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admin | May 16, 2023

Nicholas Hoult on The Great’s Shocking Death: “It Was Difficult to Say Goodbye”

Warning: Major spoilers for The Great season three ahead.

As ghastly as King Peter’s death is in the middle of The Great’s third season, it could’ve been even more jarring. “I was shocked by the Succession one,” Nicholas Hoult tells Vanity Fair of Logan Roy’s onscreen demise. “I was like, Oof. At [episode] three.”

It’s not until episode six that Hoult’s Peter meets his end, falling through the ice amidst an ill-advised invasion of Sweden. Moments before his fateful fall, Elle Fanning’s Catherine pleads with her husband to abort the mission and return to his place as primary caretaker of their newborn son, Paul. Peter refuses her proposal, but packages his rejection within a lovesick monologue. “There are many versions of you, and you know I’m the only one who sees them all,” he tells Catherine. “And you know I love them all—even when I find them baffling and idiotic. I just ask the same of you.… You think I am destroying us, and I know I am saving us.”

Alas, Peter proceeds across a frozen lake on horseback, turning to say “Actually—” before plummeting to his death. It’s an inevitable conclusion for the character, who is plagued by visions of both his dead father (played by Jason Isaacs) and an adult version of his son. The season balances “this idea that he has actually found happiness in somebody, and then this creeping idea of how people judge you and how Paul will grow up to think of him,” Hoult explains. “These tiny seeds get planted that grow into this idea of him not being good enough as a leader, as a man, as a father—how people will view him after his death, and what his life amounts to.”

While Hoult’s exit from the Hulu series provides him ample time to invest in his film career (commitments to The Great prevented him from accepting the villain role in the upcoming Mission: Impossible movie, and he’s reportedly circling the lead role in James Gunn’s Superman: Legacy), the actor isn’t quite ready to let go of Peter’s ghost. “I’ve never experienced anything quite like it,” he says of the series. “I’ve never enjoyed playing a character as much and experienced and grown so much in my personal life outside of it. I don’t think I’ll ever experience anything like it again.”

Ahead, Hoult looks back at his “bizarre” reign, including time spent playing Pugachev, and discusses whether he’d be down to do some season four haunting.

Vanity Fair: Given history, people have assumed that Peter would die at some point. But when did you know how and when his death would go down?

Nicholas Hoult: There was talk about whether it would be during season two, and then [series creator] Tony [McNamara] said that he had good ideas to continue the character. Obviously, this coparenting idea was really fun through this season—Peter being a very attentive father and Catherine not being so much so. I said to [Tony], “You decide when you think is the right time for him to go.” And that proved to be episode six. They encapsulated Catherine and Peter in their journey through this show so perfectly, what strains they can handle—attempting to murder your partner or having sex with the other’s mother—and just breaking down their love for each other and what it means to them both at this point in their lives.

What’s heartbreaking about him when he does go, is that they really do understand each other. There’s a part of you that’s really rooting for them to be together, even though when you look at the facts on paper, they probably shouldn’t be. And the brilliant thing of it being unexpected [is that] Peter dies not through some murderous plot, but as an act of faith. Perhaps Peter is about to change his mind and everything can be reversed. So it leaves it open in many ways.

What was it like on that final day of shooting as Peter before he fell through the ice? Elle says some vodka may have been involved.

I remember the first rehearsal of that scene, I started crying, and then that set Elle off. Throughout the day, there was a lot of trying to keep emotions in check. And then towards the end of the day, Tony brought a little bottle of vodka and he was like, “Come over here, guys.” We had a little goodbye toast and then shot the final shot, which was actually us sitting on a log looking out on—it wasn’t an ice lake; we filmed in a field, and that was all digital—but looking out across this ice lake as those two characters. Yeah, it was difficult to say goodbye.

Was it strange to have to come back in additional episodes as Pugachev, Peter’s hired look-alike?

Well, that was nice. That was good for me, because the day we shot [Peter’s death], I wanted to go and celebrate with everyone, but I had to go straight to the airport for a friend’s wedding. I left and it was all kind of rushed. So it was nice knowing that even though I wasn’t normally playing Peter again, that I did get to go back and still feel part of the show. That was nice of Tony to do that. It kind of softened the exit for me somewhat.

Pugachev is an odd character, because he has to do an impression of Peter that’s close enough but not perfect. So it’s interesting to try and juggle that in my brain.

It’s strange, because in some ways Peter flourishes in this time period. But in others, he’s really trapped by the era’s ideas about masculinity. Was Peter just born at the wrong time?

It’s interesting. He’s very much a product of that time, of the parenting he received and that lineage and the court. When you first meet him, the thing that makes him horrid in many ways, and perhaps charming at times, is that he’s unfiltered and allowed to do anything because he is this royal child. But ultimately, this idea of living in the shadow of his father and the history books are things that all lead to his downfall and him denying himself his own happiness, I suppose.

That’s the fun thing about the character. Throughout the seasons, you see him battle with all these things. You do see him find a nicer, caring, understanding version of himself. But he’s still a buffoon at times and has silly ideas that are logical to him but just bizarre for anyone else. But they’re done with heart by the end, whereas at the beginning, he was very careless with people’s emotions. He is a child at the beginning of the show when you meet him, and he does become a man and a father.

I don’t think he’d do too well nowadays. Depending on where you are and what climate you’re growing up in, there is still sometimes this belief [that] men should be out there providing. But there’s something very pure to being a stay-at-home dad and the caregiver. So it’s a shame, in some ways, that because of his surroundings, he couldn’t quite understand that when it was necessary.

Catherine wears a lot of Peter’s clothing after his death. Did you get to keep any of it for yourself?

Elle would send me photos wearing all my costumes. Sharon [Long], the costume designer, gave me an amazing gift. There is a fabric that got made for one of Elle’s dresses that depicts historical moments throughout the show. So she made me a shirt in that fabric that’s amazing. And Fran[cesca Di Mottola], the production designer, sent me a painting of Peter in the baby shower outfit with the feather plumes on his head. So I’ve got two paintings of Peter now—one when they thought Peter was dead in series one, and episode six when there’s mourning happening and they’re holding portraits of him outside. And I’ve got the fluffy version of the dog with the parachute. The props department gave me that. So I’ve got a few mementos to keep around.

There are so many absurd scenes in any given season of The Great; strapping baby Paul to a deer during the stag ritual comes to mind. Were there any particularly insane moments that stood out to you on the page this season?

There was that great moment in that scene when Velamentov hands the gun to Peter and it goes off in his hand inadvertently. And it’s clear that this ritual should not be happening, but he certainly shouldn’t be pointing that thing anywhere towards his child.

We saw ghosts from Peter’s past arise this season. Any chance he’ll be haunting future episodes of the show?

It would turn up at pivotal moments for Peter; that lingering effect his father had on him would cause him a lot of emotional strife, and a lot of baggage that he was carrying around. So who knows? If Tony wrote something and wanted me to go back, I’d be thrilled to go back and do some ghost haunting, because I do think they handle it in a smart way on the show.

It’s all about Catherine’s story now, and I think it’s been handled so perfectly. I remember in the read-through, being all emotional. We’re all sitting there and you could hear the microphones, me and Elle sniffling after we did that final scene. Then listening to the rest of that episode, I was like, This is so good.

How do you reflect on your time as this character within the context of your career? Peter is one of the roles you’ve played the longest; you’ve been nominated for an Emmy; it’s one of your most comedic performances. Is there a proudest moment in all of it for you?

I didn’t think I would enjoy playing a character as long as that. Previously, I kind of avoided doing that. And so I was completely wrong, which I was very happy to say. I think it was definitely the right time for him to be killed off. But also, if it had been right for the character, I would keep playing it. That was the thing that was odd about the ending. I was like, Oh, I’m never going to get dialogue written like this again and a character as unique as this.

That’s all the stuff that I appreciate about it from a career perspective, because I don’t think very often you get that chance to do something that’s so well rounded: being despicable and funny, but also hopefully quite endearing and strange. It was just something that I was happy doing, and hopefully will get to work with all those people some more.

This interview has been edited and condensed. [Source]

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Nicholas as Peter
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A royal woman living in rural Russia during the 18th century is forced to choose between her own personal happiness and the future of Russia, when she marries an Emperor.

Nicholas as Renfield
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Renfield, Dracula's henchman and inmate at the lunatic asylum for decades, longs for a life away from the Count, his various demands, and all of the bloodshed that comes with them.

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A gothic tale of obsession between a haunted young woman in 19th century Germany and the ancient Transylvanian vampire who stalks her, bringing untold horror with him.

Nicholas as Unknown
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In 1983, a series of increasingly violent bank robberies, counterfeiting operations and armored car heists frightened communities throughout the Pacific Northwest. As baffled law enforcement agents scrambled for answers, a lone FBI agent (Law), stationed in the sleepy, picturesque town of Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, came to believe the crimes were not the work of traditional, financially motivated criminals but a group of dangerous domestic terrorists, inspired by a radical, charismatic leader (Hoult), plotting a devastating war against the federal government of the United States.

Nicholas as Lex Luthor
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Follows the titular superhero as he reconciles his heritage with his human upbringing. He is the embodiment of truth, justice and a brighter tomorrow in a world that views kindness as old-fashioned.

Nicholas as Justin Kemp
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Family man Justin Kemp who, while serving as a juror in a high profile murder trial, finds himself struggling with a serious moral dilemma...one he could use to sway the jury verdict and potentially convict-or free-the wrong killer.

Nicholas as Mason
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Taylor makes a last-ditch effort to find love by becoming a contestant on a reality dating show. But she begins to feel the artifice of the show fade, and the game becomes terrifyingly real. Rivalry turns into treachery.
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