'The Girl From Plainville': Elle Fanning on That 'Teenage Dirtbag' Scene in Episode 7 (Exclusive)
By Stacy Lambe
On The Girl From Plainville, the Hulu true-crime series about the texting suicide case, there’s been no shortage of fanciful moments that take audiences inside Michelle Carter’s headspace. And that includes episode seven, “Teenage Dirtbag,” which sees Carter (Elle Fanning) on the receiving end of an unexpected serenade from her sister’s student choir. Co-creator Liz Hannah, who wrote and directed the episode, and Fanning break down the episode’s final scene and how they landed on a cover of the 2000 Wheatus song.
“We play a lot with the blurred line between fantasy and reality,” Fanning says of the series, including this particular scene, which doesn’t play out in a way that Carter was expecting it to, with Hannah adding that after “having spent time with her in the courtroom for two episodes, it really felt like an opportunity to get into her mind of how she was really feeling during this and how it was really affecting her.”
After months in court, which saw the case go back and forth, both sides delivered their closing statements before the judge, who now has to rule in the unprecedented case surrounding the death of Carter’s boyfriend, Conrad Roy (Colton Ryan). Throughout the episode, Carter’s composure unravels as the tension surrounding the question of her guilt becomes insurmountable.
It finally ends with Carter attending the choral recital, where she’s called onstage by Hayden (Callie Brook McClincy), who then dedicates their cover of “Teenage Dirtbag” to her older sister. It’s not until they get to the second verse that Carter realizes what is happening and watches on with increasing horror.
While it perfectly sums up Carter's state of mind, especially as she awaits the verdict in her case, Hannah says the scene almost didn’t happen. In fact, an early version of the idea (using a different song) was pitched by supervising producer Ashley Michel Hoban and was immediately shot down by co-creator Patrick Macmanus. Undeterred, Hoban continued pitching the idea until weeks later when Hannah was writing episode seven and it finally came together.
“I was driving in my car and a cover of ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ came on and I realized that this was the song that could be for this pitch that Hoban had,” Hannah recalls. “And so, her pitch from week one that we said no to became ‘Teenage Dirtbag.’”
Hannah also says they didn’t want to force in a musical moment just because they wanted it. But after previous fantasy sequences involving Carter and Roy performing a cover of Glee in the middle of the streets, this became an opportunity to thread that narrative all the way to the finale.
“It felt like Michelle’s psyche was betraying her,” Hannah says. “She used to control it with ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling,’ and then now, it started to tell her, like, ‘You can’t hide here.’” And “ultimately, she’s going to have to face the realities of [what’s going on],” Fanning adds.
The scene also provided an opportunity to play up the dynamic between the two sisters. “[Michelle] has this relationship with her sister that is clearly competitive at times,” Hannah says. “And I really feel for her sister, having to be in the family and being sidelined in that way.”
“Callie was so amazing and that entire choir performed for, like, 11 hours straight,” Hannah says of helming that sequence. “It was amazing. I mean, they busted their a**es and they were so great and they never complained once. We were so fortunate to have them.”
When it comes to filming the scene, Fanning says it “was a special moment to get to be directed by” Hannah, who was making her directorial debut with episodes six and seven. “I knew that Liz really loves that song and she’s always wanted to use it,” the actress continues. “And using it in that way, having the choir sing it, it really envelopes Michelle and becomes this overwhelming moment [for her].”
“You think everyone’s looking at you and you feel so exposed,” Fanning recalls of the feeling of being serenaded in that way, adding that she loves all the fantasies in the show. “I do love that moment. It’s just weirdly heartbreaking, you know?”