Amybeth McNulty: The RD Interview

Amybeth McNulty, the new Anne of Green Gables, talks red hair, gritty dramas and what it’s like to portray CanLit’s most beloved heroine.

Amybeth McNulty, the new Anne of Green GablesPhoto: Sophie Giraud/CBC

15 Minutes with Amybeth McNulty

Reader’s Digest Canada: You’re Anne Shirley in the new Anne of Green Gables miniseries. Nearly 2,000 actors tried out for the role. Any idea how you clinched it?

Amybeth McNulty: I didn’t realize what a big deal it was until just before I came to Toronto from Ireland for the final audition! I haven’t experienced the trauma that Anne did, but I’ve been told we have similarities. We share a love of the world—of God, humans and nature. We merged really well, so it wasn’t just acting for me.

With the books and the 1985 CBC series, there’s lots of material to draw on. How did you prepare?

I didn’t watch or read any versions of the story, other than our script, because I didn’t want to be affected by them.

Anne has a real knack for landing in sticky situations. Do you share that quality?

Of course, I have my ways of getting into trouble. We all have times when we think, Oh my God, can the world please swallow me up and take me away from this? Everybody can relate to that—it’s why Anne is so popular.

She especially appeals to young girls. Why do you believe that is?

It’s the idea of Anne thinking that girls were no different from boys, her power and her struggles. She had a lot of challenges—feeling not good enough or not pretty, trying to get a boy to like her, growing annoyed by people—and her willpower makes you wish you were like her.

Anne famously had a love-hate relationship with her carrot top. How do you feel about your own mane?

I really like red hair. I think if you have brown hair, you want blond hair; if you have blond hair, you want blue hair. We always want what we don’t have. It takes a while to admit, Hey, it’s just part of me.

And how do you feel about puffed sleeves?

Oh, I love them. I love my Anne dresses, but when I see the other girls with their puffed-sleeve costumes, I know how she feels—that sense of longing.

Has it weighed on you playing a character who’s so beloved?

I try to let it go. I’m not going to compare myself to Megan Follows [who played Anne in the 1985 series]. Other people will, and that’s fine—she’s the Anne—but my Anne is different and beautiful and unique.

Head writer Moira Walley-Beckett has described the new Anne as grittier than previous versions. How so?

It’s more realistic, with flashbacks showing the abuse Anne has gone through. There are more layers.

Walley-Beckett won an Emmy for Breaking Bad, which is certainly gritty. Have you seen it?

My grandmother and I recently watched it on Netflix. I loved it. My grandmother did too—she went on a Netflix marathon for the first time.

Your mother was born in Calgary, but you’re from Ireland. What’s been your favourite discovery since you started filming here?

Maple syrup. It’s basic, but so good.

And what’s one thing you miss about home?

Your Dairy Milk chocolate tastes different. I think it must be the milk. My friend brought over some Irish chocolate and I was extremely happy.

Anne airs on CBC until May 7.

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Reader's Digest Canada
Originally Published in Reader's Digest Canada