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May 16, 2023
Elle Fanning previews The Great season 3 and why it’s ‘more twisted than ever’

Smash a glass and cheer huzzah, because The Great is back for season 3.

The new 10-episode season drops in all of its raunchy glory on Friday, and EW caught up with star and executive producer Elle Fanning to get all the juicy details.

The episodes pick up exactly one day after the events of last season, which, to recap, saw Catherine (Fanning) finally learn that Peter (Nicholas Hoult) had slept with her mother (guest star Gillian Anderson) and more or less caused her to fall out a window to her death. Because of this, Catherine brutally stabbed who she thought was Peter, but was later revealed to be his decoy lookalike, Pugachev (also played by Hoult).

To start season 3, Catherine is grappling with the weighty implications of all that as threats old and new to her ambitious reign rear their heads. Surprising alliances will begin, some will end, and, as is the way with The Great, all sorts of shenanigans will go down along the way.

Here, Fanning breaks it all down for us.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Let’s start with what’s new for Catherine this season. What new sides to her did you get to explore this year?

ELLE FANNING: Each season Catherine has grown, but I wouldn’t say she’s always grown in an upwards direction, which is why I think I love playing her so much, because it is unpredictable. I think from the first season, she was so idealistic and romantic and almost naive. And that naïveté is not gone. It’s not completely gone this season, but it is definitely dwindling. I also think she’s kind of growing downwards. We are seeing Catherine falter a bit this season in the leadership role. And I think that’s mostly because it could be in some ways that she is almost too progressive for the court. Her country isn’t ready in some ways to implement the ideals that she wants to implement. And they are amazing ideas. She has these incredible thoughts that she wants to break through, but she has to also learn to compromise and to be empathetic to other people, because I think a lot of the time she’s very wordy, and has this kind of flowery language, and does a lot of speeches. And it’s like, alright, can you put the money where your mouth is, in a way? And can you walk the walk and talk the talk? I think she’s learning that she needs to compromise on the leadership front.

Is she doubting herself?

I think destiny, it’s always been a running theme throughout our entire series, but I think more than ever this season she’s questioning whether she is the right leader, or is the right woman for the job. I want audiences to this season also ask that question, because I was reading scripts, and I was like, “I think Aunt Elizabeth might be better.” You are rooting for Catherine, but she’s slightly overwhelmed at times this season, which is also so fun to play. It’s just not fun to play a person who’s just strong all the time, and the most brave — and that’s just not relatable to me. As a woman too, I want to see all the different shades of the mania and the madness and the anger and finding the strength in her weaknesses. And Tony [McNamara; series creator, writer, and executive producer] writes that so wonderfully. She’s very layered this year. And she is, I would say, by the end, she’s not a little girl anymore, which is kind of meta as well. Because I do feel like as an actor, and a person in this world, and also being a child actor, through this part and this experience and playing Catherine, I’ve gotten to kind of shed that as well. Like I’m proud of it, but I’m 25 now. So, I’ve grown up, and I think people have kind of viewed me in a different way through watching me and playing this character. So I’m leaving that behind as well.

I’m glad you mentioned Aunt Elizabeth. Do we get a lot more time exploring her character this season?

I do think the women this year, like Marial [Phoebe Fox], and Georgina [Charity Wakefield], and Aunt Elizabeth [Belinda Bromilow], you see there’s a lot going on behind the scenes, but they are kind of coming together — either to manipulate, or to back Catherine, in a way. And so we get to see more of the female characters I think come upfront this year. There’s so much craziness. It’s more twisted than ever.

The promos so far have teased an uprising that Catherine must deal with. What can you tell me about that and the politics of the season?

The politics of the court and how Tony plays that is always so exciting. We have the UK ambassador and the US ambassador come to visit Catherine this year, and she gets some ideas. She gets very inspired by the US ambassador and kind of the “We the People” of it all — she loves that concept. And they’re kind of both competing for her affection in some ways. I think she also, from the US ambassador coming, has this idea that she thinks is brilliant of putting the nobles and the merchants and peasants all together in a room and thinking that they’re going to all agree, which is again, a delusion. But she’s at least trying, at best. That’s a little bit of the politics this year. And then of course we have Nick — he plays Pugachev [again] this season — which is a real big plot point in our show, because he’s basically the antagonist to Catherine. He’s trying to create an uprising against her and sending effigy dolls into crowds, kind of like a voodoo doll, and they’re doing obscene things to these dolls that look like her. And the funny thing is, I think that with the Pugachev storyline, Catherine just can’t comprehend that anyone hates her. And I love that concept. She has such an ego in a way that she’s shocked that anyone hates her, because she’s like, “But I’m the best! I’m an amazing person, how could anyone hate me?” And I think, weirdly, that’s what stings her the most.

How does the death of Catherine’s mother and all of that play into the new episodes?

It definitely is carrying over in a big way. That’s not something you forget, that your husband f—ed your mom, and then she fell out a window. That stings. [Laughs.] But there is, at the end of season 2, there was what I like to call and what Tony kind of deemed, “The Graduate ending.” After Catherine stabbed who she thought was Peter, and ended up being Pugachev, and Peter sees that happen, it’s almost like there’s a look between them and it [says], “What do we do now?” Like the ending of The Graduate. So that’s how we left off and we pick up literally the day after the stabbing. So nothing is missed in terms of watching how the story unfolds. In a twisted way — which, you know, maybe we wouldn’t forgive — I do think with Catherine and Peter, there’s such a love there. Truly. I think that baffles Catherine at times, but also, I think season 2 was a lot of her coming to terms with her love for him. And I think, at the end of season 2, her reaction to thinking that he was dead and she had honestly killed him, and her guttural reaction to that, and how sad she was, actually confirmed her love for him. And so, in a twisted way, I think the third season, they’re in marriage counseling with a marriage witch. They’re doing marriage games, trying to make the marriage work, and trying to be good parents to Paul. And I think it weirdly all balances out. It’s like she tried to kill him and he basically killed her mom, but I think they’re gonna try to make it work. I think the problem is Peter’s ego, and can he keep that in check? Because he in many ways is the stay-at-home dad. He’s an amazing father, but is he gonna be okay with just being a stay-at-home dad while he watches his wife do his old job better? And that’s kind of the crux of the season, in many ways.

Are there any new faces we should keep an eye on?

Queen Agnes [Grace Molony] and King Hugo [Freddie Fox] of Sweden, they have a very big role this year. They’re just so funny and such a crazy married couple. But I think you should keep your eye on them, for sure. Because they have ulterior motives themselves and Sweden has a very big part to play.

[There’s also] Henry Meredith, he plays Maxim, Marial’s kid-husband, who we were introduced to in season 2 a bit. But now he has a much more prominent role this year and is a complete scene stealer. I mean, he’s so funny. In all the table reads, because our show is so raunchy, he was with his mom and he would walk in for his scenes, and then he would have to leave the room and then come back in. Sorry, Henry! He’d be like, “Oh, I know what’s going on.” [We’re like], “Oh, of course you do.” But he’s really great. He kept wanting to get into the blooper reel because that’s the only thing his friends can see. So he would like mess up takes just for the bloopers. [Laughs.]

This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity. [Source]

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