The series premiere of Anne finally arrives today in Canada! I grew up obsessed with the Anne books, and this is a project that I’ve followed closely since it was announced. The producers searched the world for their Anne and found Amybeth McNulty, and after having a chance to see the first episode, she plays the role to perfection.
I had the chance to sit down with Amybeth McNulty on the Toronto set of Anne to talk about becoming a character so adored all around the world. Be prepared to fall head over heels for this talented, funny, and spirited young woman. Read the interview below, and tune in tonight at 8pm on CBC for the Canadian premiere. It will be available on May 12 on Netflix in the US and internationally.
What was your first introduction to the world of Anne?
I got the first Anne book when I was 9 years old for my birthday, and that was all the experience I really had with it. I never watched the movies, never saw any other productions of it. It was just the book and I feel like that’s all I really needed. Then the script from Moira [Walley-Beckett] was given to me and I didn’t feel like I needed to re-read the book. I felt that I would stick with her script and any questions I had, I would go to her. That’s all I really needed for myself to picture Anne and to portray her in my sense of how she should be portrayed.
It’s bold and exciting that this series is really tackling what Anne went through before she was adopted by the Cuthberts.
There’s an awful lot of it. We definitely bring forward feminist issues, prejudice, bullying, sexuality, many other subjects. You could even bring in the refugee subject because Anne is an outsider who is brought to this new land and she doesn’t know what to do. I like how we’re very honest about it, especially Moira. She’s not scared to say, “This is it, take it or leave it,” and I think Anne has that same feeling. Our written character of Anne here doesn’t change herself for other people. She’s very honest and has her opinions but doesn’t force them on anybody else. You should have your feelings and not be subject to other people’s influences, and just be yourself. I know that’s a good message and people use it a lot, but in this production, there’s even more of it.
Anne is opinionated and strong-willed, but not self-centred. She really tries to please those around her.
Absolutely. When she’s working in these strangers’ homes, she’s very much about keeping them happy. They say, “Don’t talk,” and Anne replies, “OK, I won’t talk.” They say, “Clean nicely,” and she says, “OK, I’ll clean better than I ever have before.” She was very much a servant in all of those houses, whether it was looking after the children or the house itself. Anne is very much about pleasing them, making sure they keep her, and that she’s in a steady environment. Anything is better than the orphanage that she spent most of her life in. She definitely tries to please other people.
Growing up, I could really relate to Anne, especially when I was told not to “talk back.” It wasn’t that I was talking back, I was just questioning. I could never just take what I was told and go with it. I needed to know why. And I think that’s the reason why Anne was so special to me because she was constantly questioning everything.
When Anne comes to live with the Cuthberts, she is thinking, “Stand tall, make sure they like you, speak very nicely, but also bring a really good energy. Be very spiritual and energized and happy, bring out the father and mother sense in them, and show them your imagination.” There is a sense of pleasing them, but when it gets to a point where Anne goes, “Hey, actually no, that’s not how I feel about it, that’s just how it is,” I can definitely relate to her in that way.
This is one of your first big roles, but you have the good fortune of working with actors like R.H. Thomson and Geraldine James, both of whom have such a wealth of experience.
Geraldine and R.H. have had so much experience, and to see that R.H. was in Road to Avonlea and that he’s coming back to now play Matthew was so sweet. My heart was so happy. They’ve been very helpful to me, full of wisdom and also full of fun. It wasn’t just, “Oh us actors, we must work together and be professional.” It was very much like the stupidest jokes we could possibly make. When we were on set and cracking these jokes, the crew loved it, we loved it, and it made it a far more relaxed environment, especially if it was a difficult scene. I was very thankful that it was just three actors working together and trying to make this production as beautiful as possible. I can’t explain to you how happy I was.
Also, R.H. is hilarious. I call him “It” and he calls me “It” or “Carrots,” and Geraldine is “Frilly Marilly.” That’s just how it is on set, and it’s so much better than being on a show that’s very plain and ordinary and doesn’t have that fun, fiery spirit. R.H. is so much like Matthew, but he’s also not like Matthew. He’s extroverted and funny and has a lot to say about things, but him playing Matthew is utterly spectacular.
Anne and Matthew have a special relationship right from the beginning whereas Marilla is more of a challenge for Anne to win over. In a way, Marilla has lost touch with that whimsical side of herself, and Anne helps remind her of that.
That’s exactly how it is. It’s definitely a sense of Anne and Matthew becoming kindred spirits immediately, while Marilla says, “You’re not a boy and you can’t stay, that’s just the way it is.” Marilla’s very straightforward, but Matthew and Anne both have this sense that Anne is meant to be at Green Gables. There’s a beautiful line that Matthew says in the first episode along the lines of “I think Anne would be of help to us, and us to her,” and that beautiful scene between R.H. and Geraldine made me tear up. The facial expressions with that one line are just stunning.
I’ve seen some of your posts on social media and it looks like you are having a lot of fun with your younger co-stars, including Dalila Bela (Diana).
When me and Dalila met in the audition process, it was her last audition for Diana. We did some improvisation and some of the Anne/Diana scenes, and we cried in the audition room because we were so happy. It was these really emotional scenes together where we clicked automatically. It was wonderful, and filming scenes with her was spectacular. Lucas Jade Zumann, who plays Gilbert, is great. I got to hit my friend with a slate at least 30 times, and he was like, “Just hit me harder.” I had so much fun with it, and the other kids thought it was so exciting. All the kids are amazing. We sing Hamilton together, or we bring our ukuleles, I’m having a sleepover with all the girls soon, and I was very happy that we all merged together very quickly and our friendship was solid instantly. And we have new characters coming. AJ (Aymeric Jett Montaz) will be playing Jerry Baynard, and he’s great. Anne and Jerry definitely have this little friendship that slowly forms.
Photos Courtesy of CBC.