One of the producers of the new Anne of Green Gables series says you can never get too much Anne.
L.M. Montgomery's' classic Canadian book series has been brought to life in more than two dozen adaptations on radio, television, stage and film over the past century.
Most Canadians have fond memories of the original four-hour 1985 miniseries starring Megan Follows, but this year CBC will begin production on a new Anne TV series and another Anne TV movie will be airing on YTV later this year starring Martin Sheen.
Canadian producer Miranda de Pencier, who is working on CBC's new series, said remakes of classic stories are popular in Britain and this Canadian production should have the same warm reception.
"The Brits are really good at taking their classics and spreading them around the world and re-interpreting them and doing them again and again. Jane Austen, there have been eight Pride and Prejudices since the 1930s," she said,
"But I think they can all exist alongside one another, so we've got the gorgeous mini-series, we've got the wonderful Charlottetown Festival, but why aren't we doing an ongoing live-action series? No one's done that."
Raised on Anne
At age 11 de Pencier said she visited Charlottetown, saw the Confederation Centre's production of Anne of Green Gables, "and had totally fallen in love with it."
De Pencier actually played Anne in her high school's production of the musical. From there she was scouted and cast as Anne's childhood nemesis Josie Pye in the 1985 Anne miniseries. De Pencier also revealed to CBC Radio Island Morning host Matt Rainnie that she went to kindergarten and was bosom friends with Megan Follows, who's famous for portraying Anne in the miniseries.
An early career in musical theatre with her sights set on Broadway turned to producing at age 25.
"In my heart I was like, 'It's fun to be in it, but I want to make it,'" de Pencier said, so she moved to Hollywood for a decade to learn how to make movies.
"Now I'm back in Canada and I want to make movies for Canadian audiences and shows that travel around the world," said de Pencier.
She'd been developing a feature film with Breaking Bad writer and Vancouver native Moira Walley-Beckett when de Pencier proposed a collaboration to bring back Anne to the small screen.
'Today's kids are sophisticated. If we make it too sort of safe and easy, it's not going to connect to that audience.' —Miranda de Pencier
"She literally whooped and she said, 'Those were my favourite books as a kid,'" de Pencier recalls.
Walley-Beckett was in. The pair got in touch with the CBC "and the whole thing snowballed."
"You don't think of Breaking Bad and say wow, that's who we should choose to write Anne of Green Gables!" de Pencier admitted with a laugh. But she praised Walley-Beckett's skills as a sensitive writer who writes beautiful characters, but can also be funny and irreverent.
Not everyone will like it
The team doesn't want to change the heart of the iconic character L.M. Montgomery wrote, said de Pencier.
"In our minds, we are taking the spirit and everything that Lucy Maud Montgomery created, and we are just expanding and bringing it into new directions."
Not everyone will like the new interpretation of Anne, de Pencier admits, but said the production plans to respect and honour the book while making Anne relevant and connected to today's youth.
"She was a kind of rebel for her time and we want to be able to look at issues within the context of that time period, but delve into them a little deeper, make a show that young 13-year-olds are going to connect to."
The production will take a closer look at Anne's experience as an orphan and the scars that can leave.
"Today's kids are sophisticated. If we make it too sort of safe and easy, it's not going to connect to that audience," she said.
Searching for Anne
The first challenge for the team is casting the lead character.
"It's going to be a fun and tough search," de Pencier said, noting it will be hard to find an equal to Megan Follows. Like Follows, the actress they hire will be close to Anne's age in the first book, so she can grow into the role.
The CBC TV series is set to begin production for the initial eight episodes this spring with shooting this summer, and is expected to debut in 2017.
"We're hoping this goes for years and years and years," de Pencier revealed. They plan to stretch out the show much more slowly than the miniseries. "We won't even face Anne graduating for another four or five years I hope."
What about P.E.I.?
The producers are not committing to shooting any of the series on P.E.I.
"We really would love to get East to shoot, at least for some of it, because we want to be authentic," de Pencier said, adding her grandmother is from P.E.I.
"We're going to do our best for all the Anne fans out there to make a show that everyone can be proud of and love."