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When it comes to Michelle Carter’s story, which is being depicted in the Hulu series The Girl From Plainville starring Elle Fanning, there’s no denying the influence Glee and its star Lea Michele had on the teenager who was ultimately convicted of involuntary manslaughter for the 2014 death of boyfriend Conrad Roy (Colton Ryan). After a brief moment, in which Carter recites a popular Glee monologue in the premiere, episode four (“Can’t Fight This Feeling”) takes Carter’s fascination even further with a dream sequence involving Fanning and Colton performing a cover of REO Speedwagon.
While speaking with ET, Fanning and Colton as well as creators Liz Hannah and Patrick Macmanus break down that unexpected musical moment and why bringing Carter’s pop culture obsession to life on screen was so important to the series.
About halfway through the episode, after the Assistant District Attorney in Massachusetts opened an investigation into Carter’s involvement in Roy’s death and she’s no longer allowed to use the internet or communicate with anyone involved in the case, a lonely Carter goes for a walk outside. While listening to Glee’s cover of the song performed by the late Cory Monteith, she imagines that she and Roy are versions of Rachel Berry (Michele) and Finn Hudson (Monteith) serenading each other in the street.
“That was me and Colton,” Fanning says of their duet, adding that her co-star, who has a background on Broadway, “showed me the ropes when we were recording that song.”
After serving as an understudy on Dear Evan Hansen and performing in Girl From the North Country on Broadway, Ryan was excited to have a straightforward acting role. But when it came to singing and dancing on set, “it was probably the day I was most comfortable on set,” he admits. “That was the day I probably was the most free as a bird. I was really comfy and it also happened right in the middle of the shoot.” As a result, Roy is simply beaming in the moment.
Also a self-proclaimed fan of the Fox musical dramedy (“I’m embarrassed to say I loved watching Glee”), Ryan “will never forget watching Elle come out of her trailer in her Rachel Berry drag,” he says. “I was like, ‘Oh, my god. OK, I know what we’re doing.’” And when it comes to watching Fanning as Carter in the scene, Ryan says, “It’s a universal feeling because it’s just another example of a young person trying to find themself.”
In terms of writing the show, Hannah says the musical sequence was an idea they had from the very beginning. “Having her sink into these fantasies felt like an opportunity for us to go into Michelle’s psyche a little bit more,” the showrunner says, noting that Carter was quite a chameleon. “She is different with everyone else. So, these fantasy sequences felt like the opportunity to really see who she really was or what she was really thinking.”
When it specifically came to the musical sequence in episode four, “It was the first one that felt like we were in the story that she wanted. You know, she wanted to be Lea Michele and she wanted Conrad to be Cory Monteith. And more than that, she wanted to be Rachel and she wanted him to be Finn and to have this moment,” Hannah explains. “So with the impending indictment happening, it felt natural where we’re sinking further into that detachment from reality.”
It’s not the only Glee moment depicted in the series. As previously mentioned, Fanning is seen as Carter reciting a monologue from the series when Rachel opens up about Finn’s death before singing a cover of “Make You Feel My Love.” This moment happens shortly after Carter learns of Roy’s death. And in order to bring it to life onscreen, Fanning watched that series and that scene to prepare for it. “I have seen that clip, I can't even tell you how many times,” she recalls, trying to “mimic her every move and gesture.”
“I can understand how Michelle, who felt isolated in her home life, watching that show served as a place for community and acceptance,” the actress continues, noting that Glee “served as a beautiful thing” for fans who felt alone or unaccepted.
Of course, what’s seen on the scripted series is only a small glimpse into Carter’s obsession with the show. According to the two-part HBO documentary, I Love You, Now Die: The Commonwealth v. Michelle Carter, she would quote Glee as well as Michele’s interviews in text messages to Roy.
“Not only was she quoting sort of language from Glee the TV show, which a lot of young girls do, but she was quoting the real-life actress,” said director Erin Lee Carr, who also serves as a consulting producer on the series. “And to me, that was really important to put in because it really made you question, like, ‘What is Michelle Carter’s concept of reality?’ And, ‘Is she living in this reality?’”
And as The Girl From Plainville will continue to show, that reality gets further and further removed from what’s really going on as she eventually faces charges in Roy’s death.
The first four episodes of The Girl From Plainville are now streaming on Hulu, with new episodes debuting weekly on Tuesdays until May 3.