Gillian Anderson on The Great Season 2 and Filming the Slapping Scene

[Editor's note: The following contains some spoilers for Episode 7, "Stapler," and Episode 8, "Five Days," for Season 2 of The Great.]

From creator Tony McNamara, the second season of the Hulu original series The Great sees Catherine (Elle Fanning) succeed in her coup against Peter (Nicholas Hoult), taking the Russian throne for herself. But that’s definitely not the end of the battle, as she finds herself up against her court, her team and even her own mother (Gillian Anderson), and she must decide whether she might actually love the husband turned prisoner who is also the father of her child.

During this interview with Collider, which you can both watch and read, Anderson talked about playing Joanna, a mother who always knows what’s best for her family and expects her children to follow her plan, why she wanted to be a part of The Great, the challenge of working in the incredible costumes, whether she believes Joanna loves Catherine, shooting the slapping scene, and what she enjoyed about working with Fanning. She also compared the experiences of bringing to life incredible real-life women, such as Margaret Thatcher in The Crown and Eleanor Roosevelt in The First Lady.

Collider: When this role came your way, how much did they tell you about her? Were you familiar with the show? Did you get the scripts to read? Was it just conversations that you had? Did you know what you would get into for two episodes?

GILLIAN ANDERSON: Good question. I was not familiar with the show. I got the scripts before I watched any of the episodes. After I’d read the first script, for Episode 7, I was so taken with the dialogue and it was so clear what the level of humor was in the world that they were living in. I laughed so many times out loud. And then, I watched the first season. That type of irreverence is so right up my alley. It’s delightful to watch and it was a lot of fun to get to be able to say, “Yes, I wanna jump into this world because it really appeals to me.” That’s how it happened.

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There’s something so fun about watching people be naughty in this incredible wardrobe, and this wardrobe seemed like it was very extra. What was it like to get fitted for, to wear, and to work in these incredible costumes? How much does that inform the character?

ANDERSON: Quite a lot. As you would imagine, there are many fittings. It’s quite a process, but a fun process to be involved in, to watch it coming together and little bits added and tucks happening and different layers happening, and then there are the panniers, which are the things that you wear on top of the corset, in order to make the hips that wide. There’s something so comical about a dress with panniers. When one is wearing a dress that looks like that, it immediately makes you feel like you’re in a comedy or should be in a comedy. It affects everything. It affects how you move, how you go through doorways, how you sit. It’s a lot of weight on one’s hips. I wasn’t expecting that so much, but it was such a pleasure to get to wear these masterpieces on a daily basis that I forget that.

How did you view this woman and how did you view her relationship with Catherine? Do you feel like she loves Catherine?

ANDERSON: Yes, I think she does love Catherine. She just has a plan, and her plan is the right way. It’s the way that she has gotten a lot of attention to herself, but it’s also a way that she thinks is the best way for her daughters, and she doesn’t want that to be altered or messed with. She basically will do whatever it takes, it turns out, in order to have the outcome that she wants to have. You can still be that manipulative and yet love.

What was it like to do the slapping scene? What goes into doing that? Is there a conversation? Is there a rehearsal? How many times did you have to do that?

ANDERSON: Well, it’s all down to the angle that is being shot. What you hope is that you’re actually not gonna make contact. Where the camera is, my hand does not made contact with Elle’s head, but her head turns at the moment my hand is coming across it, and the sound is added later. One hopes that that’s how it goes. I have had to punch somebody once, where I did make contact, and that is not fun, both for them or for your hand. It really needs professionals to be around to show you how to do it properly, and there were professionals.

You’ve gone from playing Margaret Thatcher in The Crown to Catherine the Great’s mother in The Great to now Eleanor Roosevelt in The First Lady. Has one of those been more challenging than the others? Do they each present their challenges? Is it easier to figure out a character when you have little to no information and can do your own background, or is it easier when you have history to refer to?

ANDERSON: There’s actually not that much history on Joanna, so I’m not sure whether I would necessarily count her in that triptych. Certainly, both for Thatcher and for Eleanor, there was so much that it was almost an embarrassment of riches. Honestly, Eleanor was probably the hardest. There was just something about her. I don’t know why I found it more of a challenge than with Thatcher. Certainly, it was more episodes. It was a longer time frame between beginning and end. It covered more time. She aged more and there was more history. There were also so many different sides to her. With Thatcher, you only really see her a little bit as a mother and wife, but mostly as a politician. And with Eleanor, you get to see a well-rounded perspective of who this woman was, over a couple of decades of her lifetime. That was probably part of the challenge.

RELATED: Gillian Anderson on Playing Margaret Thatcher on ‘The Crown’ Season 4 and ‘Sex Education’ Season 3

What was it like to embody her and to make those discoveries and to have that little Roosevelt family to work with?

ANDERSON: It was heaven. She was such an extraordinary woman. She was such a powerhouse of a woman. I learned so much. I didn’t realize there was so much that I didn’t know. There’s a treasure trove of information that’s out there about them and the degree to which her and Franklin had impact on the citizens of America, but also around the world. The works that she did, where she funneled her personal finances, the books that she wrote, and the causes that she attached herself to, from the very beginning to the very end, she just didn’t rest. She was of service. She was extraordinary. It was amazing to be able to be in her shoes for a little while.

You’ve been playing these extraordinary women who are just so fascinating to watch. I loved the scenes between you and Elle Fanning, especially because she embodies her role so brilliantly. What did you enjoy about working with her as a scene partner?

ANDERSON: Elle is just fantastic. She’s so committed to this character, and she’s so good and so specific, it’s fascinating to watch her work and just a joy to work with. So was Nick [Hoult]. Everyone was. They made me feel very welcome. They’re having so much fun, and they make it fun for you too. It was a real pleasure.

The Great is available to stream at Hulu.

‘The Great’ Showrunner Tony McNamara on Marial’s Big Move, Season 2 Plans, and That Ending

The Oscar-nominated writer also talks about the show's fast pace and why he didn't write all the episodes before filming started.

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About The Author
Christina Radish (5060 Articles Published)

Christina Radish is a Senior Reporter at Collider. Having worked at Collider for over a decade (since 2009), her primary focus is on film and television interviews with talent both in front of and behind the camera. She is a theme park fanatic, which has lead to covering various land and ride openings, and a huge music fan, for which she judges life by the time before Pearl Jam and the time after. She is also a member of the Critics Choice Association and the Television Critics Association.

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