The Great is back for another "shocking and surprising" season on Hulu, following a hilarious and poignant first season covering Catherine the Great's rise in power in Russia. Now that Catherine (Elle Fanning) was successful in the overthrow of her husband Peter III (Nicholas Hoult), she learns the true cost of power. Changing Russia isn't an overnight project, and even with plenty of support, Catherine has a long road ahead of her. There are friends, played by Phoebe Fox and Sacha Dhawan, and enemies, played by Gwilym Lee and Bayo Gbadamosi. In a recent interview with PopCulture.com the stars teased the new season.
The Great was created by Tony McNamara, and goes in the polar opposite direction of other historical epics. While many take themselves completely seriously, The Great leans so hard into satire that it often rejects history. "We're not making a historical documentary," Dhawan, who stars as Catherine's close advisor Count Orlo, explained. "The heart of the story is, yes, it's Catherine the Great, but what Tony's so brilliant at doing, which he's certainly done in Season 2 now that he's established the show, is just introducing so many different themes, ideas, characters, as we just mentioned now with Gillian Anderson."
Late in Season 2, Gillian Anderson makes an unforgettable entrance as Catherine's mother, Johanna, just after her appearance as another historical figure, Margaret Thatcher, on The Crown. Anderson's character throws off the status quo, coming in as an "unknown entity," as Fox described her. Fox's character, Catherine's friend, Marial, even feels pushed out of the picture by Anderson's presence. "On one hand, she's really carefree and joyous in season two, and I missed that antagonistic, a bit violent Marial," Fox said. "And that all came back up with Gillian's character, because they really don't like each other."
Season 2 is also defined by the drastic power dynamic shift. Catherine is now Empress and Peter is her prisoner. Peter's best friends, Grigor (Lee) and Arkady (Gbadamosi) are now suddenly desperate after spending a whole season being arrogant. For Lee, no better scene captures this shift than the coronation early on. "Where everyone's got front row seats and we're right at the back in a separate room, not part of the action. And it's quite striking in that moment," Lee said.
For those on the winning side, life is great... until it isn't. "We've all been desperately scrapping away trying to get status," Fox said. "And then we get it and we get to enjoy we what we've sown. Then [we] realize all the stuff that comes with it, and that power is... not all maybe it's cracked up to be. It's not as easy as they think it's going to be and things are tenuous. It's hard to hold onto power."
One of the many aspects of The Great that can throw any viewer off is its attention to detail while still branching off in some bizarre and uncomfortable directions that satirize the absurdity of 18th Century aristocracy. Even though we all know Catherine becomes the longest-ruling female leader in Russia's history, McNamara always finds new ways to surprise and shock, as Gbadamosi points out. "All of it's shocking, but also really exciting because you find stuff out about your character and other characters that you just had no clue. And it's lots of fun," he said.
"The story happens to be set in Russia, but it feels so contemporary, universal, and relatable. I think that's why people love watching it," Dhawan also pointed out. "It's about Catherine the Great, but it's also about these wonderful characters that exist in this court, and the characters that come in and out of it as well." You can check out how McNamara and the cast bring Catherine to life with a 21st Century twist now that The Great Seasons 1 and 2 are available to stream on Hulu. Get your free trial subscription here to watch The Great and lots more Hulu programming!