The 60-year-old star of Road to Avonlea talks fame, DIY projects and one particularly fortuitous journey to San Francisco.
The road to Avonlea was a unique one for Mag Ruffman.
At one point, while in her early 20s, the Richmond Hill, Ont. native attended the University of Toronto for physical education, although her interest in the subject quickly waned. "One day, I realized I didn't want to be a phys ed teacher at all: I wanted to be an entertainer," she says. "I didn't feel like my fellow classmates were my tribe. Physical education was OK, but it wasn't answering my nature to express myself and work with emotions."
And so she halted her brief foray into physical health, propelled forward by a newfound sense of purpose—and $5,000 in prize money earned as the winner of a 1980 installment of the DuMaurier Search for the Stars. And it was that same penchant for performing—and a blossoming friendship with Anne of Green Gables writer-producer Kevin Sullivan—that later resulted in her most famous role to date.
In hindsight, considering her onscreen charm, quick wit and contagious smile, it's hard to envision Ruffman holding down any job that didn't require her to be in front of the camera. From actress to Tool Girl to teacher, she's donned a variety of different hats over the years. "I'm an introvert, but I can act extroverted," she laughs.
But it was on Road to Avonlea where Ruffman first made her mark.
Loosely based on a series of novels by acclaimed Anne of Green Gables author Lucy Maud Montgomery, the series initially followed the (mis)adventures of Sara Stanley (Sarah Polley)—a young Montréal heiress sent to live with relatives in the fictional town of Avonlea, P.E.I. in the early 1900s—before branching off to also focus on an array of secondary characters and their lives. The series, which enjoyed seven highly-successful seasons (1989-1996), has since become something of a national treasure.
Avonlea went on to receive 16 Emmy nominations and 18 Gemini nods over the course of its run. It even featured all-star guest appearances from the likes of Faye Dunaway, Eugene Levy, Stockard Channing and Christopher Lloyd, among others. And let's not forget a pre-fame Ryan Gosling, who had a one-episode stint back in 1996.
But as Oliva King-Dale, Ruffman was the quirky beating heart at the centre of the series—an immediate fan-favourite whose character arch went from the socially-awkward younger sibling of the temperamental spinster Hetty King (played by the biting Jackie Burroughs) to strong-willed family woman.
After the series ended, Ruffman chose the path less travelled, rebranding herself as the Tool Girl in a series of DIY home improvement shows. And while Ruffman's career trajectory has been anything but linear, she wouldn't have it any other way.
We caught up with Ruffman to talk relationships, DIY projects and how she landed a major role on Road to Avonlea. Click to the next page for the full Q&A.
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