“Wow, what a titanic figure, a monumental man serving a monumental woman,” reveals Jason Clarke about his initial reactions when exploring the history of military commander Grigory Potemkin on HBO’s limited series “Catherine The Great.” He says, “Life, love, education, art, food, sex and empire building” about Potemkin’s legacy in Russian history. Watch our exclusive video interview with Clarke above.
“Catherine The Great” was created and written by Emmy winner Nigel Williams (“Elizabeth I”) and directed by Emmy winner Philip Martin (“Prime Suspect: The Final Act”). It stars Oscar, Tony and four-time Emmy winner Helen Mirren as Empress Catherine II of Russia, reuniting with past collaborators Williams and Martin, alongside Clarke as the Empress’ right hand man and lover. The four-part series explores Catherine’s reign from 1764, two years after taking power from her husband Emperor Peter, until her death in 1796. It is a lavish production befitting a prestige period drama, spotlighting not only the transformational and influential historical Catherine, but also the man who stood by her side, devoted until his dying breath.
“One of the things that attracted me to playing Grigory,” says Clarke, was that he was “this man that served her well, in love with his wife, his woman, his lover, his Mother Russia, his queen, his empress, his nation.”
Clarke researched Potemkin’s history extensively, to better understand who this man was and in particular his love of Catherine. The series focuses on their love affair as a central theme throughout all four episodes, because, as Clarke puts it, “It was a love story. The last thing I read when I did all my research of Grigory was the love letters between them. I wanted to save them.”
The extra work gave the actor a base from which to add his own flourishes, rendering a portrait of a fleshed out character rather than just another historical carbon copy. “You don’t want a kitchen sink drama. I don’t want to make it ‘me.’ I don’t just want to put on a wig and this and that and just say ‘so long as I’m believable.’ You do have to be believable, but you’ve also got to reach for the enormity of it,” he explains. “I had to be Grigory Potemkin. They are Shakespearean. They bestrode the natural world like Colossi. That was the thing that scared me and attracted me to playing him. There was a lot of reaching to do. To be a battle commander, to be a poet, to be a lover, to be an empire builder, to be a man that dominated the world.”
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