Anne of Green Gables

Ella Ballentine, 14, co-stars with Sara Botsford and Martin Sheen. (Breakthrough Entertainment)

The young actress who plays the beloved fictional redhead Anne of Green Gables in a TV movie premiering Monday night says she was excited to take on the challenge.

Ella Ballentine, 14, co-stars with Sara Botsford as Marilla and Martin Sheen as Matthew in a new version of the legendary story titled Lucy Maud Montgomery's Anne of Green Gables.

"I was so excited because she's such a strong woman and it just seems like a complete blast to be able to be Anne of Green Gables," Ballentine told CBC Radio's Island Morning.

"For me I really like it because Anne, you see her, and she's very independent and she doesn't let anybody tell her not to be strong. And so, she does what she pleases and she goes with life and I think everybody can relate to a different part of the story."

Other than filming scenes with animals, Ballentine said her favourite day on set was when Anne gets to try ice cream for the first time.

"And we had all these people in all their costumes and I'm running through the field and getting to eat a lot of ice cream that day. It was just a good feel to it and you felt like you were back in P.E.I. at that time."

Both Botsford and Ballentine said the books were read to them when they were younger but neither had revisited the story before they were brought on board for the movie.

They said director John Kent Harrison wanted the actors to approach the script as a fresh look at the story — more realistic than fantastic.

A 'more grounded' story

"The desire was to have it a little more grounded, I think, in what the difficulties would be at the time," said Botsford, explaining that Harrison gave the actors advice on how to understand their characters in a different way.

Botsford said when she was auditioning to the scene where Anne first arrived and Marilla was expecting a boy, she played it very stern as though Marilla was annoyed with Anne personally.

Harrison suggested a "slight shift in a way of looking at Marilla," she said.

"[Harrison] gave me a great piece of advice, which I kept in mind for the entire production. He said, 'Your relationship is with Matthew. You don't even know this girl. The reason you're upset is because Matthew is not going to get the help he needs and that causes a problem for you. But you're not angry at her.'"

Botsford said Marilla is a hard worker who has had a difficult life.

"It doesn't mean she doesn't have a good heart. It doesn't mean she isn't a kind person. She's just is a little emotionally out of touch because she hasn't had the luxury of having the time for that."

The two-hour, made-for-TV-movie, produced by Breakthrough Entertainment, will air Feb. 15 on YTV.