“On one level, she’s Catherine the Great, who marries [the son of] Peter the Great, and that’s a big story,” McNamara said during the series’ Television Critics Association panel. “On another level that’s quite contemporary, it’s about a woman who marries the wrong person and then has to go, ‘What do I do? Do I kill him?’”
The joke scored plenty of laughs at the TCA 2020 Winter Press Tour in Pasadena Friday morning, but also serves as an apt descriptor of the Hulu series, which premieres May 15. McNamara was joined by series Executive Producer Marian MacGowan and series stars Elle Fanning and Nicholas Hoult to discuss the show, which will offer a comedic take on Catherine the Great’s (Fanning) rise to power in the late 1700s and detail her relationship with her husband Peter (Hoult), the emperor of Russia.
Historical costume dramas are perennially popular — HBO released its “Catherine the Great” drama last year — but “The Great” isn’t interested in following in any show’s footsteps. Though “The Great” centers on a real political figure, Hulu has billed the show as a “genre-bending, anti-historical” ride that will have a strictly comedic bent.
The real-world reign of Peter III was short; his death was rumored to due to a conspiracy led by his wife, Catherine the Great, and Hulu’s “The Great” doesn’t shy away from satirizing the unpopular Russian emperor. The series’ TCA trailer lambastes Hoult’s character as a moronic and ill-fit ruler whose wife is stifled by their marriage.
While Fanning has previously portrayed historical figures in period dramas, such as 2017’s “Mary Shelly,” the comedic bent of “The Great” was a new experience for the actress. She noted that she focused less on researching the true exploits of Catherine the Great and primarily relied on McNamara’s writing to offer an original, humorous spin on the Russian empress.
“We pride ourselves on not being historically accurate, so there is room to experiment,” Fanning said during the TCA panel. “You can look at so many oil paintings of someone, but they probably didn’t even look that way. So, it doesn’t help me so much as the script does with capturing the character that Tony has created, her essence, and what’s her journey.”
Watch the new “The Great” teaser below: