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.