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How ‘The Great’ Star Elle Fanning Handled Producing, Comedy and That Peeing Scene

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Two years after director Yorgos Lanthimos turned Tony McNamara’s script “The Favourite” into a twisted, Oscar-winning look at the British court of Queen Anne, McNamara himself has applied the same sensibility to 18th-century Russia in “The Great.” The Hulu series stars Nicholas Hoult as the egotistical but inept Peter III and Elle Fanning as his young, naïve wife Catherine, who would go on to lead Russia for more than 30 years.

The opening credits to each episode call “The Great” “an occasionally true story,” and certainly there’s a distinctly modern sensibility and a load of deliberate anachronisms in the portrayal of the dysfunctional Russian court. The series is blackly comic feast centered on the delicious feuding between Hoult, played by “The Favorite” vet Nicholas Hoult, and Catherine, played by Elle Fanning with a breezy combination of innocence and steel. Fanning, who also served as an executive producer on the series, spoke to TheWrap about “The Great” on the day that Hulu renewed it for a second season.

You got involved with this before it actually was a TV series, right?
Yes, that’s true. I was sent a film script, which was written by Tony based off a (2008) play that he put on in Australia. Tony, I guess, had been thinking of me, but the young Catherine was just a small kind of sliver in that big script, because it really spanned her entire life.

And there’s so much information there, it just seemed right that this should be a television series. And I was allowed to hop on board as an executive producer of the show before it was picked up. It was stepping into that role behind the scenes, which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, but then also getting to play an incredible character with the best script I’ve ever read.

I would also think that being a producer for the first time might have helped, since Catherine was stepping into a new, more powerful role as well.
Totally. There was such a parallel there. Much like Catherine is finding her voice and her authority in this story, I was doing the same. My confidence had to build, because I would have a lot of notes and sometimes I wouldn’t say anything. I realized I have to speak up. Maybe I’m not always right, but we have to at least have the conversation. Over those six months, my voice got pretty big, I have to say I, which I was happy about.

As a producer, did you have certain priorities going into this?
Yeah. It’s such a specific tone, so I think every decision was always talked about in regards to this tightrope that everybody is walking — not just the characters, but the production design and costumes have to fit this world. No one’s really seen a world like this before — it’s completely created by us. It has little modern touches, but also things that you don’t normally see.

We filmed in London, so obviously I’m sure they film a lot of BBC period dramas and they’re used to that. So even in big banquet scenes or party scenes, everybody would have the most perfect etiquette. I would look around and be like, “We need to shake it up, you know?” I’d tell the first AD, “They can eat with their hands.”

I remember even the candelabras, people were cleaning the candle wax off of them and I’m like, “In Peter’s court, they wouldn’t do that.” So it was about making sure we had enough broken chairs and broken glass. Those details really mattered.

The show is so much fun, but also involves torture and murder and chopped-off heads at the dinner table for dessert.
We really found our stride in when we were filming that severed-heads dessert scene. I was like, “This is so us, you know? This is our Russia. We have a severed head next to a lemon sorbet. This is our show summed up in one scene.”

There are bizarre things happening and funny things happening, but there are such high stakes involved that it’s important when things do get serious that you feel this emotional connection that doesn’t feel out of the blue. So I think for all of us, even though we were telling jokes, it all has to come from a really truthful place that makes the audience feel for each character.

It’s also a show about a young woman trying to exercise agency in an environment that is set up to give her no control over her own life. Was it important to you that it deal with issues like that?
Completely. I think that’s what’s so intriguing about the story and about the real Catherine the Great. Although we’re not a historical document by any means, we still tried to capture the essence of what Catherine the Great did and how incredible she was. Most everyone that I talked to, what they know her for is this rumor that she had sex with a horse, which is so reductive and sad. We reduce this incredible woman who brought female education, art, science — she was the longest ruling woman ruler of Russia, and we reduce her to this rumor and that’s what people know her for.

So it was important that she was really humanized. I think her youth is so important. Especially in the beginning, she’s still optimistic and romantic. And then she goes into this upside-down world and reality slaps her and she realizes, “OK, I have to do something about it.” So many people that are in situations like that say, “Oh, OK, I’ll just live with it.” And she decides she’s not going to live with it, even if she is completely out of her depth at times.

And I love playing her arrogance. She’s very arrogant at times — she doesn’t know anything she’s talking about, but she’s good at faking it. There’s so much more to explore with her.

And as arrogant as she is, anytime she’s in a room with Peter, she’s at best the second most arrogant person in the room.
Yeah, that’s true. And Nicholas Hoult is so fantastic. Obviously Nick was in “The Favourite,” so he was used to Tony’s writing and the comedic timing of everything. So he really kept me on my game in that way. But also, to add so many layers to him where he could just be easily written off as nasty and the enemy — actually, sometimes I watch and I’m like, “Oh, he’s kind of playing Catherine. He’s a little smart.” Or he’s like this man-child and you kind of pity him. And I think that’s how Catherine’s feeling too, because she absolutely hates him but at times he’s kind of amusing to her. I think there is an odd romantic feeling there.

You play a real historical figure, but the opening credits spell out that it’s only occasionally true. Did you feel as if you had to research what she was really like and what really happened?
Yeah, that was another tightrope to balance. That was something I talked about with a lot of the other cast members. Because I think they went into it and they’re like, “All right, we’re going to research this time period.” And we went to the first table read and Tony was like, “Put away the history books. You don’t need to do any of that.” I fairly quickly realized that our scripts are the Bible for us, and that’s all I really needed. I researched a bit. I looked at her handwriting, which was obviously all in Russian. One of the first pieces of information I learned about her is that she invented the roller coaster, and I’m like, “OK, that tells me pretty much all I need to know. She sounds like someone I would want to be friends with.”

What was the most challenging part of playing her?
Just in a technical sense, comedy. I’ve explored comedy a bit, but this is my first major comedy. I think for me it was getting that rhythm and the timing and reading a script and knowing, “That’s a joke and I want to hit the joke.”

And I learned to not be embarrassed. In comedy that that’s the key ingredient, to just let yourself go and be uninhibited. I’m quite a silly, uninhibited person in my real life. But when you get on a set around tons of people, with the outrageous things Tony has us doing, you have to commit. I think maybe that was the biggest challenge that I learned along the way. Just go there do full-on do it. And if you fall on your face, you can do it again.

Are there any particular examples of things that when you were doing them, you were thinking, “I cannot believe that I’m doing this?”
The peeing-on-wheat scenes, that was pretty outrageous. (The scenes depict an early kind of pregnancy test: If the wheat blooms, the woman is pregnant.) In Episode 10, I have a scene with Aunt Elizabeth (Belinda Bromilow), and I have to hold in my pee. I felt like I wasn’t committing completely on that day. I realized that when you’re holding in your pee and then finally you do release it, how good that feels. So I was like, “We have to do another take and get that feeling right.” I had to embarrass myself.

You were one of two series about Catherine the Great this year, the other being “Catherine the Great” with Helen Mirren. Did you watch any of her take on Catherine?
I feel like it came out while we were shooting, so I didn’t watch it. And I didn’t watch any of the Catherine the Great movies, because I didn’t want to get it in my head. But I should now.

I think it’s interesting — what does that say about our world that so many things are being made about Catherine the Great now? I think the themes are very relevant and modern to today, with this woman taking charge and taking on the men. That’s pretty fascinating.

Entertainment

WarnerMedia Begins Massive Round of Layoffs

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The entertainment giant handed out hundreds of pink slips as Hollywood continues to reel amid the coronavirus pandemic.

WarnerMedia has begun a round of layoffs with the entertainment giant letting go hundreds of staffers amid the coronavirus crisis that has crippled Hollywood with shelved tentpoles and production shutdowns. Sources say the first wave of layoffs is expected to be around 600 staffers, with a heavy focus at Warner Bros. 

The laid off employees include Warner Bros. CFO Kim Williams, Warner Bros. Worldwide Television Distribution president Jeff Schlesinger and Ron Sanders, Warner Bros. president, Worldwide Theatrical Distribution & Home Entertainment and Executive Vice President, International Business Operations.

The pink slips were handed out in departments encompassing film and TV and come in the aftermath of a major restructuring at the company that saw WarnerMedia Entertainment and direct to consumer chairman Bob Greenblatt and content chief and TBS, TNT and TruTV president Kevin Reilly ousted last week. The cuts also follow a series of Hollywood layoffs and furloughs that have affected agencies like CAA and Endeavor and such studios as Universal, Disney and Lionsgate.

“Jeff, Ron and Kim are all highly valued members of my senior leadership team, and we will be forever grateful for the many meaningful and lasting contributions each of them has made to Warner Bros.,” said Ann Sarnoff, chair and CEO of Warner Bros. and newly announced head of WarnerMedia’s Studio and Networks Group. “I thank them all for their dedication and years of service, and wish them the very best in their next chapters.”

Added Sanders: “Warner Bros. is known for being the most celebrated studio in history for good reason. The talent is unmatched, both on the creative and business sides, and I’m honored to have been entrusted to oversee a great portfolio of businesses around the world for the last 30 years.”

Sources say Warners’ Atlanta base, which features scores of staff in cable TV operations and marketing divisions, was especially impacted. Like other media conglomerates, redundancies with other similar departments from other divisions are among the first to go.

On the film front, Warner Bros. has not been immune to the challenges that have rocked the industry. The studio moved its highly anticipated summer film Tenet multiple times (it is opening internationally on Aug. 26, followed by a U.S. release in select cities over Labor Day weekend). The studio also bumped the Wonder Woman sequel off its original summer release date as well as the John Chu-helmed and Lin Manuel Miranda-penned musical In the Heights (the former is scheduled to open Oct. 2, and the latter moved to summer 2021).

The changes arrive as WarnerMedia, under new CEO Jason Kilar, is putting its newly launched streamer HBO Max front and center. The service, which launched May 27, was hoping to convert many of linear cable network HBO’s 30 million-plus subscribers, which costs the same amount. But HBO Max only added 1.1 million HBO customers and 3 million retail customers in its first month. The rollout was hampered by the company’s ongoing negotiations with Amazon and Roku about bringing the app to their connected TV devices. More than two months after launch, HBO Max still isn’t available on either platform.

“It’s been a great 37 year run, with 26 as president of International Television Distribution, spanning six mergers, millions of miles traveled, thousands of programs sold and billions of dollars generated,” Schlesinger said. “In the end, it took a global pandemic and a complete reorganization of the company for me to trip over the last hurdle. I hope to always be remembered as the only studio executive to ride into an International Screenings party at the studio on the back of an elephant in the ‘good old days.’”

Added Williams: “Warner Bros. has a unique and wonderful history; heralded and iconic, it is one that I am proud to have been part of. It is also filled to the brim with the best and brightest. I will cherish my time at this great company.”

The restructuring comes as legacy media companies continue to make major executive suite changes amid a landscape that increasingly places streaming as the top priority. Last week, NBCUniversal outlined a similar strategy and folded all business operations under Frances Berwick, while a search continues for an exec to oversee entertainment programming across streamer Peacock as well as NBC and the company’s suite of cable networks. ViacomCBS, for its part, has also consolidated its executive ranks in the past year-plus, with Chris McCarthy adding a growing number of networks to his purview. The novel coronavirus has forced many legacy media companies to tighten costs amid declining profits, with many insiders noting the restructurings should have taken place well before the pandemic created an economic reason to do so.

The global pandemic has shuttered movie theaters from Beijing to New York as social distancing becomes the new normal across the globe. Studios including Warners have been forced to shutter production on major tentpoles like the most recent outing of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them.

A number of studio parent companies had addressed the fallout from the virus crisis including WarnerMedia owner AT&T and signaled cut-cutting measures to come. On March 20, as the pandemic’s fallout became more clear, the telecom giant said it was canceling planned stock buybacks, including an accelerated share repurchase agreement with Morgan Stanley to buy back $4 billion of its stock, in order to maintain financial flexibility. “The impacts of the pandemic could be material, but due to the evolving nature of this situation, we are not able at this time to estimate the impact on our financial or operational results,” AT&T said.

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Kyle Richards: Here’s How I KNOW Denise Richards is a Liar!

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On last week’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, Denise Richards tried to deflect by spreading lies about Lisa Rinna.


Kyle Richards is explaining why she doesn’t believe a word that came out of Denise’s mouth.


“I swear to god, if I can’t go to dinner with these girls and not talk about sex, I don’t think I can go to dinner with them ever,” Sutton Stracke comments.


In fact, she has thought of a way that she might have diffused the entire conversation.


“I should have just said, ‘it was me,’ to make it go away,” Sutton remarks, before acknowledging that she might not be believed.

Sutton Stracke on the aftershow (on lockdown)


Speaking of things that are unlikely to be believed, Sutton adds of Denise’s accusation: “It was a little … off.”


Sutton was not alone in not believing Denise’s claim that Brandi had made these wild claims about every woman, or about Lisa.


And Kyle was less inclined to mince words about it.

Kyle Richards Used Simple Reasoning


“I looked around the table,” Kyle describes, “and I was like … let me do the math, here.”


“She barely knows Teddi,” she notes. “She doesn’t know Sutton.”


Ultimately, Kyle says that she narrowed it down to: “Lisa Rinna … or me. Which is hilarious.”

Kyle Richards math edit


“And I was like, ‘Just say it’s none of our business,'” Kyle recalls.


“Or say that it’s not true, believe who you want, who cares,” her list of suggestions continues.


“Whatever,” Kyle continues, clearly annoyed with how over the top Denise’s deflection ended up being.

Denise Richards Claims That She's Not Lying


“But to say that,” Kyle laments.


She recalls her internal reaction: “I was just like, ‘that didn’t happen.'”


“You just came up with that last night in your hotel room,” Kyle accuses.

The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills Dine Out in Rome


Sutton very graciously — yet shadily — suggests that maybe, just maybe, Denise is telling the truth.


Not about Brandi’s alleged statements about boning every woman she’s met, of course. No one believes Denise there.


But Sutton is willing to accept that it’s possible that Denise never boned Brandi.

Kyle Richards Knows Whom to Believe


Kyle, like many fans, cannot get past the absurd degree to which Denise protested too much.


“She went in so hard with the ‘I don’t even know her, this is not true, it’s not true, it’s not true,'” Kyle points out.


We are then reminded that Denise claimed that she never said anything negative about anyone, a difficult claim to swallow.

Denise Richards Glowers While Garcelle Beauvais Worries


“And then,” Kyle continues, Denise “came back 24 hours later, and sits down.”


She narrates “And said ‘well, actually, she said that she slept with one of you guys at the table, too.'”


Teddi laughs at the absurdity of that.

Kyle Richards Eyes Her Classmate


Many Housewives have claimed to have known all along things that they clearly did not know at the time.


To her credit, Kyle said, to Denise’s face, “I don’t believe that she said that” right there at the time at that table.


“After 24 hours?!” Kyle continues. “Just say it’s none of our business. Don’t do that.”

Lisa Rinna Tells Her Friend to STFU


“It’s just so obviously made up and invented on the spot,” Kyle describes.


“Then,” she expresses, “I didn’t feel like we were dealing with anybody who wanted to be honest or speak the truth.”


In other words, this is why Kyle believes Brandi.

Denise Richards Smiles and Plans to Sue


Denise has hinted at her intentions to sue Brandi in order to silence her.


Not only was this way too little, way too late, but it’s not exactly going to convince anyone that she’s telling the truth.


This isn’t Joanna Krupa’s lawsuit, where she just had to drag in some exes to declare that her vagina smells nice.

Denise Richards Starts a Rumor


Garcelle Beauvais said it best.


Denise does not owe anyone (aside from, perhaps, her husband and also Brandi) any explanations about her sex life.


But that doesn’t mean that people aren’t interested. When you’re a public figure, you know that people will have questions.

Denise Richards in Beverly Hills


Perhaps if Denise had done any of the things that her castmates have suggested, it would not have been a huge issue.


The tears, the “Bravo, Bravo, Bravo,” and then this incredible (as in literally, not credible) claim about Lisa are not cutting it.


They look like the actions of a desperate woman who is trying to hide the truth. So even if Denise is telling the truth, she’s making herself look like a liar.

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Lindsey Buckingham Sings Live For The First Time Since Heart Surgery: Watch

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Lindsey Buckingham had open heart surgery last year, which resulted in vocal cord damage. He’s been recovering, though — a couple months after surgery, he appeared at his daughter’s graduation to play “Landslide,” though he didn’t sing. Buckingham was scheduled to go on a solo tour in the spring, presumably where he would sing, but that tour was of course cancelled due to the pandemic.

So Buckingham’s first singing performance in over a year ended up happening on a Zoom call for the cloud computing company Nutanix, as Rolling Stone reports. He did four songs, two Fleetwood Mac ones (“Never Going Back Again” and “Big Love”) and two solo tracks (“Trouble” and “Shut Us Down”).

“This [pandemic] has been like a couple of years previous in which things occurred that I did not see coming,” Buckingham said during the interview portion of the Zoom call. “One was my split from Fleetwood Mac. Another one was having a bypass operation, which I did not expect to happen. You could say that this makes it a trifecta of events that were completely off the charts.”

Buckingham also talked about an upcoming solo record: “I do have an album coming out. We’re waiting to see where this is all going. We don’t have a release date. I was meant to be out on the road now promoting it. It should be out in the spring sometime. It’s just self-titled: Lindsey Buckingham. We’ll see where that goes.”

The performance is below. Buckingham’s songs are at 8m23s, 20m02s, 32m50s, and 44m54s.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=x1xGUkc19JQ

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