A woman of words

Writer Moira Wal­ley-Beck­ett rein­vents a clas­sic tale with a po­lit­i­cal goal in mind


Whole­some Cana­dian lit­er­ary clas­sic Anne of Green Gables and darkly riv­et­ing pop cul­ture phe­nom­e­non Break­ing Bad only have two things in com­mon: ra­bid fan de­vo­tion and writer pro­ducer Moira Wal­ley-Beck­ett. Raised in Vancouver, Beck­ett broke into the en­ter­tain­ment busi­ness as an ac­tress in the 1980s be­fore re­al­iz­ing, decades later, that her call­ing was ac­tu­ally scriptwrit­ing. She bounced around the writing staff of a few Amer­i­can network shows be­fore land­ing in the stel­lar Break­ing Bad writing room dur­ing the show’s sec­ond sea­son. Within a few short years, she’d been pro­moted to pro­ducer and found her­self on stage ac­cept­ing the award for Out­stand­ing Writing for a Drama Se­ries at the Em­mys—the first solo woman to win that award in more than 20 years. Now, she’s turned her tal­ents to reimag­in­ing Lucy Maud Mont­gomery’s epic story for the re­cently launched but al­ready ac­claimed show Anne, which is a part­ner­ship be­tween the CBC and Net­flix. We sat down with Wal­ley-Beck­ett on the drama’s Toronto set to dis­cuss her next moves and why Anne of Green Gables is more im­por­tant today than ever.

Why do you think the story is so en­dur­ing? “I think the world does need an­other Anne—right now ac­tu­ally. The themes in Anne that at­tracted me [to write this se­ries] a year ago are even more pow­er­ful now: gen­der par­ity is­sues, an ac­ci­den­tal fem­i­nist, prej­u­dice, bul­ly­ing, iden­tity and be­ing some­one from away, who is feared and who doesn’t be­long and is ac­cepted. She was a young girl with a re­ally loud voice and a pow­er­ful point of view with­out bound­aries. For a new gen­er­a­tion of girls, I want her to be more re­lat­able and con­tem­po­rary than she’s ever been. It’s re­ally im­por­tant to me to dive into these themes in ev­ery episode so they will start con­ver­sa­tions.” “Ex­tra­or­di­nary. I had just wrapped [a show I wrote called] Flesh and Bone the night be­fore in New York and I got on a plane, went to L.A., stuck on a dress and prac­tised a speech in the car. I got there with two hours of sleep. Then they called my name and I was just like ‘don’t fall down!’ I had watched Alison Jan­ney go up be­fore me and re­al­ized that I should pick up my dress with both hands. I’ve never got­ten over it—I’m happy to say—I still feel re­ally ex­cited about it.”

“Bless­edly, I think it’s fi­nally shift­ing. The world needs to be shamed into un­der­stand­ing that women and women’s work should be val­ued equally.”

“I have to be smit­ten. I have to be so en­am­oured that I can’t stop think­ing about it. If you’re go­ing to kill your­self to make tele­vi­sion and in­vest years of your time, you have to love it. I’ll never be a mogul, I’ll never be some­one that can write on some cop show or some med­i­cal show—it’ll never be me.”

“When I was showrun­ning for the first time, which is like be­ing pres­i­dent of a small coun­try on the brink of war, I thought that di­rect­ing would just pol­ish me off. And then we got here to Anne, and I wrote the en­tire first sea­son my­self and am show-run­ning. I’ve re­al­ized that I adore be­ing on set and I’m su­per spe­cific and ex­tremely ex­act­ing and pos­ses­sive; noth­ing short of ex­cel­lence will ever do. I love col­lab­o­rat­ing with my di­rec­tors, and I try to leave them mostly alone in terms of their shop-mak­ing— so I don’t need to di­rect, be­cause I sort of al­ready am. The way I tell a story as a writer is dif­fer­ent than the way a di­rec­tor tells a story.”

A still from CBC’s new Anne of Green Gables, which airs Sun­day nights. Be­low: Moira Wal­ley-Beck­ett ac­cept­ing her Out­stand­ing Writing Emmy for Break­ing Bad in 2014.

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