While Anne Shirley has been experiencing life in Avonlea and all that entails—school, friendship, chores and two sneaky grifters—Gilbert Blythe has been on an adventure of his own in Season 2 of Anne with an E.
Leaving Prince Edward Island following the death of his father, Gilbert has been shovelling coal into a ship’s boiler alongside Bash in the Caribbean. The two have established a strong friendship, and there has been great personal growth for Gilbert already. It’s not clear exactly when Gilbert will return to Avonlea—it depends on how fast Anne’s letter reaches him—and Lucas Jade Zumann won’t tell me.
I spoke to Zumann earlier this year about how he was cast in the role, what’s in store for Gilbert this year and his plan to study … astrophysics and quantum theory.
Gilbert’s got a lot going on from what I’ve seen so far in Season 2. Lucas Jade Zumann: Yeah. Absolutely, I think he’s getting a much more worldly perspective during Season 2. Even more so than I think the character had in the book. [Showrunner Moira Walley-Beckett] is really writing in between the pages on this one and really adding a lot to his character’s backstory. I think it’s really important and it lends a lot to his natural worldly character that he has in the book. And I think that this journey of his kind of, it lends an explanation to Gilbert’s perspective.
How did you end up with the role in the first place?
LJZ: It wasn’t actually very traditional. When I got the offer for the audition, I was on tour for the publicity for 20th Century Women, a film that I did. And the director of 20th Century Women worked with the producer of Anne with an E. She liked the film. She saw the film early and she liked my work and she requested that I read for the role. So I came in, the first thing I did was actually a chemistry read with Amybeth McNulty. And then after that point, it was maybe a couple of weeks before my agent called me and let me know that I had gotten the role of Gilbert Blythe.
To be skipping that step because executive producer Miranda de Pencier had seen you and thought that you’d be a good fit … were you a little bit extra nervous going into this? LJZ: Oh, absolutely, especially considering the rank of these people that were sitting at the table in front of me. I mean, Moira Walley-Beckett is a phenomenal writer and director and I have been inspired by her work for many years beforehand. Just sitting in a room with these people is intimidating. Even the waiting room. I was, yeah, I was very nervous to say the least. I’m just really lucky that we kind of clicked in a certain way.
Gilbert lost his father in Season 1. That was a very dark and serious storyline that you had to take on.
LJZ: Yeah. Absolutely. I think losing his father was a huge deal for Gilbert’s growth and it pushed him to grow up really fast and have to start supporting himself and discovering his own place in the world. I think being in school just … and then having to support yourself, just in a little life change like that, I can only imagine how hard that must be for a person. And the kind of toll that that has on their personality. I think that lends a lot to his mentality and his maturity.
Where’s Gilbert’s head at in Season 2?
LJZ: I think he’s just so excited to be exploring parts of the world. I think he’s so accustomed to the way of life in Avonlea, where it’s snow almost all year and just farm work every single day. And I think that just being on a boat and even just shovelling coal, like, that was, that’s part of the exploration for him. I definitely can see that in my own life, too. I mean, I personally like working in a restaurant in my free time, just simply because it’s a more mindful type of workspace, in a restaurant. And I appreciate that there so many different roles that people can play in this world. I think Gilbert is taking the time in to explore that.
What can you say about his relationship with Sebastian?
LJZ: Sebastian really is kind of his leader to the world outside of Avonlea. I think when Gilbert leaves Avonlea, all he knows is, well, I mean, he’s been surrounded by white people and this culture, this European Canadian culture that he’s had his whole life. Seeing Trinidad and seeing what it’s like on a steamship, all the other trials that he goes through, I think that being with Sebastian and seeing that these are trials that people like him would go through on a daily basis just to survive.
That grants him perspective. Coming from a classroom full of people worried about what they’re going to wear the next day, to people worried about how they’re going to eat the next day. That was something that’s really important for him to understand. There’s a whole other world outside of Avonlea.
Is there something that you’re working on now that you can talk about? Are you back working in a restaurant?
LJZ: Well, I just took a break from the restaurant because I am starting my senior year in high school. Which I did not necessarily think I was going to go back and do because I did take my GED. I tested out of high school, but I don’t have enough credits to apply for a college and make it look cool. I don’t have all the college credits that I would need.
I do eventually want to go back and I really am interested in studying astrophysics and quantum theory. That would definitely require some mathematics or history, you know. Coming back to school with that kind of new drive for learning, specifically with the astrophysics, understanding that calculus and math is like the language of how we humans quantify and understand things about our universe, it could be beyond our perception, I’m so fascinated by that. I really want to explore everything that we can about the universe that we live in.
Link: Interview: Anne with an E’s Amybeth McNulty
“She definitely has her fiery temper, which I think that some people can see as a kind of downfall of hers, but I guess that I kind of see it more as a strength, which I think is so beautiful. She’s one of my favourite characters ever. So I’m grateful that I get to incorporate parts of my heart and soul into playing her.” Continue reading.
Moira Walley-Beckett and Anne with an E are on a roll. The former landed the Showrunner of the Year award at the 2018 Rockie Awards gala at the Banff World Media Festival earlier this year while the latter was feted with individual awards and Best Drama Series at the Canadian Screen Awards.
With Season 2 of Anne with an E returning to CBC this Sunday at 7 p.m., we spoke to Walley-Beckett in Banff about what’s to come for Anne Shirley (Amybeth McNulty), Marilla Cuthbert (Geraldine James), Matthew Cuthbert (R.H. Thomson), Gilbert Blythe (Lucas Jade Zumann) and newcomer Sebastian (Dalmar Abuzeid).
There are some new characters in the second season, but the most important question that I want to ask is … the Season 1 finale, the two guys that came into the house … do we catch up with Season 2 right in those moments after? Do we find out what these guys are plotting? Because it would appear that they were plotting nothing but bad things.
Moira Walley-Beckett: They’re bad, bad, bad grifters. Season 2 picks up nine months later, and they are still there at Green Gables, pretending that they didn’t know each other before. We’re going to see how they’ve integrated into the household, what their master plan was in being there in the first place, what transpires, and how it affects everybody and the town.
It isn’t like there is this quick revelation that these guys are grifters and that they may be bad, and let’s get rid of them. They are part of life.
MWB: It’s a long game. It’s a very long game.
How much fun is it to do that to the audience?
MWB: It’s so fun.
You’ve got some diversity in characters in Season 2. I recorded a podcast with Dalmar Abuzeid. Now, we didn’t specifically talk about Anne with an E at that time. What can you tell me about his character Sebastian?
MWB: I’ve been chagrined by the fact that the story of Anne of Green Gables and Avonlea does not culturally reflect the diversity in Canada and the colour in the world. So, my master plan at the end of Season 1, which was my plan from the beginning, was to earn Gilbert’s exit, and put him aboard a steamship, and send him out into the world. It afforded me an opportunity to introduce this new character, played by Dal, who’s a person of colour, who becomes a very, very good friend of Gilbert’s. They travel to exotic ports of call, where we see a whole other part of the world and certainly a whole different cultural experience through the eyes of Gilbert.
That explains the filming in Port Dalhousie.
MWB: Yes. Which is unrecognizable. My art department and my production designers … I brutalized them this season. Because it’s a huge season they just did phenomenally detailed work. I mean, you’d have no idea that you weren’t actually there. Then we have our steamship and the interiors and exteriors of the steamship that we built. It’s just an incredible season.
When did you picture this big season? Was it in your grand plan from the very beginning?
MWB: Yes. From when I was first conceiving of the show and how I not only could go deeper emotionally with all the characters, and Anne particularly, her backstory, but certainly Matthew and Marilla too. But also, how do I want this series to grow? How do I want to expand the world? How do I want to foster conversation in families who are watching? So, it’s always been part of the master plan to expand the story and expand the world.
It must have been really great to get the Season 1 feedback, first from the fans watching on CBC and then the Netflix fans telling you how much they love these characters and your version of it.
MWB: It’s been really exciting to see how excited fans around the world are by this beloved Canadian story and how embracing they’ve been of the departures that I’ve taken from the book, which are, as you know, enormous departures. Basically, by the end of the first episode of the first season, we were off [the book]. I was like, ‘We’re doing this instead,’ and purposefully doing so, because it’s a beautiful template, but for me to have wanted to engage with it and develop it, I wanted it to be more, and deeper, and expansive.
The writer’s room for Season 2, what was dynamic? The female to male ratio, the veterans to new people?
MWB: Interesting question. Well, I’ll just start by saying I didn’t have a writer’s room for season one, and I wrote every episode myself. I mean, I’m such a control freak. I so loved that experience, but I had the luxury of time to do it that way, and I didn’t have that for Season 2. When I imagined how I wanted to undertake Season 2, I decided to have an all female writer’s room for the show. So, I hired five Canadian writers and one U.S. non-writing writer to break story with me in the room. It was an extremely invigorating experience, and intimate, and safe, and I think corrective for some of the female writers. It’s a diverse room, which was also super important because it’s … why limit? I want all the voices. I want different perspectives. It was a great crucible.
What can fans expect from this second season? You’ve already said big. We’re going to have diversity in the cast, going to places that the books have never gone before. What else can you say?
MWB: I guess I can say it’s a challenging season. I’m exploring some topics and themes that are very challenging, and very topical, and very relevant right now. We’re diving deep into bullying, and prejudice, and racism, and intolerance, and gender issues, and sexuality. It’s a major, major season, and it’s 10 episodes.
How is Matthew doing?
MWB: Matthew’s doing OK.
Because that’s got to happen. Well, I guess it doesn’t.
MWB: This is the thing, I’m an unreliable narrator of the book.