• Television

“The Great” – Season 3

According to the history books, Catherine the Great was only 16 when she married Peter III, the heir to the throne of Russia. Actress Elle Fanning wasn’t much older when she stepped into the shoes of the woman who led a rebellion against her husband to eventually ascend to the throne as the title character in the Hulu series, The Great.

“I did the pilot when I was 20, and now I’m 25, so I’ve never done a recurring character this long in my life and she’s the most special character I’ve ever played,” Fanning says during a Q&A following the show’s third season premiere at the restored 1920s movie palace, the Orpheum Theatre, in downtown Los Angeles.


“Catherine started with that naïve quality of someone so young and for me, it was also the realization of, ‘Oh, you’ve got to grow up!’ This season, she’s realizing she has to be an adult and with that also comes the sense you now have to make choices that are necessary while leaving your girlhood behind, which I was also doing as a person.”

This season we see Catherine (Fanning) and Peter (Nicholas Hoult) attempt to make their marriage work despite that little bump in the road when Peter witnesses his own attempted murder by Catherine and discovers she’s sentenced all his friends to death by ‘bear or bullet.’ Surprisingly, the couple then reignites their relationship and decides to put the past behind them, proving how much Catherine has already learned about compromise in order to become a great political leader.


“I feel like this season, a lot of Catherine’s depth was honestly because I felt more comfortable as an actor and a person – to really go to those places and embarrass myself and be really vulnerable with her,” says Fanning, whose credits include the 2022 limited series The Girl from Plainville and the films The Beguiled (2017) and Maleficent: Mistress of Evil (2019). “I tried crazy things on set you didn’t even see, thank goodness! My mom would have been horrified!”

Fanning credits the show’s creator, Tony McNamara, with giving her room to explore new layers in the role. “Tony has really pushed her to her limits this season,” she says. “Destiny is always a running theme throughout our entire series and more than ever before, Catherine is questioning her own destiny and the audience will also be questioning if she is the right person for the job. I love that Catherine is a character who doesn’t always just grow in this perfect upward direction. She grows sideways and downwards and at times, she falls a lot. Her weaknesses show, but she has to find the strength in her weaknesses too.”

Fanning lights up talking about the tight-knit cast whom she declares “love each other very much” but then she reveals that a cast and crew roller disco party – generously hosted by her co-star, Hoult – could have led to the real downfall of Catherine.

“I don’t know why we thought during filming it was a good idea to be all dressed up with big hair from the 80s and roller skating with an open bar,” Fanning recounts. “But I got out there and five minutes later, I broke my wrist!”

After spending the night in the hospital emergency room, Fanning was relieved the initial misdiagnosis of a hairline fracture resulted in her avoiding a cast, which could have potentially shut down production. “By the time they did an MRI later and saw the break, we were past that point – which was a good thing because that would be hard to write into the show!”