Anne of Green Gables may have been set in the 1900s, but she’s as popular as ever today. Want proof? How about the hundreds of girls who devoted sunny Saturday, May 7, to audition for the lead role in CBC’s upcoming eight-part first season of Anne?
Some wore costumes to look like Anne Shirley, a few even had red hair, most had their tresses done up to look like the energetic star of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s novels. Prepped with two scenes to perform, the girls—who convened in a multi-use building in east Toronto—were auditioning for Moira Walley-Beckett (Breaking Bad), Anne‘s writer and executive producer, who’d flown in from Nunavut for the first stop in the cross-Canada audition tour. (The remaining dates on the tour are Charlottetown on May 28th and Halifax on May 29 and May 30; go to theannesearch.com for more details.)
We spoke to Walley-Beckett about what she’s looking for in a leading lady, what Season 1 of Anne will be about, and returning to her native Canada to film a TV show.
This is an iconic character in Canada and around the world. Are you feeling pressure, especially since the 1985 miniseries is so beloved?
Moira Walley-Beckett: I hope to meet those expectations and exceed them. If there wasn’t more to explore, I wouldn’t be doing it. Anne is a story that I cherish—I grew up with Anne—and there is The Annotated Anne of Green Gables which is a tome, a hardback book where they go through, page by page with footnotes, what everything refers to. It’s my bible. I want to honour the material and I feel an enormous amount of responsibility and pressure to do it right and to serve it.
I’m also really excited to explore some uncharted territory within the story by opening up what’s between the lines and exploring what’s intimated at a lot of times but isn’t actually on the page. Lucy Maud is an interesting writer. She writes glorious prose and vivid characters that leap off the page, but a lot of the things that happen in television don’t happen in the book. For example: Anne’s first day of school. In the book, we don’t go there; she just comes home and tells Marilla about it. I want to go to school. I want to be there. I want to see how she deals with all of these children the very first time and what they think of this stranger in town. That’s the stuff that gets me jazzed.
It’s my plan to make it feel relatable and fresh and when somebody sits down to watch it they say, ‘Oh my God, that happened to me today at school.’
What’s the layout of the series if it’s renewed?
These are the high school years. The second season would still be within the first book because the first book moves really fast and I want to take my time with it.
What are you looking for from the girls auditioning for the role?
I’m asking a lot of this young actress. I’m asking her to have virtuosity. She has a lot to do, and Anne the character is so mercurial. Her highs are high, her lows are low … she has an inability to self-edit, and that requires a lot of facility. I hope these girls invest, I hope they don’t stay outside the material. The ones that will excite me the most and spark me are the ones who have a real understanding of the character and what they’re saying. Other than that, I’m wide open and want to see who’s here.
What are some modern-day story angles that you can explore in Anne?
A lot of the issues in the books are issues kids are dealing with today. The struggle to belong, bullying and just what it means to navigate these hormonal, pubescent years and try to fit in while trying to figure out who you are at the same time. It’s my plan to make it feel relatable and fresh and when somebody sits down to watch it they say, ‘Oh my God, that happened to me today at school.’
How is the writing going? Are you done all eight scripts?
I am not all done writing. [Laughs.] For some inexplicable reason I decided to write all eight episodes myself. No, I’m really loving it. It’s funny, because when I was up in the Arctic shooting The Grizzlies, I had a little moment to myself to whip back to my room and busted Anne out and wrote a little scene in Episode 6. It was such a relief to go to Avonlea again.
Are you able to write anywhere?
I can write anywhere, but I don’t like to. [Laughs.] I can write on a plane or anywhere, except for a coffee shop. I like to write at home, in my environment, in my pyjamas.
Are you excited to film Anne in Canada?
I’m thrilled to be back. I’ve missed Canada. I’m from Vancouver and it’s refreshing. The feeling of coming home is palpable and it’s really nice. There is a whole different vibe here that I’ve missed.
Anne goes into production this summer.