Martin Sheen re­lates to ‘Anne of Green Gables’ story

Cape Breton Post - - ARTS / ENTERTAINMENT - BY VIC­TO­RIA AHEARN

Martin Sheen has a great affin­ity for the clas­sic Cana­dian story of “Anne of Green Gables” and his in­tro­verted char­ac­ter, Matthew Cuth­bert.

The Golden Globe-win­ning star of “The West Wing” is repris­ing the role of the adop­tive fa­ther of Anne Shirley in YTV’s “L.M. Mont­gomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars,” de­but­ing Mon­day.

It’s the sec­ond of three films co-ex­ec­u­tive pro­duced by the au­thor’s grand­daugh­ter, Kate Macdon­ald But­ler.

The first in­stal­ment, which is nom­i­nated for three Cana­dian Screen Awards, aired last year and also on PBS in the U.S. The fi­nal one, “L.M. Mont­gomery’s Anne of Green Gables: Fire & Dew,” will air on July 1.

In a tele­phone in­ter­view from the set in Mil­ton, Ont., Sheen called Anne - a spir­ited, red-headed or­phan played by Toronto-born Ella Bal­len­tine - “prob­a­bly the most fa­mous and suc­cess­ful char­ac­ter in mod­ern Cana­dian lit­er­ary his­tory.”

She’s also a char­ac­ter he re­lates to, hav­ing faced the pos­si­bil­ity of be­ing put up for adop­tion him­self when he was young.

“My mother passed away just prior to my 11th birth­day and there were 10 of us, so my fa­ther was left with all of these guys,” said Sheen.

“There were nine boys and one girl. Two of the older sib­lings had moved out on their own and one of those two was in the marines and was in Korea at the time dur­ing the war, so my dad was torn. He was a fac­tory worker for the (Na­tional Cash Regis­ter Co.) and he wasn’t sure if he could keep the whole brood to­gether.

“So there was a lot of talk about us go­ing with rel­a­tives or pos­si­bly an or­phan­age.”

His dad de­cided it best to keep the fam­ily to­gether and Sheen con­sid­ered him his “hero.”

“My dad was torn. He was a fac­tory worker for the (Na­tional Cash Regis­ter Co.) and he wasn’t sure if he could keep the whole brood to­gether. So there was a lot of talk about us go­ing with rel­a­tives or pos­si­bly an or­phan­age.” Ac­tor Martin Sheen

He said his fa­ther’s per­son­al­ity was sim­i­lar to that of Cuth­bert, a quiet and kind bach­e­lor who helps raise Anne along with his stub­born sis­ter Mar­illa, played by Sara Bots­ford.

“He was a very, very shy man,” said Sheen. “He was very in­tro­verted and out­side the house ... if he went to the mar­ket or the doc­tor or to mass on Sun­day, he was as quiet as a mouse.

“In­side the house, he roared like a lion. But we learned that he was shy out­side in front of strangers be­cause of his very strong Span­ish ac­cent. He was from Gali­cia, north­ern Spain. I loved his ac­cent and I loved to hear him talk, but he wasn’t com­fort­able out­side the house speak­ing.

“There’s that part of him that lives within me. I carry him with me. He had a very pro­found ef­fect on my spir­i­tu­al­ity, on my so­cial jus­tice con­science and on my faith, so I’m deeply in­debted to him.”

“The Good Stars” fol­lows 13-year-old Anne as she deals with friend­ships, a love in­ter­est, fam­ily and school­work in Prince Ed­ward Is­land.

Bal­len­tine, 15, said she loved Mont­gomery’s books grow­ing up and was tongue-tied when she crossed paths with Me­gan Fol­lows, star of the minis­eries “Anne of Green Gables” and “Anne of Avon­lea” from the 1980s.

“I was on an episode of ‘Reign,’ the sea­son 2 pre­miere, and I was walk­ing by the hair and makeup trailer and Me­gan Fol­lows was walk­ing onto it and my mom turns to me and says, ‘ You know, she played Anne Shirley in ”Anne of Green Gables,“‘ and I thought that was the coolest thing and I couldn’t talk to her. I was so ner­vous,” Bal­len­tine re­called.

“Then I got the call that, ‘Hey, you can au­di­tion to be Anne Shirley.”’

Sheen said Bal­len­tine’s growth as an ac­tor has been “ex­traor­di­nary.”

“She re­minds me so much of a grand­daugh­ter that we have and so I feel ex­tremely com­fort­able,” he said. “She’s a lovely young lady, bril­liantly tal­ented, and I can see her hav­ing a very suc­cess­ful and long ca­reer, if she wants it.”

An­other ver­sion of Mont­gomery’s story, sim­ply called “Anne,” is set to air on CBC on March 19.

Bal­len­tine isn’t feel­ing any ri­valry.

“I think it’s re­ally cool be­cause it’s just flat­ter­ing to Lucy Maud Mont­gomery that so many peo­ple want to tell her story,” she said.

“It’s a beau­ti­ful story and to have so many in­ter­pre­ta­tions of it, it’s like com­par­ing it to a re­ally great mu­si­cal or to Shake­speare, to have so many peo­ple have dif­fer­ent writ­ings and ac­tors and so on.”

CP PHOTO

Martin Sheen, the Golden Globe-win­ning star of “The West Wing” is repris­ing the role of the adop­tive fa­ther of Anne Shirley in YTV’s “L.M. Mont­gomery’s Anne of Green Gables: The Good Stars,” de­but­ing Mon­day.

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