The red-haired orphan that so many people grew up loving is returning to the small screen just in time for Family Day. Yes, Anne Shirley of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s timeless tale, Anne of Green Gables, is back in a TV movie of the same name.
Megan Follows (the original Anne Shirley) is nowhere to be found. Instead, 14-year-old Ella Ballentine is trying her hand at the world-famous role. Joining her is veteran Canadian actress Sara Botsford as the curmudgeonly yet lovable Marilla Cuthbert, and actor Martin Sheen (father to Charlie) as the doting Matthew.
Montgomery’s own granddaughter, Kate MacDonald Butler, serves as an executive producer on the project, and has given the remake her blessing. But to be clear, this is not the 1980s version of Anne simply redone; it’s a more modern take on the story, with darker, edgier moments that take it out of the past and into the present.
Global News spoke with Ballentine and Botsford about taking on these iconic roles, why this story resonates with Canadians and how our views on redheaded people have changed over time. (They really have.)
Global News: Did you two feel any pressure taking on such hugely popular Canadian characters?
Ella Ballentine: Definitely, there’s pressure to it, because I’m taking on this massively iconic character, Anne Shirley. But it was more exciting and kind of like a big adventure up ahead. John [Kent Harrison, the director] and I were talking about Anne, the path she’s going to follow, and I was thinking more about the story and how to portray it for people now. I wanted to be a realistic Anne.
Sara Botsford: It didn’t really occur to me to be nervous about it. I was saying earlier that when I auditioned, John was very clear about what he wanted. He wanted realism, not a heightened version. He gave me a great piece of direction, which I hold onto during the whole thing, which was it’s not about [Anne] to begin with. My relationship is with Matthew. My job is to protect Matthew. The reason Anne comes to Green Gables is to help around the farm. At first, I was playing it like I was mad about Anne showing up as a girl and not a boy, but then John reminded me that Marilla and Matthew are the family unit. Until later, obviously.
What is it about Anne of Green Gables that resonates with Canadians?
SB: It’s such an interesting story about a young girl with this zest for life, this determination to have a happy life. She had a difficult childhood, but her dream life comes when she arrives at this farm where this old couple lives. It’s not a bed of roses. She has to do chores, go to school, make friends with strangers, all of that. She finds joy in everything. It’s timeless.
EB: For me, it feels very much like home. My great-grandmother is always talking about “When I was a kid, I went to school in Anne’s time.” She had the slate, and she was showing it to me. I was putting on the costumes, walking around the set, constantly thinking about how she grew up. It’s going back to your family, going down the family tree.
Did you both see the original TV series?
EB: I didn’t see it when I was younger, but I was wondering when I got the part if I should see it or not. John was talking to me and said I shouldn’t, because this is a new version, our perspective, a new script. We wanted people to be able to relate; little girls and little boys now can watch it and identify.
SB: I’m not very familiar. I wasn’t in the right place at the right time to see that version. Similarly, I thought that I’d just stick to this script and make this my character.
So, your hair is no longer red.
EB: [Laughs] I miss my red hair! I had to go to school with red hair, but I loved walking around in public with it. I got so many compliments. Ladies were gathering all around me asking if it was my real hair; I would lie and say that it was. It has so much personality to it. It helped me get into the Anne character. It was fantastic.
People used to say such bad things about red-headed people.
SB: Hey! I’m the real deal [a natural redhead]. That’s why you need to take it easy on the red-headed comments. [Laughs] It’s funny, it’s more difficult for boys than girls. I think it’s a trickier road. With girls, I think you get a lot more attention when you’re little. People do expect you to have personality traits because of red hair. They expect you to be strong, stubborn, and into mischief.
Do you see yourself in Anne?
EB: I see a lot of myself in Anne. She loves to talk, she just keeps going. [Laughs] Since we’ve done the film, I’ve been trying to be more positive about everything. She’s independent and doesn’t let anyone tell her what to do. I think a lot of us would be happier if we tried to be more like Anne.
Anne of Green Gables will air at 6 p.m. ET/PT in a two-hour world premiere event on YTV.Follow @CJancelewicz
This interview has been condensed and edited.
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