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Elle Fanning on Why She Was Hesitant to Star in Hulu’s ‘The Girl From Plainville’

Awards Circuit Podcast: Also in this episode, 'Pachinko' showrunner Soo Hugh hopes that Japan audiences eventually catch up to her Apple TV+ show.

Elle Fanning Soo Hugh
AP

Elle Fanning is Hulu’s MVP this year, in contention via both her edgy comedy series “The Great” and the dark limited series “The Girl From Plainville.” Not only does she star in both she also serves as an executive producer on the two projects.

“Hulu comments on my Instagram photos all the time,” she says. “And it’s always a boost from Hulu. They’re like, ‘Yes, Queen! You’re doing great!” It’s like, thanks, Hulu! Whoever’s running that, they’re really giving me a boost in the morning when I check my comments.”

That affirmation is appreciated by Fanning as she heads to London soon to shoot Season 3 of “The Great.” Last year, she kept a grueling schedule in which she filmed “The Girl From Plainville” just days after wrapping Season 2 of “The Great.”

“It was a complete 180,” she says. Fanning spoke to Variety’s Awards Circuit Podcast about both shows, and in particular what it took to research the story behind “The Girl From Plainville” and depict her character in an honest way. Also in this episode, we chat with “Pachinko” creator and showrunner Soo Hugh about the origins behind her Apple TV+ show, and what’s next. Listen below!

In “The Girl From Plainville,” Fanning plays Michelle Carter, the teen who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter for encouraging her boyfriend, Conrad Roy III, to end his life. It’s indeed a marked contrast to playing a rebel Catherine the Great in Hulu’s wild “The Great.” And at first, given the salacious nature of how the story of Carter and Roy was covered in the media, Fanning wasn’t so sure she was interested in the role.

“I was tentative to honestly sign on to the project,” she says. “I think this is a story that can really easily be sensationalized and romanticized to do a TV show. I was like, gosh, that is not the story that I want to tell, especially knowing that these families are alive, and a young man’s life was lost. And I really talked to everyone involved a lot of times before saying yes. And ultimately, I also was able to be a producer on the show, which of course, adds more of a responsibility. But I felt like having a part of that control could contribute to telling the story in a thoughtful way.

“Michelle, they portrayed her as his Black Widow manipulator. And then, Conrad was also portrayed really one dimensionally. So I think all of us wanted to dive into that and also in the world of technology,” she adds. “This is the first generation of seeing what the results of growing up with technology can do. I think it’s so intriguing and honestly, really scary.”

As for Hugh, Apple TV+’s epic drama “Pachinko” is based on a novel by Min Jin Lee about the history and plight of ethnic Korean inhabitants of Japan, through the lens of Sunja, a fish merchant born in Korea during Japanese colonial rule. She is forced to immigrate to Japan after becoming pregnant out of wedlock. The series is about the multi-generation impact of this story, shown in the 1920s/1930s when Sunja (Min-ha Kim) is a young woman, followed by the late 1980s when she’s an elderly woman (Yuh-jung Youn) looking back on her life.

“The research component of the show took roughly a year,” Hugh says. “And one of the reasons why was because the show spans about over 80 years. And once you decide to cross cut time periods, I didn’t have the luxury of saying, ‘Oh, I’ll learn about that Season 2.’ Because all the characters have lived through all 80 years, I had to really break down the entire history from the get go from Season 1. And so talking to consultants and historians who were experts, food historians, costume historians. We had historians on everything from, like media historians, on what were people watching in the 1980s [on] Japanese television. Because I feel like for me, my bullshit radar goes off when you’re doing a period show. I really want to be immersed in it and fall into it and make it as visceral as possible. So really, those details help.”

“Pachinko” has been conceived as a four-season story, with Season 2 shooting early next year. Season 1 wasn’t able to shoot in Japan due to COVID issues, but Hugh hopes to get there for the next shoot.

“Japan is a crucial part of this production,” she says. “So we really would I’m very eager to get in there. And nervous, because we’re going in with the best intentions.”

But “Pachinko” has not yet resonated in Japan, likely due to the nature of the story shining a spotlight on the the country’s destructive occupation of Korea.

“Japan really was the great unknown,” she says. “Were they going to watch the show? Are they going to boycott the show? I think the reality was ended up being somewhere in the middle. Apple TV+ launched in Asia recently. And so I think Japan is definitely still catching up to the platform. But I have to believe, knowing the intentions that went behind what we did in Season one, and going forward, that a Japanese audience will find this show. And I have to believe that they will see that this show is not about casting heroes and villains. But at the same time, it’s not going to blink, it’s not going to turn away from what really happened. And I hope that the integrity of the storytelling is the thing that convinces people that we’re worth watching in Japan.”

Variety’s “Awards Circuit” podcast, produced by Michael Schneider, is your one-stop listen for lively conversations about the best in film and television. Each week “Awards Circuit” features interviews with top film and TV talent and creatives; discussions and debates about awards races and industry headlines; and much, much more. Subscribe via Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, Spotify or anywhere you download podcasts. New episodes post every Thursday and Friday.