Producing on ‘The Great’ Helped Her Find Her Voice – Deadline

Having acted since the age of two, Elle Fanning is a unique kind of veteran. Now, at 24, she knows how to manage on set but still has the energy and fervor to take on new challenges, like producing the shows she stars in, which she started doing in 2020 with Greatfollowed by this year’s The Girl from Plainville, which is based on real events. Great will soon begin filming its third season. For Fanning, these roles have kept her on her proverbial toes, while allowing her to expand her skills as a producer.

DEADLINE: You were a producer on Great. What has production taught you about your craft that you may not have known before?

ELLE FANNING: I think I’m still learning in that aspect of being behind the scenes, but it’s still something that really appealed to me. I think as a child actor you grow up on film sets, but watching everyone around you, watching other people make decisions and set things up, and so I’ve always been fascinated by it. So now that I can pull back the curtain and be in these rooms and participate in conversations that I normally wouldn’t have, I’m really happy in this place. I thrive when I can get creative, strategize, and think about how best to put this show together.

The editing room for me, I was there a lot during The daughter of Plainville, and I really enjoyed the editing process. The post-production of it all and how the editing can change so much if you just flip things around and choose other takes, and the nuance of that, I absolutely loved it. I definitely grew in my voice. Strangely, like, Great and playing Catherine helped me with that because she’s a young woman, and most of the time she’s not looked at with the greatest respect. Learning from the way Tony [McNamara, screenwriter] write to him and be able, I don’t know, to say what I think. Mostly because I have to remember that I’m obviously very young and still learning, but at the same time I’ve been doing comedy since I was two. So in a lot of ways, I think people like to think, “Well, you’re young, you don’t know.” It’s like, “Well, you know what, maybe I do this time?” Just learning to speak and building that confidence, I appreciate that.

DEADLINE: You say playing Catherine helped you find your voice a bit more. How ? Are there any moments you can name?

VENTILATE: She helped me so much. It’s an important role in my life and my career, it’s just very special… One of the scenes in the second season, I had the idea to do this, and Tony allowed me, but we needed something to show that Catherine was trying to have a good time, and what her drunken party thing was [while still being pregnant]. And, obviously, I loved having the belly because I could use it for so many different things, and to have physical comedy. I won’t have it this year, but I enjoyed it. But I had the idea of: “What if I made a bridge because I could do a back-bend and serve macarons on my stomach as a table?” And Tony is like, “Perfect. That’s great.” Then you’re at that point, you’re like, “What am I doing, is this my job?” But it served the show well.

Elle Fanning is Catherine the Great in the Hulu series Great.
Gareth Gatrell/Hulu

DEADLINE: Having started so young, what drives you?

VENTILATE: There are so many things I’ve done obviously, but for me there’s still so many things I haven’t done. I like to challenge myself, like Great at Plainville, I only had two weeks between shoots, and these roles probably couldn’t be more different. So the challenge of that and being able to shock people. I’ve always loved proving people wrong [about] the box they want to put me in. And often also, I choose projects because it’s a director or actors that I want to work with that I never had, and I feel like this list is still endless for me. And you can feel the active muscle growing, I believe it’s a muscle, and you can feel it cracking.

And I think with those two roles in particular, I feel it even more open; to just be willing to be bold and show off. It sounds cliché, but the set is where I feel most comfortable, and where I feel most myself and also not myself, which makes me maybe the most me- same. I want to produce more, I feel now that I can find books and stories that I like, or articles. My ears and eyes are always open for material, which isn’t the case when you’re younger.

DEADLINE: Does the production make you want to go further, like the direction?

VENTILATE: I would love to direct. It’s a big dream for me, that’s for sure. Yeah. One day I will. I do not know. Not soon, but I will one day, 100%. I really feel that itch.

DEADLINE: In the pilot episode of La Fille de Plainville, you provide a look that sets history in motion. How did you get into Michelle’s shoes?

VENTILATE: This scene definitely stood out when you read the scripts, and that’s when you start to question Michelle’s intentions. For me, playing a role like this is obviously a real person, but you have to distance yourself and not get bogged down in the fact that you’re playing a real person – who I didn’t have access ; I didn’t think it was appropriate to speak to her and there’s not much recording of her there’s the courtroom footage but that’s just a phase of her life. So we have these seven years of following her, and she has so many different faces, and I think it’s so many different people. Really, what made me drop out to get in the role was his obsession with Joy and Blame it on our stars, and this world YA. He was someone who, I believe, was extremely isolated and felt very alone in the world, and was really constantly looking for attention. I think she is watching Joy and reading those YA novels and watching those movies was the way she could be the star of her own show and finally get the attention she really desperately wanted.

I think at that point it’s the start of a scene because Lea Michele is mourning her boyfriend in real life, but also playing Rachel on the show, mourning a deceased character in real life life. Then Michelle, in a way, mimics grief, which is so weird about it. So I was matching Rachel’s emotions verbatim in that scene and trying to mimic her exactly, because I think the more it looked like what I was copying, the weirder it would feel and what was needed for the ending. And the smile at the end, I remember in the script, it said, Michelle feels like I nailed the performance, but I also felt, as Her, I felt like have done things well. So part of it was honestly Elle, I felt like I made it, and that’s what came out of it. But I think the smile is like, “Wow, wait, is she really upset that he died, or is this a completely orchestrated manipulation?” Which is obviously a big question throughout the series.


Elle Fanning as Catherine.
Gareth Gatrell/Hulu

DEADLINE: The character is based on a real person, so how much did you imagine compared to the facts you knew about him?

VENTILATE: I think you really have to rely on the people around you, and in our case, Patrick Macmanus and Liz Hannah, our showrunners, and Liz got to direct a few episodes, and she’s a very close friend and we worked together previously. So, being able to lean on them and knowing that they can also later calibrate performance to what it needs to be. Because I think for me, Michelle – at least our Michelle – there’s nothing more dramatic in life than being a teenager. So, she’s a teenager, but her drama is also very high, as a person. So, I think it was calibrating when I wanted to push his drama, and when I felt like it had to be a real emotion, which makes a difference.

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So it was every day to figure that out. The show really plays with fantasy a lot, and as an actor, I’m someone who lives in a fantasy world most of the time, and I have to remember to stay grounded. With Michelle, she thrives in her fantasy, and with technology, you can create a whole fantasy world for yourself. I absolutely loved doing those moments of texting with Colton [Ryan], who plays Conrad. Because texting can be a really boring thing to watch on screen, but I think for us it was important to have them together, to show that this was the real relationship. They only met a handful of times, and for both of them, it was very real.

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