PASADENA – Elle Fanning has large shoes to fill in her portrayal of Catherine the Great.
Otherwise known as Catherine II, but born Princess Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, Catherine was Empress of Russia and served as the country’s longest-ruling female leader for more than three decades from 1762 to 1796.
Most recently played by Helen Mirren in the HBO series “Catherine the Great,” the historic figure is now being channeled by Fanning, 21, in “The Great,” a satirical comedy set in 18th century Russia that chronicles the meteoric and unlikely rise of Catherine.
Fanning spoke with reporters at the Television Critics Association winter press tour at the Langham Huntington in Pasadena, Calif. last month, and when asked by Fox News what she’s learned about herself throughout her journey as Catherine, Fanning gave an interesting explanation for dealing with “serious situations.”
“I really had to let my guard down because I think there’s something with drama that you can kind of hide behind something sometimes when it’s like, ‘Oh, it’s a very serious situation’ but with comedy, there’s no hiding behind anything,” she said. “Like, you have to be bare and be on it and you have to be really in the scene and reacting and especially with this language.”
Fanning explained to the group of reporters that the era in which she is thrust into performing created a dichotomy among herself and the dialogue that she initially found difficulty adjusting to.
“It’s also kind of like Shakespeare, weirdly, this dialogue – because I have never done Shakespeare, but I’m assuming… we have to be word-perfect, very specific,” Fanning said. “So memorizing the lines is something that is of the utmost importance. And we have such respect for the words that if you add an ‘and’ or ‘the,’ it’s like, ‘Oh my… what did I do?’”
“We really care that much,” she added. “We’re saying it’s kind of like the ‘West Wing’ period with all these words kind of going back and forth but it’s amazing. Definitely, my mind is at work.”
The former child actress and younger sister to Dakota Fanning, 25, was pressed on her overall attitude towards internet criticism as social media has quickly become a tool for fans to interact with actors who have seemingly grown up in the public eye, especially when one considers the consistency in which many young performers are on household televisions.
“Yeah. I mean, gosh. I think we all are dealing with that… comments sometimes as well,” she said. “I can totally see where they’re coming from, where they feel like they’ve known you from such a young age that they feel like they own you or they’ve seen you grow up and they’re like, ‘Hey,’ and you’re like, ‘Oh, but you’ve never met me. You don’t know me.’”
“But yeah, to comment on people’s bodies and stuff, yeah – I’ve gotten it before,” added Fanning. “The weirdest things. You’re like, ‘What is this,’ and they think you don’t read them but you’re like, ‘I’m here. I’m reading them.’ Like, ‘I see you internet trolls.’”
No stranger to donning extravagant get-ups for her parts, Fanning added that she’s developed a “love-hate” relationship with the corsets she needs to squeeze into, however, she noted that she relishes in the chance to play dress-up in garbs that are true to the period.
“Yeah, all the sets have the authentic tapestries and wallpaper. I mean, so much passion has been put into them and you can’t help but be transported back to that time,” said Fanning. “You know, being in those clothes, having the corset, which has its ups and downs. I have a love-hate relationship with that,” she added.
She maintained: “I do love fashion so that is always of interest to me. I do really care about the character and what she wears. We’ve actually kept Catherine quite simple. Even though she is royalty, she doesn’t wear jewelry or her dresses are not as like… they’re not like the Russian court.”
“What’s great with TV is we have a longer period of time to subtly make those changes,” she added. “You don’t have to make a huge jump. So over time, all right, maybe we’ll incorporate fur – we all wear fake fur on the show. So that was important. But it’s fascinating to just make those changes very subtly with just a color. And we have fittings for hours, honestly. For hours picking fabric.”
“The Great” is slated to be made available for streaming on Hulu on May 15.