Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan on Portraying Michelle Carter and Conrad Roy with 'Sensitivity'

"You do feel a weight of responsibility because these are real people that we're talking about," Elle Fanning tells PEOPLE about her role in The Girl from Plainville

Elle Fanning and Colton Ryan are opening up about their roles in the new Hulu series The Girl From Plainville, which was inspired by real-life events surrounding the relationship between Michelle Carter and her late former boyfriend, Conrad Roy.

Fanning, 23, said the case "could have only happened" due to the current era of technology, telling PEOPLE (the TV show!)'s senior correspondent Jeremy Parsons about how she related to her character through her own personal experiences as a young teenager.

"That was the entry point for me that I could really understand because I was in high school, having social media, texting and feeling those feelings that we all feel of false intimacy and that adrenaline rush that we feel when you get a text from a crush," she explained, adding that she hopes the show will help "destigmatizing mental health."

Michelle, an emotionally struggling 17-year-old who portrayed herself as Conrad's girlfriend, urged him toward his death. Conrad was found dead from carbon monoxide poisoning in his pickup truck on July 13, 2014, in the parking lot of a Kmart in Fairhaven, Massachusetts.

A controversial charge put Michelle on trial for involuntary manslaughter. Prosecutors said she not only researched plans for Conrad's suicide but pushed him to go through with it when he wavered. She was convicted in 2017 and sent to prison, where she served 11 months.

The Girl From Plainville -- “Can’t Fight This Feeling”
Steve Dietl/Hulu

Prior to agreeing to executive produce and star in the series, Fanning says she made sure that the story was being dealt with "delicacy and sensitivity."

"You do feel a weight of responsibility because these are real people that we're talking about," she said. "A young boy's life was lost. And so, before signing on, I just really wanted to make sure of that. And that's kind of part of the reason I wanted to be a producer, to be able to more responsibility to handle this with care in the right way."

Never miss a story — sign up for PEOPLE's free daily newsletter to stay up-to-date on the best of what PEOPLE has to offer, from juicy celebrity news to compelling human interest stories.

The Girl From Plainville -- “Can’t Fight This Feeling”
Steve Dietl/Hulu

Fanning, who carried the responsibility of portraying a character based on actual events, said she did not feel it was "appropriate" for her to meet with Carter. Instead, The Great star focused on creating the character after committing to a ton of research.

"You do come to set with a sensitivity, but then you have to be able to kind of separate yourself," she shared. "And in order for me to be free on set, you have to relinquish that and know, 'Okay, I'm playing this character, Michelle, and I don't necessarily know everything, but I have to create it in my mind for me.' "

The Girl From Plainville -- “Mirrorball”
Steve Dietl/Hulu

Meanwhile, her costar, Ryan, 26, told PEOPLE (the TV show!) that he "did not have a lot of preconceived notions" when he was presented with the opportunity to portray Conrad in the series.

"I was 18 when this all went down…," he said of the case. "Like a lot of 18-year-olds, I'm not the news junkie that I am now. I knew about it, but even then, it didn't purely interest me because the way it was being told didn't feel right. It felt hollow in a lot of ways."

He later shared that even reading the "logline" of the show got him "emotional."

"I didn't even associate it with this sensational story, and that's when I knew I had to do it," the Broadway actor added.

When asked if he felt a sense of accountability to bring the story to life in a respectful way, Ryan said he could understand why taking the Conrad role could be seen as "heavy" to anyone else.

"But this particular thing with Conrad people feel like they know him," he explained. "They do, to some extent. They've been given one viewpoint of who he was through the eyes of the justice system, healthcare system, whatever have it, court of public opinion."

Ryan continued, "Really, I had a free pass. I had a free canvas to go. I was so lucky to get to know him more… People who loved him, they know him. But beyond that, a lot of other people think they do, and they don't. It was such an honor every day to get to know more about this person that I ended up loving quite a lot."

The Girl From Plainville is streaming now on Hulu.

Related Articles