'Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars'—A Chat With the Cast of PBS' Latest Film
The cast members of PBS’ L.M. Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables movie franchise are indeed kindred spirits.
Before we get down to the business of discussing their newest Anne movie, The Good Stars, which debuts Thanksgiving night, Martin Sheen (Matthew Cuthbert), Sara Botsford (Marilla Cuthbert) and Ella Ballentine (the siblings’ adopted daughter Anne Shirley) enjoy a bit of catch-up. How grownup the now 16-year-old Ballentine looks. How her singing talents are progressing. Who has yet to indulge in the swanky pool of the hotel at which all are staying.
Then Sheen jokingly offers to begin the official proceedings with a prayer. It’s all every ounce as charming as The Good Stars.
The new installment launches as Anne turns 13 and discovers just how much the passage of time impacts her life at home, in school and throughout her ever-expanding social circle in Avonlea. Filled with beloved moments from the Lucy Maud Montgomery book series — Anne’s ill-fated first sleepover and adventures in baking and home hair care — Stars also sees her relationship with academic rival Gilbert Blythe (Drew Haytaoglu) warming into friendship.
Still, Ballentine appreciates that Montgomery let her heroine mature without turning the spitfire’s tale into a gooey-eyed YA romance.
“She really shows the struggle of growing up and trying to become sensible, but also keeping your imagination and creativity that Anne has so, so much of,” Ballentine smiles. “What I really love about it is that Anne really struggles to keep her friendship with Diana while being distracted by Gilbert. But Anne has to keep her mind on her education, and she really knows where her head has to be.”
With the help of some splendid mentors in Avonlea’s spirited new schoolteacher (played by Orphan Black’s Natalie Lisinska) and Diana’s spunky Aunt Josephine (Joan Gregson).
“I absolutely, really, really love Miss Stacy,” Ballentine beams. “Marilla showed [Anne} about tradition and being sensible, and then Miss Stacy comes along and shows her more of a modern way and how to be a woman and really introduces, I think, the whole feminism part of the Anne of Green Gables series.”
Stars also shines on a new era in the Cuthbert home, as Marilla tempers both her barbed tongue and her stance on Anne’s adventures and Matthew’s newfound spirit — even as age begins to vex her brother.
"It was evident that he was reaching retirement," Sheen smiles, "but I looked at the bright side of that, because he finally experienced a family in this very blessed way that he never anticipated. Here comes this magnificent fire that just warmed them and lit their way into their future. This incredible miracle, this gift that neither one of them really had anticipated and just sparked their love for each other and their love for this child that neither one of them would have ever experienced if she hadn't come into our lives. I'd rather focus on that rather than the end times.
“I just love the image of Anne’s red hair,” Sheen continues. “She’s on fire in every conceivable way, emotionally and physically and spiritually and psychologically. She’s lit a whole new path for us, as people and as adults. Everybody that she touches, every life, we’re seeing differently. Everyone has become so precious.”
"A lot of people see Marilla as just being one-note—gruff and difficult and harsh and all of that kind of stuff," adds Botsford of Marilla's welcome thaw. "From my point of view, she's had a rough, rough life, and works hard and has one close relationship—which is that of her brother. When Anne comes into her life and opens her up and she starts to experience love for her, it's the first time in her life that she's had that particular kind of a relationship and I think she loves it. At her ripe old age, she's growing."
One Anne fan who enjoyed an early Good Stars screening had something to say about how convincingly Botsford portrayed that love.
"I have a couple granddaughters—one's 13 and one's four," Botsford chuckles. "They both watched it separately and loved it. But my four-year-old granddaughter's response was, ‘Grandma, I don't want you to love any other human girls!’ I had a little explaining to do."
Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars, Nov. 23, 8/7c, PBS