It’s not every day that an opportunity comes along to interview a legendary talent, but last June, the stars aligned. I found myself visiting the set of L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Of Green Gables, a new TV film adaptation of the beloved books, and in the role of Matthew Cuthbert was none other than Martin Sheen.
What was supposed to be a tag-team interview shared with new friend and kindred spirit Melanie Fishbane (contributor at Cinefilles and L.M. Montgomery scholar) turned into a discussion of life and humanity with Sheen. His charisma and passion are immediately evident. By the end of our conversation, in my mind, he had become like a grandfatherly figure offering us his perspective on the project and why youth will respond to this film. Here’s some of the wisdom he imparted!
Matthew Cuthbert is an iconic role, and sacred ground in the eyes of so many. Why do you think it’s important to revisit the story of Anne again and again?
You know, Shakespeare is sacred ground. Verdi. Stravinsky. Why do we continue to do them? Because they appeal to new generations, and we need to be nourished in new ways. Not everybody is aware of them or how important they stress our humanity, community, service, and leading an honest life. Today, so many young people got their nose on their phone. Twitter, twanking, tweeting. I have no computer, thank God. I tried to learn but couldn’t and I think God blessed me, because it divides us rather than unites us. Most of this stuff that people are feeding off of … it just darkens the horizon and gives people less hope and less humanity. If Anne of Green Gables isn’t about humanity, I don’t know what it’s about. It’s about need. It’s about service. It’s reaching out and by doing so you help yourself. The only way I can get to know me is to know you. The only way I know I’m leading an honest or dishonest life is when it is reflected in you. And so we are called to remind each other how important it is to be human.
So now is kind of the perfect time for a new generation to discover the world of Anne?
Anne of Green Gables is all about being human and about this character that steps into this void. Everybody’s happy as Larry. There’s no great need for a girl orphan here. But this girl … when they discover Anne, they discover fire for the second time. She ignites the humanity of every life that she touches. It’s not always positive, like when she gets ahold of poor Gilbert or some of the girls, but she’s an honest girl. She has been through great rejection and pain and discardment. No one wants her. She wants herself.
Why it’s a classic, it’s not an accident. It lives because it says all of the things that we need to be aware of. Works like this remind us that we’re better than this crap that we’re doing. What I love about this story is that it is a child having a profound influence on adults before the adults have a profound influence on the child.
It’s so much fun follow this little fireball around. It’s no accident she has red hair. She’s on fire. I think that the author made it real clear she’s on fire. You’re gonna burn things up. You’re gonna heat things up. You’re gonna spark people, sometimes driving them away from the heat, but I think that young kids are going be drawn to this again.
What are the lessons that you think these children will learn from Anne’s story?
What it means to be heroic is what it means to be human. We’re not born heroic. We’re born human. And as we develop then we step outside of ourselves. Now today,in Western culture, the greatest disease for young people is peer pressure. To step outside of something, to identify differently from the group [and realize] I’m the only one of me. There’s nobody else like me. There never will be, there never has been. I’m unique. What Anne inspires us to do is to go out of our way to become ourselves.
You have such passion for what this project is about, and it really shows through in the scenes we’ve seen today.
You know how often we get to play these kinds of characters today? Name one. I mean really think of it. Now, they don’t do Shakespeare on television. They don’t even do the operas on television anymore. They don’t do great concerts on television. You don’t see the ballet on television. Nobody interested because they don’t make any dough. People still go to the theater, they’re so hungry and thirsty for something, and now you’re really bringing this to the screen. So for young people, I think [this film] is very important.
*Anne of Green Gables will make its US debut on PBS on Thanksgiving, November 24, 2016.
Photo Courtesy of YTV