Sara Botsford: Marilla for a New Generation in Anne of Green Gables

This Monday, a new generation will be introduced to Anne Shirley, the beloved red-headed protagonist in Anne of Green Gables. And no story about Anne — on page, stage or screen — would be complete without Marilla Cuthbert, the stern matriarch of Green Gables that is reminded of life’s whimsical side once Anne enters the picture.

Stepping into the role of Marilla for this new TV film is Sara Botsford, and we had the chance to chat with her on set while they were filming just outside of Toronto. Read what she had to share about playing Marilla Cuthbert … and if you’re in Canada, you can watch L.M. Montgomery’s Anne Of Green Gables on Monday, February 15 at 6pm on YTV.

Marilla is such an iconic character. What can you tell us about the differences in your portrayal versus versions we’ve seen previously?

The style of this film is quite different. It’s much more realistic than idealistic, and it’s much more grounded. [Director] John Kent Harrison has a very clear idea. In his mind, the relationship for Marilla is with Matthew. It’s not with Anne. That’s a relationship that grows, but at the beginning of the film, it’s not about this orphan kid who showed up; it’s about Marilla’s brother and he’s not really going to do without this person to help us on the farm.

I’m excited for a new generation to discover Anne’s world. How do you think this generation will react to the story, and to the character of Marilla?

I’m very curious to see how that generation responds to it all because Marilla is — hard-bitten is too strong a word, but she’s a very closed person at the beginning of the movie. She only opens up through her relationship with Anne. This child comes into her life and really allows her to open her heart up, which I don’t think Marilla’s done in about 60 years. Sometimes on set, a couple of the guys have said to me, “When you’re done up in that whole get-up, you remind me of those old teachers I was afraid of.” There’s sort of a cliché of who this woman would be, and I’m trying not to have her be that. [Marilla is] a person who works hard, is straight forward, and doesn’t have time to lull around and have a fantasy life. She runs a huge farm. She has a brother who’s ailing. She has work to do, but there’s a part of Anne’s character that reminds her of who she probably was before that was drilled out of her. She starts to remember fantasies and seeing the magic of places in her life. I think that’s one of the pieces of the journey.

Marilla is an exceptional character, and really shows how women were so much more than wives and mothers at that point in history.

I agree. It’s great to see a woman who stands on her own two feet and is independent and extremely capable. She has a slightly rigid code of behaviour and is a highly moral person. She’s ultimately a kind person and loving person. She hasn’t had a relationship. Her only possible relationship was destroyed when she was young, so she put all that stuff away and carried on. It’s great to see a female who’s capable and proud and practical without being a bitch. [Marilla is] a very rich character, very multi-dimensional and complicated. It’s the kind of character that makes you go, “This is why I’m an actress.”

*Anne of Green Gables will make its US debut on PBS on Thanksgiving, November 24, 2016.

Photo Courtesy of YTV

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