Second season of ‘The Great’ more mix of comedy, history

Rick's Reviews

Elle Fanning returns to the role of Catherine for the second season of the Hulu series “The Great.” (Photo courtesy of Hulu)

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KGET) — The Hulu series “The Great” has never claimed to be a documentary on the life of Catherine the Great. The series about the ruthless rise to power by the last reigning Empress of Russia is based in fact but the truth is just a starting spot.

More evidence of how truth and fiction are mangled together can be seen when the second season of “The Great” launches Nov. 19 on the streaming service.

Series creator and executive producer Tony McNamara explains the scripts come down to what they think will be fun.

“We always do a bunch of research, that’s so we have a lot of what happened and historical elements.  And then we sort of just shape them to how it fits my idea or the season,” McNamara says. “Last year, I guess there’s things that are true, but not told the way they happened.

“We’re always conscious of a few things that are true and a few elements of her life that we want to touch on even if we don’t tell it as literally as the history was I suppose.”

The second season picks up four months after Catherine (Elle Fanning) has launched a coup against her husband, Peter (Nicholas Hoult). A pregnant Catherine is gaining the upper hand in her war against Peter because he’s deeply in love with her.

Catherine finally takes the Russian throne for her own and must deal with the realities of liberating a country that doesn’t want to be. She’ll battle her court, her team, even her own mother in a bid to bring the enlightenment to Russia.

All of this plays out in the same embrace of the absurd that defined the first season. McNamara had no problem taking a comical look at a very serious moment in history because he is certain historical figures didn’t always take themselves seriously.

“She (Catherine) was funny.  She always had fun.  She always had rules about parties, and so we read a lot about her character,” McNamara says. “Not so that we literally put it in, but this idea of spirit and this idea of these courts being their own insular little crazy apartment buildings was kind of an idea about how they should operate.

“We always found things that were weird that made us go ‘Oh, people who do that kind of stuff are weird.’ So it’s fine to go with that.”

The comic approach to the story often makes for the most difficult part of the job for Fanning. She has faced many moments where what they were doing was so absurd that it was necessary to take a break from filming to regain her composure.

Fanning found the second season to be even more outlandish than the first.

“Having a season two, you get to know your character so deep and each person understands who they are on a deeper level now as well.  And so everyone’s kind of taking a little bit more risks,” Fanning says. “I felt like [in] season two we were really going for it and embarrassing ourselves and saying lines just trying things which then inevitably is just funny.

“Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t so we’re always trying to just see what sticks and that’s what’s so great about the set and the environment that we create on the set because it’s very warm and loving and no judgment.”

Fanning may only be 23 years old but the Georgia native has already amassed a long resume of acting jobs that she can use to compare to her current series. The Georgia native was nominated for a Critics’ Choice Award and a British Independent Film Award for her performance in Sally Potter’s film “Ginger & Rosa.” The next year, she played Sleeping Beauty opposite Angelina Jolie in Disney’s “Maleficent.”

Other notable credits include: “Super 8,” “Somewhere,” “The Neon Demon,” “20th Century Women” and “The Beguiled.”

Along with dealing with the comical satire of “The Great,” Fanning has also had to deal with her character being pregnant. That meant she had to wear varying degrees of a “baby bump” in episodes.

Fanning loved that she got to have a mold made of her body so a prosthetic could be made to make Catherine look pregnant.

“It took about two hours to put on, but it was really interesting.  Very, very heavy, kind of hard to hold up, which I’m assuming I guess that’s what it would be.  I’ve obviously never been pregnant, but I really liked playing with that,” Fanning says. “I think it’s such a big part of the season.  The season has a very parental theme running through it.

“So she’s kind of understanding that and then also having to become a mother to the country.  So the baby bump really symbolized a lot of things, but it was, yeah, fun to wear, I guess.  It was hot at times.”

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