. Professionally and personally, what's it like to play a real-life Disney princess? And also realizing kind of the responsibility, too, because after that, young girls would come up to me and not even say, "Are you Elle Fanning?" It's like, "You are Aurora. It's so fun to do, and getting to grow with that character, we got to do the second one, which came out not too long ago.