The delightful Megan Follows shared memories, lessons learned, and appreciation for her fondly remembered role as the titular character, Anne Shirley, in Anne of Green Gables, Friday morning in Hyatt International South. Currently known as the scheming Catherine de’ Medici in Reign, Follows began the panel with a tribute to what she termed the most noble profession. No, not ruling or parenting—teaching. “Teachers really are heroes,” she said, and she spoke of the importance of children having a good influence to teach them how to get along, to have empathy, and to cherish creativity.
The expected question came next: What does she think of the new Anne with an E series? Follows was unfazed. “I think of Anne, in the literary canon, as a great female role that is open to interpretation… like all great roles.” She gave the example of Hamlet. “There are many different characters that we don’t think can only be done one way.” She admitted, however, that we don’t have a lot of female roles in our canon. She thinks L.M. Montgomery’s Anne series is an incredible piece of writing and that Anne has been, and ought to be, played by many different actors. “I just happened to be the best,” she said with her impish grin.
Megan talked of loving the Oz books as a child, but she had never read Anne until she auditioned for the role. She wasn’t the director’s first choice, and she had to fight hard for the part, including re-taping her audition right before her flight home because the prior copy had been lost. Playing Anne, she said, taught her that she had a right to be number one. She was a person first, who just happened to be a girl. The experience gave her “an incredible desire for that kind of role.”
One of the things Follows loved about Anne was that she always spoke her mind, which was revolutionary for 1908, when the book was first published. Women didn’t even have the right to vote yet. Fellows loves Anne’s rough edges. In her portrayal, she got to lose her temper, break a slate over a boy’s head, be smart and manipulative. Anne is an optimist, but not because of naiveté. She was “a girl that society called trash,” and yet she surmounted that negative image and became an icon to many women worldwide. Fellows seemed amazed and deeply touched by the global influence of her portrayal of Anne. “It’s a beautiful thing,” she said, “because it continues to grow.”
One of her favorite memories of filming Anne was when she had to fall face first in the mud while wearing beautiful clothes. She went for it with all of Anne’s impish delight. She didn’t think of Anne as someone else. “Anne was me,” she said. The slate-breaking scene was also one of her favorites, and she loved working with Colleen Dewhurst, who played Marilla on the series. “She was pretty amazing,” Fellows said.
Was that carrot-top her real hair? Mostly. They had to add pieces sometimes, like when she wore the overly-pouffy Gibson style in Anne of Avonlea. She reminded the audience that it was filmed in the ’80s—the time of Big Hair. She felt that the hairdo was way too big for her head, but the signature color was all hers. She also had to wear a corset during the show, something she did not enjoy. When the filming had finished, she ripped it off, tossed it on the ground, grabbed some lighter fluid, and promptly burned it. Ah, freedom. She did keep one thing from the series, though: Anne’s wedding dress. She wasn’t about to let anyone else have that.
Recently, Fellows has been expanding her career. She directed a few episodes of Reign, and she is currently directing some of the Murdock Mysteries TV series. Soon she will be directing Heartland. She hopes to build a new career as a director, and would love to have a project where she can both act and direct. She thinks it’s exciting to be doing something new, and she would be grateful for her fans’ support.
It was easy to see that Anne holds a special place in Fellows’s heart. She spoke of Avonlea as “a place of belonging… of acceptance, love, a safe place to be…the best place to be.” Then she smiled and said, “That’s what I see when I look out at Dragon Con.”