If we didn’t have proof of Elle Fanning’s versatility before now, this Emmy season has two strong examples of how she could become a double nominee. Fanning constantly subverts our expectations, and that is evident in both The Great and The Girl From Plainville. In one, she is hopeful for the fate of a foreign country, and, in the other, she knowingly destroys the life of a family by pushing someone towards suicide. Inexperience and youth is a theme in both of these seasons, but the circumstances, writing, and tone allow Fanning to dazzle us with beautifully complex performances.
Season two of The Great begins as a battleground with Fanning’s Catherine and Nicholas Hoult’s Peter attempting to thwart one another with daily attacks inside the palace. Catherine can taste power and the throne–she just has to outwit her debaucherous husband first. Once Catherine succeeds in taking the throne, she faces a fear of doing the job justice in a country that doesn’t want to be changed.
“The first season has a true A to B trajectory for her journey. Along the way, she grows in her power for her to learn what she really wants. When you are reading that script, you can see that she is getting stronger, and she has grown so much. I was curious myself what season would entail, and she starts the second season stronger. Of course she’s growing up, but she takes a couple steps back back in season two when reality hits her a bit when in terms of ruling a country. It’s not all just flowery language, rousing speeches, and my way or the highway. She has to listen. Once you have that power, what are you going to do with it? Is she a good leader for this country? There is a war within herself if she is the right person for this job. She has beautiful, progressive ideas, but you have to learn to compromise, especially with a country that doesn’t seem to want to change.”
Pregnancy is not what Catherine expects. She is still quite young, and her palette has developed a taste for eating dirt. Seeing Fanning crouch down–with a large pregnant belly–and happily devour the grimy earth is more amusing that you would think it is, and she loves how the slippery tone of The Great is its strongest asset. The baby growing in her body was once a security but now its birth could potentially lead to her death from those who wish to yank the power back from Catherine.
“Tony [McNamara] and I talk about this all the time. She’s not just “strong,” because she is incredibly messy. She’s not the most maternal person, and she looks at this baby as a ticking time bomb. There was a sense of setting her plans in motion, because, once the baby is born, she could easily be killed. Catherine wasn’t thinking about being a mom and what’s going to be like. We always play up the truth in the comedy and the drama, and, I think, the drama can sneak up on you. It’s very bonkers and out there at times, but the stakes are actually very high. We have to play the reality of that. You can get lost in it.”
The heart of this Hulu comedy lies in the relationship between Fanning and Hoult. In season two, Catherine unexpectedly finds herself wanting the physical attention from her husband despite the fact that she can’t stand being in his presence. Peter’s voracious sexual appetite in court has led to a certain prowess with women, but Catherine cannot help but allow her emotions to become involved. It is a constant struggle for her to separate her feelings from her brilliant mind.
“That’s a great way to put it. Her heart and her head are battling all the time, and that sums her up as a person. Maybe I didn’t realize this as much with the first season, but her not liking Peter, on some unconscious level, sees herself in him. That’s so scary to her. Peter knows her better than anyone else–I do believe that. There is a bit of him in her like that, and she doesn’t want to admit that. That leads to a lot of her frustration. He’s not just a bumbling idiot, and that’s the genius of Nicholas Hoult.”
Seeing Fanning embody Michelle Carter in The Girl From Plainville is shocking, because we know the crime that was committed. The eight-part limited series shows this bright, curious young woman who longs for a huge emotional experience in the form of love and devotion, and Fanning pulls us in with her easy charm and big smile. How did this girl convince someone to take their own life?
The courtroom scenes are particularly engrossing, but Fanning doesn’t say a word the entire time. She listens to people get up on the stand and talk about how much they didn’t like Michelle Carter, and I was curious as to what Fanning thought was inside Carter’s mind.
“The courtroom phase was something I really locked in on, because that’s the phase that is so publicly known. It was on People Magazine and splashed on television. Her side wasn’t shown and neither was Conrad’s. He was labeled as the victim and she was the reason why he did it. I watched all the courtroom footage, and you can’t just mimic someone. You have to know the reason behind that. With the eyebrows that she drew on, I almost viewed them as armor that she used as war paint. That was makeup, so it was a choice for her. In that phase of her life, she was very delicate–almost fairy-like. They made her inscrutable, and there is something she is hiding behind. I do believe that she was so emotionally drained. She was a shell of a person in those courtroom scenes. You try to position yourself in that place, and she so desperately wanted attention. When her friends are testifying against her, and there is nothing worse for her for them to say how uncool she was. The pain of that was something I tried to encapsulate. I definitely didn’t feel like myself in those moments. I was very much taken over by her.”
The key for Plainville‘s success lies within the conversations between Carter and Coco Roy. It’s shocking to remember that these two barely met, but they talked so much via text that it made you feel like they were in constant physical contact. Fanning knew those scenes were essential, and she commented on how her and Colton Ryan had to do their work separately.
“I was nervous to see how they were going to depict that since text messages on a screen isn’t cinematic. The relationship is the soul of the show even though, in real life, they hardly ever met. Liz [Hannah] and Patrick [Macmanus] were geniuses because imagining it can show the miscommunication of texts and the disconnect that you can have. Normally, you are trying to listen to your fellow scene partner and respond to their face and lines, and Colton [Ryan] and I approached it as Michelle and Coco being on two different planets. One person can feel one way while the other person is feeling another way. We had rules like not touching one another during those moments. I had never done a scene like that before, so you have to interpret everything yourself with no emotion. I had to block him out in a way, and Colton had to block me out.”
The Great and The Girl From Plainville are streaming now on Hulu.