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‘Anne With An E’ star Amybeth McNulty talks Instagram and knitting

Anne was a feminist before feminism was comprehended, so how does ‘Anne With An E’ square up with today’s youth?

We are now a nation of bingers. Digital platforms have transformed viewing habits and led to a new golden age of television, but although programmes like Stranger ThingsGLOW and The Crown dominate chat online and around the watercooler, none of them appeared in Netflix’s list of the ‘Top 10 most binged shows’ last year. Instead, it’s programmes American Vandal3% and 13 Reasons Why, aimed at a younger demographic, suggesting that Netflix is powered not by their subscribers, but by their subscribers’ kids.

Fourth in the list of most popular programmes of 2017 was Anne with an E, a wholesome yet progressive adaptation of L.M. Montgomery’s century-old Anne of Green Gables books. We speak to sixteen-year-old Irish-born Amybeth McNulty, who luminously plays Anne about family viewing, the story’s timeless quality and climbing trees.

The Big Issue: You have a big following on Instagram, do you think Anne would have a lot of followers?

Amybeth McNulty: Oh absolutely. She’d be so great on Instagram.

What would she be posting about?

Probably about her and Gilbert her book recommendation and having tea with Diana.

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She is also into needlepoint and geology, are these the kind of things kids today are missing out on?

To a certain extent for sure. Obviously, it’s stereotypical to say all of them are missing out because that’s not the case, but to a big extent it’s a lot about technology today. Abut at the same time, Anne would have probably said she was missing out on technology. But I’m a knitter so I definitely don’t miss out on little things like that.

When did you start knitting?

My nan originally taught me when I was eight, and then I relearnt with my friend Poppy when I was about 13. I’m still midway through a scarf that I’ve been knitting for way too long.

For young people to see what it was like back in the day and to see how far we have come… although we have further to go

That must be a very long scarf. Is part of the programme’s appeal that it shows young people today what life was like for young people in the past?

For sure. Although times have changed drastically, there is a lot of stuff that is very similar. Especially with this season with racism and subjects such as that. For young people to see what it was like back in the day and to see how far we have come… although we have further to go.

Did you read the original book for research purposes?

I got the book from my mum for my 9th birthday and I read it then, but I focused more on the script itself just because it was very different to the book and any other adaptations that have been done previously. But I had the story still in my head so I knew the background. I’m reading Anne of Avonlea now, that’s when Anne is 16, so that’s interesting for the future maybe.

The book is over 100 years old. Is her story still relatable?

I’m very close to her age and I feel a lot of similarities. It’s relatable for all ages and all genders. There is no specific audience that we’re trying to reach, it’s a family show, open to everyone. To have a show that relates to a five-year-old girl and a 70-year-old grandpa is not common, and it’s lovely.

There are good TV series being made for adults and good shows for children, but is there a gap when it comes to family viewing?

Exactly. I think it is quite hard to find not just a show, but a genre that a family can sit down and watch together. Me and my grandparents have watched it together and we have fun discussing it and getting our views about it out to each other. Hearing from their point of view is interesting when they’ve been on the Earth for a longer time than I have.

That’s a polite way to say someone’s old.

Maybe, but my nan is still 17 at heart.

Anne has a lot of freedom, much more than children do today. 

A lot has changed. Safety concerns have come up and there just horrible people around. But back then, Anne didn’t have a choice. She had to get on the train herself and she had to do all these things. No one took a step back and thought about it – it was just the way life was. 

Did you really climb trees yourself or did you have a stunt double?

It was half and half actually. It was a wee boy, I felt really bad for him. It was a 13-year-old boy who had to be in a dress and a wig. I like to believe he was having the best time of his life but just wouldn’t admit it.

Is Anne a good role model?

She was a feminist before feminism was comprehended. I think it’s wonderful when she says the line: ‘Girls can do anything boys can do, and more.’ That’s such a wonderful thing to see from a 13 or 14-year-old girl – to have those viewpoints and not be afraid of them. The things she has gone through from such a young age are not unrealistic. They are things that happen every day to people, and she’s still striving forward with no fear. That’s inspirational to me, and many others I hope.

Do you feel that people like Anne fought battles so you don’t have to fight them?

I’m very lucky in the life that I’ve lived. Everyone is going through some sort of battle. For instance, when I did the scene, running to the cliff edge crying, that was the first or second day of filming and I’d never done a crying scene before in my life. I had no idea what I was doing. The only thing I was thinking about was that I was running my emotions out for anybody who needed to do that at that moment but couldn’t run and couldn’t let it out. Just looking out at the ocean and thinking about how many other millions of people need to be doing that right now. It was a very special moment for me.

Series 2 of Anne with an E is available now on Netflix

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