Meet The Characters Bringing Hulu’s Mostly True Story The Great To Life

At the beginning of every episode of Hulu’s The Great, just after we’ve seen the title card, we’re reminded that the series is occasionally based on a true story — occasionally being the keyword. The series follows Catherine (Elle Fanning) as she moves to Russia and marries the current emperor, Peter III (Nicholas Hoult). This part is all true. A lot of things that happen next in the series are only sometimes true. 
The Great weaves this fact and fiction together giving us a peek into the Russian monarchy and no one is safe from a little embellishment of their real-life character. Many players in The Great were actually real people and had ties to Catherine and Peter during their reign in Russia, while others are completely fabricated or a clear mashup of a few different people helping to pull the strings. If you’re using the show as a crash-course in history you might want to double-check everything a few times, as things that appear true are not, and things that are so outlandishly ridiculous did in fact happen. 
Along with Fanning and Hoult, the cast includes a lot of names and faces you might have seen before, and it’s clear they’re all having a very good time living it up in Russia in the 1700s. If you’re looking for a who’s who of the cast, along with some back story on their (maybe fake) character, here’s what you need to know. 

Elle Fanning Play Catherine the Great

You might know a little bit about the story of Catherine the Great and how she staged a coup and overthrew her husband, taking control of Russia. We see the early days of that coup play out here, as Catherine works with her handmaiden (Marial) and a member of the court (Count Orlo) to discreetly plan their attack as they recruit others to join them. Catherine planning this coup is 100% true and she really did it. Huzzah! But how she went about it differs greatly from what the show tells us — namely that she did not have a right-hand handmaiden with her every step of the way and she actually had Grigory Orlov assisting her, even though in the show they’re portrayed as just acquaintances. We see moments where Catherine’s smarts and brilliance come into play, and this is all true since she was smart and spent a lot of time in Russia reading because she did not like her new husband. The show does age her down quite a bit, as it’s mentioned the Catherine we see in The Great is in her early 20s, while Catherine in real life didn’t rise to power till her 30s.

Fanning has played a princess, and now she’s playing an empress, going from Aurora in the Maleficent movies to The Great
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Nicholas Hoult Plays Peter III of Russia

Was Peter III of Russia just as violent, sexual, and aloof as portrayed on the series? Well, yes. Like we see in The Great, Peter had many different lovers over the years, but according to Catherine, she and Peter never actually consummated their marriage (even though she gave birth to two of their children). Though he didn’t keenly know of her plot against to seize his power, in real life he wasn’t as dimwitted as Nicholas Hoult plays him (and he probably didn’t swear as much, either).

If you like big blockbusters, you’ve probably seen Hoult before in the X-Men movies (playing the blue Beast), or even Mad Max: Fury Road playing Nux. He also took a turn for the biopics last year, portraying J. R. R. Tolkien in Tolkien
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Phoebe Fox Plays Marial

Catherine the Great certainly had handmaids (she was royalty, after all), but none of them worked as her confidant and assisted in her coup of the Russian monarchy. Marial is a completely new character for this story and an interesting one at that. Her backstory involves her mother dying from smallpox when she was young, and Russia’s current Archbishop becoming her father figure before taking her place in the court... only to be demoted to handmaiden. It’s not necessarily a major spoiler to say that Marial’s goal is to regain her noblewoman status. 

Fox appeared in one of Black Mirror’s earliest episodes, “The Entire History of You,” and recently appeared in Prime Video’s The Aeronauts
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Gwilym Lee Plays Grigory Orlov

The Great shows Grigory Orlov as one of Peter’s closet friends but in real life that’s not actually the case. In reality, he was actually closest to Catherine and helped her overthrow Peter from the throne. He was one of Catherine’s favorites and for a while, she even considered marrying him (she never did). However, the two did have a son together, Alexis Bobrinsky, and later on in life Catherine kept him far away from her court to keep him out of political affairs.

In the show, he’s also married to a woman named Georgina who is one of Peter’s favorites. He is less than thrilled to share her (in every sense of the word) with Peter, and his contempt grows more and more as the season progresses.

Lee is no stranger to playing real people, having appeared in Bohemian Rhapsody as the Brian May. He also appeared for three seasons on ITV’s Midsomer Murders
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Louis Hynes Plays Vlad

Poor Vlad. He’s just trying to do the best he can, and be a silent and docile servant in the palace. While there is no real Vlad necessarily connected to Catherine the Great in the palace, the Vlad here certainly represents the servants that used to interact act with Catherine on a daily basis. Vlad also is a great character that shows Catherine’s kindness and how she looked out for her subjects.

Prior to The Great, Hynes’ big break was in Netflix’s A Series of Unfortunate Events playing Klaus Baudelaire. 
Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic.

Sacha Dhawan Plays Count Orlo

Count Orlo is clearly the smartest member of Peter’s court and is immediately taken by Catherine’s desire to learn more, and help others learn (like a school for girls!). Catherine certainly had people assisting and guiding her through the coup, and The Great shows that one of the major players was Count Orlo — even though he was panicked stricken by absolutely everything at every other turn. In real life, there was no Count Orlo, but he makes for good television now.

If you’re a fan of Doctor Who you probably recognize Dhawan for his role as the current The Master on the long-running series. He also recently played Davos on Netflix’s Iron Fist. 
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Sebastian De Souza Plays Leo 

Realizing that he does not fancy Catherine, and she’s quickly growing bored with him, Peter finds his wife a lover in Leo. Catherine isn’t exactly thrilled with this new arrangement, but she and Leo quickly fall in love and he becomes one of her closest confidants. In real life, Catherine really did have a lot of lovers and it’s apparent that Leo is an amalgamation of many of them.

If you just recently cried over Normal People, De Sousa had a role in that as Gareth and also appeared in the cult-series Skins for two seasons as Matty Levan. 
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Adam Godley Plays Archbishop

Perhaps the funniest part of The Great is the fact that everyone in Russia calls their Archbishop, “Archie.” Archie is very devout, very serious, and only sometimes very good at his job, more often than not winding up on Peter's bad side. He’s got a strong connection with Marial after becoming a surrogate father figure to her when she was younger.

Recognize Godley’s voice? That’s because he voices (and does some motion capturing) for Pogo as seen in Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy. He’s also had recurring roles on Breaking Bad, Suits, and Lodge 49Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Charity Wakefield Plays Georgina

She's Peter’s favorite favorite in The Great, who in this story is married to Grigory Orlov. He is well aware of the time Georgina spends with Peter, and he’s less than thrilled about it as the show goes on. In addition to that, Catherine and Georgina are constantly at odds over just about everything, including Peter, though he's admittedly pretty low on the list. Peter did, in fact, have many lovers during his reign, and Georgina is an amalgamation of all of them for dramatic effect.

Wakefield appeared in the little-seen (sorry!) Jennifer Lawrence movie Serena, and has had a handful of guest roles on shows like Doctor Who, Genius, and Midsomer Murders
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Douglas Hodge Plays General Velementov

When wresting power from Peter, Catherine had many trusted aids and generals at her side. The show condenses all of them down to one person: Velementov. He’s immediately taken by Catherine, and she learns he’s in charge of Peter’s war with Sweden. He’s also, for lack of a better expression, a bumbling drunk who frequently gets himself into situations that do not reflect well on him. But in the end, he proves himself loyal to Catherine, not Peter.

Just last year Hodge played Alfred in Joker, and before that Richard Nixon in Watergate. On the TV side of things, he’s appeared in Black Mirror, Penny Dreadful, and Lost in Space. 
Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

Belinda Bromilow Plays Aunt Elizabeth

Peter’s aunt Elizabeth, on his mother's side, is the sexually liberated member of his inner circle, who is game to give pointers to just about everyone, including Catherine. She’s also a voice in Peter’s ear; she sometimes pushes him to go a certain way, but knows when to cut and run to save herself. While we can assume that he was in fact close to his aunt, considering they both ruled Russia, they probably weren’t as close as the show depicts them.

Bromilow has had dozens of roles in her native Australia, including All Saints, McLeod's Daughters, and Doctor Doctor

Photo: Courtesy of Hulu.

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