Entertainment

Martin Sheen on relating to 'Anne of Green Gables'

The Golden Globe-winning star of “The West Wing” is reprising the role of the adoptive father of Anne Shirley in YTV's film, debuting Monday.

Martin Sheen plays Matthew Cuthbert in YTV's adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables."

Corus YTV

Martin Sheen plays Matthew Cuthbert in YTV's adaptation of L.M. Montgomery's "Anne of Green Gables."

TORONTO - 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.”

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.”

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