Elle Fanning on Losing Herself While Portraying Michelle Carter in 'Girl From Plainville' (Exclusive)

This video is unavailable because we were unable to load a message from our sponsors.

If you are using ad-blocking software, please disable it and reload the page.

After a wickedly funny portrayal of Catherine on Hulu’s The Great, Elle Fanning is back with another standout performance as Michelle Carter in the streaming platform’s latest true-crime series, The Girl From Plainville. Adapted from Jesse Barron’s Esquire article by creators Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus, the eight-part saga retells the story surrounding the 2017 texting suicide case, which resulted in Carter being convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of Conrad Roy. 

“Her look definitely evolves and changes a lot, and she grows up a lot,” says Fanning, who underwent a dramatic physical and mental transformation in order to portray Carter, a lonely teenage girl who had a two-year relationship with a boy she briefly met during a vacation in Florida that largely unfolded over text message before he killed himself. In total, the series spans seven years of her life, also recounting the fame and fallout that followed Roy’s death before concluding with a heavily followed trial that resulted in her being sentenced to 15 months in prison.  

Needless to say, “it was an intense shoot” that lasted for five months in Savannah, Georgia, during the latter half of 2021, and required Fanning, who is also an executive producer on the series, to jump back and forth in time during any given episode. Coming right off of season two of The Great, the actress only had two weeks in between projects. “So, it was such a shock to my system, I would say,” she says. 

Girl From Plainville

Because of COVID, Fanning spent much of that time alone in her apartment in between filming as she prepared for the next day or looked at edits as shots started coming in on different episodes. In addition to the access to the thousands of text messages Carter and Roy sent each other and the courtroom transcripts, she watched The Fault in Our Stars and Glee, two pop culture obsessions that heavily influenced Carter’s psyche at the time. 

“I was just very much trapped in that moment,” Fanning says of being in Carter’s “headspace” over what felt like a longer period of time than she’s spent with any other character. “I really did not feel like myself for those five months.” 

She adds, “You can’t help but not feel like me, especially when you look in the mirror and you don’t look like yourself.”

When it comes to recreating Carter’s physical evolution, especially her courtroom styles that often drew comparisons to Cara Delevingne, Fanning heavily relied on the hair and makeup team as well as costume designer Mirren Gordon-Crozier, who was able to source much of Carter’s wardrobe. “She was able to find and source the exact ones Michelle wore in court,” Hannah says. 

Girl From Plainville
Hulu / Getty Images

Carter has “a very identifiable transformation,” Fanning says of the different phases of her life documented in the media. “So, I think it was important to, of course, get the look right.” While they mostly relied on wigs and costumes to show Carter’s progression, Fanning did have to wear “a prosthetic piece at the forehead to change my hairline,” she says, noting this was the first time she underwent such a major makeover for a role. “That was an interesting part of the process ‘cause I’ve never had to really transform myself in that way before.” 

As for the final result, Hannah says it was “scary” watching Fanning walk onto set as Carter, most notably during the courtroom scenes. “It was like seeing Michelle walk in,” she recalls. 

And Fanning’s co-stars agree. Cara Buono, who portrays Carter’s mother, Gail, was one of the few to see her at different stages throughout the series, leading up to the trial. “When we were in the courtroom, I would be transfixed by her,” Buono says, noting that “as she physically changed, her emotional level changed.”

She adds, “I would find myself getting lost in her complete embodiment of the character.”  

Girl From Plainville
Hulu / Getty Images

Meanwhile, Norbert Leo Butz, who portrays Roy’s father, Co, remembers seeing Fanning in the courtroom for the first time. “There was an eerie hush that came over the set. It wasn’t even like, ‘Oh, wow. You look amazing.’ It was amazing. But it was more like, ‘Oh, my,’” he says, with Chloë Sevigny, who portrays Roy’s mother, Lynn, recalling that when “she walked on set, everybody -- every crew member, every cast member -- [got] chills.” 

Sevigny adds, “It was uncanny… Everything about it was really impressive.”  

The first three episodes of The Girl From Plainville premiere March 29 on Hulu, with new episodes debuting weekly until May 3. 

Reporting by Lauren Zima and Stacy Lambe



Michelle Carter: Inside the Texting Suicide Case and Hulu True-Crime Series (Exclusive)

Erin Lee Carr Talks Kim Wall True-Crime Doc and Revisiting the Michelle Carter Story (Exclusive)

Michelle Carter Doc Reveals How Lea Michele Played a Part in the Texting Suicide Case (Exclusive)

Related Gallery