Catherine O’Hara, Victor Garber and Megan Follows Talk Their New ‘Anne of Green Gables’ Audible Series
Catherine O'Hara in character as Marilla Cuthbert, one half of the sibling pair that adopts Anne Shirley in 'Anne of Green Gables.' Photo: Courtesy of Audible.ca
For Megan Follows, Anne of Green Gables is like the tide on a beach.
“It comes in and goes out then comes back again,” the actress says of her role as the free-spirited, redheaded Anne, a role she immortalized at age 17 in the classic 1985 CBC film, Anne of Green Gables, and in follow-ups – Anne of Green Gables: The Sequel (1987) and Anne of Green Gables: The Continuing Story (2000).
For better or worse, her dare-I-say-perfect portrayal has come to define Follows. But, unlike some actors who might grow grumpy at being type-cast in a specific role, Follows has leaned into the “better” part by thoroughly embracing what Anne Shirley might call her “lot in life.”
This year, almost 40 years after she initially played Anne, the tide is in again as Follows circles back to Lucy Maud Montgomery’s beloved story via a new Audible original audiobook, Anne of Green Gables. The immersive audio drama features nine chapters — scored beautifully and chock full of squawking birds and bubbling brooks — that dropped at the end of November. And this time, Follows isn’t playing Anne but, rather, running the show.
“As director, you’re responsible for the whole orchestra rather than just your own instrument,” Follows explains with an Anne-worthy metaphor, coffee in hand, during a chat with me bright and early from Vancouver over Zoom. “Acting is deep but very narrow, while directing is broader. It’s wonderful to have a different perspective and be responsible for different things,” she says.
Follows has previously narrated many Annes and an Emily of New Moon after acting in the Anne films. But now that she’s at the helm, how will she revamp a universally-beloved story without upsetting devotees to the original?
One strategy is clever casting: 17-year-old Canadian actress Michela Luci stars as Anne while the cast is rounded out by Canadian screen legends including Grey’s Anatomy’s Sandra Oh as the narrator, while Schitt’s Creek matriarch Catherine O’Hara plays Marilla Cuthbert and Alias and Argo actor Victor Garber co-stars as Matthew Cuthbert, the siblings who adopt Anne. But even stars of this size, if you can believe it, get a little intimidated by the power of Anne.
“I came to Anne late, I confess,” says Garber, 74, who knew of the story but hasn’t watched the CBC version a hundred times like some (that’s me). “It’s such an iconic Canadian story, and I was so grateful to be asked to be in this, so I went back and watched Megan’s version and was just blown away.”
Because it’s awesome, of course, but also because the film’s filled with Garber’s old friends.
“Turns out I know almost everyone in the production! Megan since she was 14, and Colleen Dewhurst, and my old friend Jayne Eastwood,” says Garber of the cozy Canadian film world.
O’Hara, meanwhile, loved the show without reading the book. “This is embarrassing, as I blame my family for this, but I didn’t read Anne at home until this project,” the 69-year-old admits. “I’m sorry! Please don’t tell anyone!”
After she got the role and read up, it turns out O’Hara and Anne are kindred spirits: “My middle name on my birth certificate is Ann without and E, but I changed it and added an E because I thought it sounded more sophisticated — just like Anne Shirley!”
Both Marilla and Matthew’s roles are challenging in this medium because, well, they don’t talk much. “My character is so subtle and moving, he’s really a listener,” says Garber of Matthew Cuthbert who, although his words are few, drives the whole plot with his initial affection for chatterbox Anne. For example: “Which would you rather be if you had the choice — divinely beautiful or dazzlingly clever or angelically good?” asks Anne. “Well now, I — I don’t know,” mumbles Matthew. Follows directed Garber’s performance over Zoom from New York City.
O’Hara did her part with Follows in person — albeit from the cottage. “I think that helped get me in the mood,” she says of her Canadian setting. “I don’t know if it’d be the same from L.A.” Or maybe it would, if Follows is as great at directing as everyone says she is. Granted, she’s got a whole lot of experience. “Megan grew up in the Anne world, she helped to build the world, so she’s the expert — next to Lucy Maud Montgomery,” says O’Hara.
While it’s admittedly tempting when voice-acting to turn the theatrics right up, and though Moira Rose reading Marilla Cuthbert would indeed make an awesome TikTok, Follows helped O’Hara capture her role’s understated heart. “At the beginning, Marilla is holding in so much pain and she never lets herself have a moment to feel. Thanks to Anne, she learns to open her heart and show her feelings,” says O’Hara. After all that repression, a declaration of motherly love (“Anne Shirley, I wouldn’t trade you for a dozen boys”) effortlessly cues the waterworks — no visuals required.
Next year marks the 150th anniversary of Lucy Maud Montgomery’s birth but, however old-timey and nostalgic it seems on the surface, Anne of Green Gables works as well in this new medium as it does on the page. “She writes a lot of dialogue, it’s so dialogue-heavy, almost like a modern script,” says Follows.
The same’s very true of Montgomery’s content, which fascinatingly functions on multiple and ever-changing levels — depending on the reader (or in this case, the listener).
“You may think Anne’s talking about, say, cherry blossoms on a tree,” explains Follows. “But really she’s talking about contemporary choices to see beauty in the world instead of going towards darkness.”
As an audiobook, you’ll have to imagine the cherry blossoms in your head, but the metaphor will be louder and clearer than ever before.
Anne of Green Gables is available on Audible now.