Even though he just turned 30 last year, it feels like Nicholas Hoult has been on our screens for the same length of time. He’s been acting since the age of seven, with his breakout role arriving six years later as Marcus Brewer in Chris and Paul Weitz’s, About a Boy. He’s gained recognition since with his roles in the X-Men series and Mad Max: Fury Road. Hulu’s The Great marks his return to television since he appeared in the British teen comedy-drama series, Skins, over a decade ago (although he did lend his voice for the miniseries Watership Down in 2018). He’s also voicing a character in the recently released Hulu series, Crossing Swords, but that won’t be the role that gets him close to an Emmy statue. Alongside his leading lady Elle Fanning, Hoult has a shot at Emmy gold for Supporting Actor in a Comedy Series for his portrayal as the dumb, self-absorbed, and cruel Peter III of Russia.
We’ve seen Hoult play another pompous ass quite recently in The Favourite. In fact, the pilot script for The Great inspired the award-winning Yorgos Lanthimos film from 2018. The Great follows the rise of Catherine the Great, from a young and naive young girl to one of the greatest monarchs who ever lived – all this achieved by organizing a coup to overthrow her husband, Peter. Both The Great and The Favourite are takes on monarchs that lean more heavily on entertainment than historical accuracy. The Great’s take on the life of Catherine the Great is of similar language and tone to The Favourite so it’s no surprise that having already starred in the latter as a noble lord that Hoult would fit right in with the former. It’s a historical period piece that’s satirical, modern, and hilarious. Hoult seems to be having the time of his life amongst the chaos and absurdity, and it’s all done in earnest. It’s never a cartoonish look at the foolishness and vulgarity of his character and Peter’s satirized Russia.
Peter is as slippery a character as the role he played in The Favourite. Harley was also power-hungry, but with a thing for make-up, big wigs, and frilly blouses, and it was in this role where we got a taste of Hoult’s comedic charm that would be used at full force in The Great. He’s able to perfectly balance Peter’s unpredictable animation and childish antics, and the much more complicated and vulnerable side to the character. By watching his performance, critics have said that he may just be one of the funniest actors working today, but also, by capturing all the complexities of the character, he proves to be one of the best dramatic actors, too. Peter is a ridiculous character and Hoult bears all (literally and figuratively) as he captures the Freudian psychology that makes Peter the authoritarian that he is, but also the characteristics of a decent human being that are just beneath the surface.
It’s a delicious show with an equally delicious and multifaceted performance from Hoult that deserves recognition this Emmy season. Peter’s fate is sealed at the end of the season, as it is in history, so this is Hoult’s one shot at a nomination. If he does get one, perhaps he will do what Peter couldn’t: Win.
All 10 episodes of The Great are currently streaming on Hulu.