Everything about Anne with an E, eh?

Anne with an E’s Helen Johns explains Eliza Barry’s world

It would be easy to dismiss Eliza Barry as a stodgy mother who is holding her daughters back—Diana in particular—from their true potential. But actress Helen Johns, who portrays Eliza every Sunday on CBC’s Anne with an E, made me see the light. Eliza is the product of another generation, one of acting just so. She’s caught in two worlds, and is just trying to do her best.

We spoke to Johns about Eliza, and more, ahead of Sunday’s new episode of Anne with an E.

Did you audition for the role?
Helen Johns: I did. I was living in London at the time. I lived and worked in Canada for many years, but I was living in London at the time that the casting breakdown came out. I have a fantastic agent in Toronto and she sent me the details. I did what they call a self-tape in my spare bedroom. It was about 90 seconds long or something. It was very short and I thought, ‘I don’t know.’ It was a scene in which Mrs. Barry, my character, is trying to have a conversation with her husband and her daughter, Minnie May, is misbehaving. And the maid comes in and it’s all a bit frantic and that’s kind of a very similar feel to a lot of what I do in the show in general.

They were able to kind of encapsulate in that 90 seconds the way that they saw the character going. And so that tape then went to the casting director and then the casting director sent it to the head of our show, Moira Walley-Beckett. And she told me that she liked that there was a kind of undertone of something frantic about the way that I did the tape. So, there we go. That’s how it all panned out. I didn’t actually get to meet her until the first day of shooting, but it worked out for the best, thank goodness.

It’s been fascinating to see the way that Moira has taken L.M. Montgomery’s characters and really given a modern spin on them and kind of brought them up to date with some of the story angles.
HJ: After I was cast and before I saw the script, I read the novel. And she doesn’t encourage everyone to read the novels, but I picked it up because I was excited to be joining the show and I wanted to kind of know everything I could. And I was so struck when I picked up the novel at how contemporary it felt and how contemporary Anne felt. I’m still struck by that. I think that Moira has remained really true to the essence of the character and the situations that she keeps finding herself in. And then I love that we’re talking about things that are… I mean, in many cases they’re issues that people had to tackle in the actual period of the novels, but just would not discuss.

For instance, we talk about periods. And I’ve never in my life as a woman, certainly never in my life as a teenager, never did I see any kind of film or TV that talked about it. It’s like this secret and yet 50 per cent of the population experiences it for probably half their lifetime or there about. So, for me it just feels really obvious that people should talk about it. It doesn’t necessarily feel obvious to talk about it in a period show. But for me I think there’s something glorious about the fact that she has taken the story as the starting point and then applied the essence of the characters, choose the kinds of situations that young women and young people face today.

In Season 3, we have this really moving and I think very impressive First Nations story. And we know that the Mi’kmaq community existed in PEI at this time, but again, you don’t often read stories or see film and television that have the lives of a Caucasian community and the lives of a First Nations community given equal weight. You’re usually seeing goodies and baddies and The Last of the Mohicans and all those kind of things. Which is just not representative of what was really going on for teenagers, for instance. I think it’s really powerful. I really admire what she’s doing and I love being a part of it. My character, Eliza, isn’t one of the more modern-seeming characters. She represents the old ways.

In the first season we took a storyline straight out of the novel, which is me catching Diana and Anne having drunk the currant wine. But that exists now, that’s a contemporary issue, it just was ahead of its time in the sense that they weren’t 14-year-old girls getting drunk around the place. But I think that Moira’s doing an amazing job, so I’m all for it.

Mrs. Barry could be easily seen as a villain and is in a lot of ways a villain in the show, because Diana wants to grow and be take advantage of the things that this new world is offering to her. 
HJ: I think it’s just lovely to be part of the show and I think it’s nice to be somebody that brings a bit of push and pull to it. Because there is push and pull in a lot of places. There’s push and pull with Matthew and Marilla. And Mr. Phillips and even with Gilbert, but I think it’s nice to be bringing that kind of tension to things. I think one of the things that I find amusing about a British actor in North America is that you typically are tasked with playing a villain type. Or the stereotypes of being British is that we all are all the expressions, stiff upper lip, uptight. And so we’re often seen as either the professor, the high intellectual or someone who’s very difficult.

I try and take the moments that I can to bring some warmth to her as well. Moira’s been really good about writing for this character to show that actually the reason that she’s a little afraid of Anne’s influence on Diana is that there’s this broader context of the limitations on what life looks like for a young woman at the time. And she expresses in Season 2 some of the longing to have a voice for herself. She wants to be able to contribute to discussions about their family’s financial affairs and their family’s future. She has a vision of her daughter going to Paris to finishing school.

It’s just she’s very protective and she hasn’t had the Anne model laid out before her. There is no one that has gone before her in her life to say there is this alternative path. And I’ve been thinking so much about how Lucy Maud Montgomery was one of the women that set that path out in people’s imagination, way before most people were thinking about that for themself. So, yes, I think that Moira’s been good to me particularly in Season 2 about saying this is the wider context of why Mrs. Barry is behaving as she is. And I think in some ways, certainly season two with Mrs. Barry saying to her husband, ‘I just want us to communicate. I want us to be in this together.’ It’s the same thing that Anne is saying in a lot of ways about Anne’s life and Anne’s future. Wanting just to talk about things and to be involved, to be treated as an adult and to be able to stand up for what is right. So, I’ve been really kind of happy with the development of the character in that respect.

There are also moments of humour. 
HJ: It’s a lovely thing to be able to do, to bring levity to things. And we work with Ryan Kiera Armstrong who plays Minnie May. She’s such a gem to work with and she shows up on set with this fire and you know where she is all the time. And she gets these scripts that are like, ‘Minnie May is misbehaving in the carriage.’ And we have her leaning against the window pushing her tongue out against the glass. It’s just, it’s so fun to work with her and it is so fun to work with Jonathan Holmes who really I think is so smart with comedy.

I’ve done a lot of comedy in my career as well. When you give us an inch we take a mile every single time.

Now that Anne has wrapped, are you working on anything that you can talk about?
HJ: I’ve got a couple of projects that I was able to shoot at the same time, so I wasn’t able to do very much on them. But I was part of a new series called Mrs. America, which stars Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne, which is about the ratification of the equal rights amendment. And the struggle between the kind of the feminist support for the equal rights amendment versus the backlash of Phyllis Schlafly and the kind of anti-feminist movement. So, I think that’s a really interesting project. And I was directed on that by Anna Boden and Ryan Fleck who directed Captain Marvel, so that was a really lovely experience.

I also worked on a movie called Charlotte, which is a Canadian produced, animated feature film about Charlotte Salomon, who was a German-Jewish woman painter in the period immediately preceeding the Second World War and then during the Second World War.

The pace of her work was very fast and so she was prolific in that moment. And I mean, you only need to look on Google to see that it didn’t end well. It’s a very moving story and I think it will be really interesting to see how the animation comes together with the fact that she was a painter herself. And I think there’s been a few movies of that kind recently. We’ve seen animated movies about Vincent van Gogh. So, I think it will be really interesting the art within the art as it were.

Anne with an E airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Miranda de Pencier describes the detail that goes into Anne with an E

I’ve been impressed with Anne with an E from its debut on CBC. The scripts have been amazing, the performances stellar—and scored trophies for Amybeth McNulty, Geraldine James and R.H. Thomson—the sets sublime and the wardrobe incredible.

That’s all by design says executive producer Miranda de Pencier, who along with fellow executive producer and showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett have taken L.M. Montogomery’s creation and truly made it their own. We recently spoke to de Pencier about the importance of being authentic when creating a show like this.

Anne is 16 this season and the hormones are raging. It seems as though all the girls are interested in the boys, but the boys seem to be pretty clueless when it comes to this relationship thing.
Miranda de Pencier: Well, and isn’t that just reality? As we all know, boys develop a little slower than and, eventually, you guys catch up. It’s fun to explore it, and I think there’s going to be a lot of surprises and a lot of relationships blooming and bursting that will be fun for the audience to see.

In the second season of Anne with an E, we had people of colour on the show. In this third season, we’ve got Indigenous characters. Are these are organic things that have been touchpoints for you and Moira Walley-Beckett along the way?
MDP: It has been organic. I think it’s also what’s going on in the world, but also what’s interesting to us. Back in the first season, Moira and I started talking about the idea of Indigenous characters. Then when and how that got introduced came out when it made sense for the story and the show. I think we touch on these things and talk about them in very organic ways and then they need to get executed practically.

According to the press release that CBC sent out earlier this year, it was quite the journey to cast Kiawenti:io Tarbell as Ka’kwet.
MDP: She is amazing. I think, fortunately, I had the experience of finding young Indigenous cast on The Grizzlies, so it was helpful to have gone through that large and challenging process that was so worthwhile. We basically repeated a version of that search to find Kiawenti:io. We wanted to search across the country. We reached out to casting agents from the west to the east. We went everywhere, Quebec, Six Nations and the west coast. Then ultimately from that large search and a lot of submissions, we culled that down to four girls that we brought to Toronto.

Then Melee Hutton, who was the extraordinary acting coach who helped train the young actors in The Grizzlies, also helped out, and still helps out with our younger cast on Anne with an E; she came in and led a workshop over a weekend where those four girls were taken through a number of acting exercises and play, and at the end of that process Kiawenti:io was the actress we felt made the most sense for the role and the other girls in that process we ended up putting into the show in other roles. We were able to give a positive experience and work to all those final actresses.

Sometimes I’ll hear casting agents or producers say, ‘Well, it’s just really hard to find Indigenous actors,’ and it is hard, but it’s not because they don’t exist, and it’s not because there isn’t a lot of talent out there. It’s just because it takes an extra effort and financing to find them, and you’ve got to go to them. You cannot expect to sit back and have those young people already have agents or access to casting directors. So it’s a larger process, but it’s so worth it, and it’s so exciting to find this amazing talent and all these amazing, amazing talents out there waiting to be discovered.

It would have been easy to have the Indigenous peoples speaking English, but you didn’t go that way. 
MDP: From the beginning, our goal has been to create a show that has a documentary level of realism. We’ve maintained that from the very start, whether it’s making sure we’ve got hand stitching on the bottom of the dress because the 4K camera can pick up anything, or whether it’s what would be true and would have been true in that time, socially, visually, economically. [Indigenous peoples in the region were] speaking Mi’kmaq in that time period, so it was important to be authentic. It was a challenge, because Mi’kmaq is a language that that some people would say is moving towards extinction, and there’s a lot of hope and effort in the Mi’kmaq community to bring it back. We were desperately looking for an elder, for instance, to speak Mi’kmaq, and I found one through Jeff Barnaby, who is Mi’kmaq.

A lot of people won’t know about the efforts we made to make sure that the Mi’kmaq was pronounced properly, but it was important for us to get it right. It’s about respect and it’s about being authentic.

The scripts and performances have been top-notch since Episode 1 of Season 1.
MDP: Thank you so much. We were sitting in sound mix. We were looking at the screen and just really in awe of the performances throughout this whole season. It’s been exciting to watch especially the younger actors all grow and start to really get to know their characters in a way that makes them soar. There’s less and less work for the directors to do performance-wise when this cast is just A-plus, and really become who they’re portraying in a way that I think is exciting and extraordinary. Across the board, we work really hard casting the show, each and every role, even if someone’s coming in for just a few lines. We spend a lot of time looking at a lot of actors for each and every part so that the audience is hopefully experiencing a show that feels real, and they’re not ever seeing the acting. That’s something we’re proud of, and I continue to be in awe of all the extraordinary talent in the show.

Anne with an E airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Links: Anne with an E, Season 3

From Magala Dilip of Meaww.com:

Link: ‘Anne with an E’ Season 3 will see a shift in aesthetics, diverse characters and a coming-of-age storyline, teases Helen Johns
The first two seasons of Netflix’s ‘Anne with an E’ has managed to impress not only all the fans of the ‘Anne of Green Gables’ book series but also those who were ignorant about this beautiful universe. Continue reading. 

From Bridget Liszewski of The TV Junkies:

Link: Anne with an E’s Amybeth McNulty previews a milestone year for Anne
“I started this role when I was 14 and had no idea what I was doing. Anne and I have grown up alongside each other now, and I feel like I really have gotten to know her. I feel like I know what I’m doing and have the right to say to the director an idea I have. It’s really nice because I have more trust in myself as an actor.” Continue reading.

From Melissa Girimonte of The Televixen:

Link: Get ready for Anne with an E Season 3 with Amybeth McNulty and Kiawenti:io Tarbell
“It’s an incredible experience for Anne, and she learns so much in a short time just from being introduced to [Ka’kwet’s] community. It’s eye-opening for Anne, but also for Matthew and Marilla. They learn over time — and it’s a slow development — that the Mi’kmaq are just humans. It was the same with Bash last season.” Continue reading.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Anne with an E expands its world with Indigenous characters in Season 3

In Season 2, Anne with an E creator Moira Walley-Beckett introduced black characters into her storylines. In Season 3, she does the same with Indigenous characters.

It’s all been part of Walley-Beckett’s plan to take L.M. Montgomery’s source material and expand it to be both inclusive and historically accurate. In Episode 1—returning Sunday at 8 p.m. on CBC—we meet Ka’kwet (played by 12-year-old Kiawenti:io Tarbell, a Mohawk from Akwesasne), an independent, resilient Mi’kmaq girl who befriends Anne. The addition of Tarbell, Brandon Oakes and Dana Jeffrey to the cast further enriches the Anne with an E world and makes it even more enjoyable.

We spoke to Moira Walley-Beckett ahead of Sunday’s return.

Did you always happen to have it in the back of your mind that in the Anne journey you would introduce First Nations characters?
Moira Walley-Beckett: Yes. It was always in the back of my mind for sure. In the same way that I’ve been wanting to diversify L.M. Montgomery’s novels. It was one of my mission statements.

A First Nations man and girl smile into the camera.It’s why I sent Gilbert away on at the end of Season 1. So that the show could expand its horizons and that he could gain a fresh perspective and that I could introduce people of colour and bring someone home. When we talked last year I talked about when we were in our research and discovering The Bog. And that The Bog was a place that is not in any of the history books, but that actually existed in our time period on PEI. So that was a terrible, wonderful goldmine for us and further populated our world with diverse people of colour. I’ve always tried to open up the pages of the book and I have strayed so far from it right out of the gate. The Mi’kmaq people were very much part of the community of Prince Edward Island. And so there is every reason to include them and tell their story.

The first thing that I noticed, aside from the First Nations characters, was the fact that your cast is starting to get taller. 
MWB: I know, it’s unconscionable. I’ve asked them repeatedly to stop and they just won’t heed me.

Does that affect your writing at all? Does that impact on anything with regard to the kids getting older naturally?
MWB: For sure. Yes, it’s inevitable and so it has to affect me. It’s a very interesting experience for me, actually. This is the first time I’ve done a show with kids. And because season after season on a regular series, time is kind of fluid if you need it to be. But working with kids, they’re growing and there’s nothing I can do about it. Their maturation is dictating the story for sure. But again, part of my master plan, I didn’t know that was going to happen. This season is the season where we shed childhood. Last season was the end of childish wonder and this season is the teenage years and stepping into young adulthood.

It’s crazy to see this version of social media where the notes are going up on the wall in Episode 1 and people are letting their intentions be known.
MWB: The take notice board.

A boy looks up from eating, smiling.I’m not sure if I’m ready for the intentions being known to everybody.
MWB: You know, I’m always looking to contemporize this world and make sure that it’s accessible in a meaningful way to our audience. And there is a take notice board in the book and I was just like, ‘Oh my god, that’s just Instagram for the Victorian era.’ I was super excited about that. It’s a very fun platform. We get a lot of mileage out of it.

What was it like having Tracey Deer in the writers’ room? I’m assuming that she was a big part of making sure that the Indigenous storyline stayed true.
MWB: Yes. That is why I hired her. Aside from the fact that she’s an awesome writer and producer. I set out to find an Indigenous female voice to include in my room this season, because writing an Indigenous storyline is, A) so sensitive and B), not my lived experience. It was absolutely essential for me to make sure that I had an Indigenous voice in my room. It’s been wonderful working with Tracey. Just wonderful.

What else can you say about the storylines this year?
MWB: Well, there’s multiple pertaining to the essence of these people, their hearts and the very fabric of their being. I’m sure it may have been stated that Anne goes on a quest this season to search for her identity. She’s looking for her image. She’s looking to discover who she is, where she came from, who she came from. And that scene intertwines with every character’s story, including our new character Ka’kwet who knows her identity all too well and has it taken from her. So there are some very big important things this season that are woven together into the fabric of these episodes.

Anne with an E airs Sundays at 8 p.m. on CBC.

Images courtesy of CBC.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail

Northwood Entertainment and Canadaland partner to develop Thunder Bay TV series

From a media release:

Northwood Entertainment (ANNE WITH AN E, THE GRIZZLIES) has partnered with the producers of the Canadaland podcast ‘Thunder Bay’ – and together they are developing the podcast into a drama series. Miranda de Pencier’s Northwood Entertainment will co-produce the series alongside Anishinaabe comedian, writer, & podcaster Ryan McMahon, and journalist & Canadaland founder/publisher, Jesse Brown. Executive producers McMahon, Brown, and de Pencier are currently considering showrunners for the series.

Hosted and co-written by McMahon, the serialized, true crime podcast examines the systemic racism, corruption, and crime that runs rampant in Thunder Bay and the factors that make the city amongst the most dangerous for Indigenous youth in the world. THUNDER BAY plans to bring all of these issues to light in a searing and riveting drama series that considers not who killed nine Indigenous high school students, but what killed them. The series begins with an examination of nine deaths and goes on to explore the broader impact of colonialism and racism.

THUNDER BAY executive producers are Miranda de Pencier, Ryan McMahon, and Jesse Brown. Northwood Entertainment and Canadaland will co-produce the series.

Image courtesy of Christopher Wahl.

Facebooktwitterredditlinkedinmail