Revolving around the personal and political affairs of Catherine the Great, Hulu’s ‘The Great’ is a historical comedy-drama set in 18th Century Russia. The brainchild of Tony McNamara, the show is a whimsical and satirical exploration of the challenges faced by Catherine as she tries to take the throne from her husband, Peter III, in order to civilize and reform the country. Elle Fanning, Nicholas Hoult, Douglas Hodge, Phoebe Fox, and Sacha Dhawan are seen in central roles.
Known for its humorous yet insightful exploration of high-stakes politics, the show features several memorable characters that enable Catherine to reach great heights. One amongst them is Count Orlo, a constant fan favorite due to his quiet intelligence and dedication to the betterment of Russia. Always by Catherine’s side, he helps the empress find her footing and work towards bringing the Enlightenment to the common folk. His fascinating persona makes us all wonder — is Count Orlo a real person? Or is he simply the product of creative imagination? Let’s find out!
Is Count Orlo a Real Person?
No, Count Orlo is not based on a real person. However, the character does seem to borrow slightly from Grigory Grigoryevich Orlov, also known as Count Orlov, who was a military officer and Catherine’s lover. Orlo, on the other hand, is not Catherine’s beau and is instead her closest adviser. The main point of similarity between Orlov and Orlo is the instrumental role of both in the coup. Orlov used his military skills to aid the empress and secure her rule. On the other hand, Orlo uses his bookish knowledge and political experience to bring about the conditions needed for the coup that ends the rule of Peter and situates Catherine on the throne.
Orlo is thus representative of the noblemen that thronged the courts of the 18th Century Russian monarchs. He is a symbol of the real Catherine’s supporters as well as those deeply inspired by European philosophy. Indeed, Catherine bonds with Orlo due to their shared love of philosophy, books, and the arts. Although Marial is Catherine’s closest friend, the empress’ relationship with Orlo is a fascinating platonic friendship brimming with mutual respect.
Additionally, Orlo’s character takes the trope of the nerdy and shy intellectual and converts it into a deeply layered personality. Teased by the noblemen for not having sexual relations with women, Orlo ultimately embraces his identity as a forward-thinking and rebellious Russian through a woman he connects with on a philosophical and political level — Catherine. Plus, his eventual exploration of his sexuality is a testament to his acceptance of his own desires and progressive thinking.
Later, after killing an enemy soldier, Orlo develops a taste for violent tactics. He thus begins to transform from a meek statesman to an openly subversive adviser of the empress. The show thus allows his character to move beyond the confines of the trope that describes him without changing his core personality. Orlo suggests necessarily evil political moves required to civilize Russia and maintain power whilst heeding the advice and vision of Catherine. In return, the empress values his expert input, trying to work around his sudden penchant for violence and revenge.
In fact, Dhawan (Orlo) revealed, “As ‘The Great’ is loosely based on the life and rise to power of Catherine the Great, it was a relief to know that I didn’t have to try and imitate or replicate a historical figure, I could make the character [Orlo] my own.” Count Orlo is not based on a real person, but it’s easy to see how his character represents the intricate and thorough political planning that went into the coup and rule of Catherine the Great.