Variety Streaming Room
Season 2 of “The Great” is all about pregnancies and food cravings. Hulu’s historical comedy series, which follows a very fictionalized version of Catherine the Great’s rise to power in…
Season 2 of “The Great” is all about pregnancies and food cravings.
Hulu’s historical comedy series, which follows a very fictionalized version of Catherine the Great’s rise to power in Russia, spends the majority of its second outing covering Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) pregnancy with the child of her husband Peter (Nicholas Hoult), who she has just unseated in a coup. According to series star and executive producer Fanning, the pregnancy acted as a parallel between Catherine’s personal and royal life, as she prepares to become the mother of a child at the same time she becomes the mother of a country.
“I think for Catherine, I didn’t look at her as necessarily super maternal,” Fanning said. “I think the bump is kind of just there and in a weird way, kind of a hindrance to her. Because I think she looks at it more as like a ticking time bomb of, she has a lot of ideas and she’s trying to implement them before the baby’s born, because after he’s out, she doesn’t necessarily know what’s going to happen with her.”
Fanning was joined by “The Great” showrunner and executive producer Tony McNamara, composer Nathan Barr, production designer Francesca Di Mottola, costume designer Sharon Long and hair and makeup designer Louise Coles in a Variety streaming room panel. In conversation with Variety senior artisans editor Jazz Tangcay, the crew discussed bringing the violent, bloody and opulent series back to Hulu for its second outing last November.
Season 2 of “The Great” features a raucous baby shower scene, with the characters decked out in wigs and makeup. According to Coles, the entire season featured over 450 wigs, and the ones in the baby shower scene were constructed using chicken wire cages.
“It was so fun actually watching you guys all go onto the set and see these ginormous wigs for the first time,” Coles said. “And these women that came in, these amazing supporting artists that kind of had to balance themselves. And they couldn’t even get into the bathrooms they were so tall. But it was an amazing opportunity to be able to really do something like that. And because there’s a comic edge to it, there were things like Fabergé eggs and cherubs, and all these accessories that we made to sit inside these huge wigs and pieces that the crown team made.”
Long worked closely with the makeup team during the shoot, particularly on Catherine’s coronation outfit, which Fanning described as her favorite costume she’s worn, ever. Explaining the process behind the gold dress and the crown, Long described it as a complicated procedure to bring the elements together.
“It was scripted as a Russian sarafan, a traditional dress,” Long said. “And then we just sort of had to make that look absolutely fantastic because that’s the whole idea is that Catherine turns it on its head. She comes out in what you imagine is going to be something quite awful and old fashioned, and in an actual fact, it’s a spectacular. So it was taking the traditional and making it in a way contemporary.”
“The Great” is shot in East London, with the magnificent palace the story takes place in being built from the ground up. In addition to building the sets, Di Mottola is also in charge of organizing and producing the food for the series, which ranges from delicacies to bizarre dishes created by the food-obsessed Peter.
“I do enjoy eating, so I think I was hired partially because of that,” Di Mottola said. “There’s something that he comes up with and we’re like, ‘Okay, what would that look? Back then what ingredients would they use?’ And you know, it’s partially the inventing of something, because Peter’s often inventing something. So, it’s making it look realistic, but also great on camera, and also something that is edible and that Elle and Nick will sort of be able to eat. That’s not always easy.”
The music of the series, as created by Barr, is an eclectic fusion of traditional Russian elements and more traditional touches. Although Barr usually composes after the show has finished shooting, for Season 2, he composed a piece ahead of time that plays during a pivotal dance scene between Hoult and Fanning.
“We called it the sex dance,” Barr said. “You got that ahead of time, the music and then choreograph this really wonderful spot to the two of them sort of coming together and not coming together. It’s fun, it’s fanciful, it’s a little dangerous. And so that was one of those moments where it was really fun to sort of see the music be front and center.”
The second season of “The Great” ends on a cliffhanger, with Catherine and Peter at a crossroads in their relationship. Teasing the upcoming third season, McNamara said it will focus on the two as they attempt to rebuild a functional relationship, after the pain they caused each other over the course of the series.
“The ending was very much like ‘We can’t quite kill each other, and we can’t quite quit each other,'” McNamara said. “They are in this place where they’re very aware, they’ve done a lot of things to each other. They’ve got some baggage for Season 3 with the mother killing and the Pugachev stabbing. And so I think in Season 3, it’s about how they can kind of be together. How do they even function as a couple? Which is going to be a lot of fun to watch.”