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.