(Featured Image Courtesy of Stephen Tracey)
As the roots of social media grow under nearly every aspect of society, there’s never been a better time to be a superfan. No matter how niche the interest or obscure the fandom, a quick Google search can immediately find dozens of people who love the same things as you. New tidbits and theories can spread like wildfire across all platforms, until almost everyone becomes an expert in the latest adventures of Daenerys Targaryen or Will Byers.
One of the times that nearly every fan crawls out of the woodwork to support their favorite TV show is, however ironically, when it ends. These days, it can be hard to visit Twitter without seeing some hashtag campaign for the renewal of yet another axed series. This outrage has become even more common in recent months as networks have been forced to part ways with programs that have become just too difficult to coordinate in a COVID world (GLOW and On Becoming a God in Central Florida, you will be missed).
Outside of Brooklyn’s 99th Precinct and the Alvarez apartment, the buzziest cancellation in recent memory came from an unassuming Canadian production: Anne with an E. Based on the classic Anne of Green Gables books, the series was praised for its nuanced depictions of social issues in an early twentieth century setting. It ran for three seasons before CBC and Netflix (its international distributor) announced that it would not continue. What happened next has become maybe the best examples of dedicated fan coordination ever. Whoever hadn’t heard of Anne with an E before definitely has now, as hashtags and campaigns immediately overtook social media. Celebrities like Sam Smith and Ryan Reynolds showed their support, petitions were created, and money was put together to purchase billboard space in Times Square to raise awareness for the cause. No news yet on the potential for more episodes, but the fight still continues.
All this to say that Anne with an E has become a pretty big deal, but it’s especially so for young people. The show’s cast is primarily made up of teenagers portraying strong and complex characters, which is likely one of the reasons why it struck a special chord with the younger audience. One of those complex characters is Tillie Boulter, classmate to Anne, portrayed by Glenna Walters.
TV Wasteland had the pleasure of talking with Walters about the new way classics are being adapted, her first time on a set, and the overwhelming fan reception to Anne with an E.
From a young age, Glenna was “a big musical theater fan,” but the two series that really captured her attention and introduced her to what acting could be were Glee and Modern Family. She expressed her gratitude at being able to pursue artistic endeavors from a young age, as it helped her develop as a person. “It helped me realize who I wanted to be.”
Anne with an E was actually Walters’ first-ever TV audition, and after all the buzz and excitement in getting the role, she did admit that she did have a bit of a tough time, especially in those first few days of production. “I had never been on a professional set. I didn’t know that I would have a trailer or what a craft truck was.” It wasn’t until the second season that she really settled into that hectic world of filming.
However, she noted her fellow cast members as her saving grace. “I don’t think I would have been able to get through all those long days without having people my age and having jokes.” A lot of people might think that a production full of teenagers would be wild and unpredictable, but it seems as though there wasn’t anyone on set who wasn’t professional at all times. She highlighted Amybeth McNulty (the titular Anne) in particular as “the best person I’ve ever met. She is the sweetest… and I am so lucky to have worked with her.” She does still keep in contact with the rest of the cast, as “they’re basically my second family. They’ve been through stuff I haven’t been through with other people.” Back in November, a few of the cast members flew to Ireland for McNulty’s eighteenth birthday, and that experience especially made her realize that “it’s crazy having best friends all around the world who I can go visit.”
Some of her favorite memories on set came from night shoots. They would start work in the late afternoon and work until the sun was coming up with “pure mania from being awake and acting, but then having each other.” Walters specifically recalled the Beltane scene from the fifth episode of season three, which involved all of the young female characters running around a huge bonfire in their nightgowns, and “you’re all exhausted but bouncing off each other and having each other to laugh at and laugh with was really amazing.”
From the beginning, Walters was excited to join the project just because of the source material. “Anne of Green Gables is such a Canadian classic, and it’s such a beautiful story.” However, she also highlighted how the show’s creator, Moira Walley-Beckett, adapted it with modern sensibilities and really “made it her own… Some people didn’t really like that, but I thought it was amazing… to show storylines of people of color and an indigenous storyline.” Many adapters tend to shy away from depicting the full tapestry of diverse people who all obviously existed in that time period, because the source material rarely included those types of stories. However, Glenna believes that these classics should be expanded and cast a wider net of representation “as long as you stick to the roots” because if they didn’t, “the whole show would just be a storyline about white actors and their hard times when there were so many other storylines going on at the same time.”
In respect to Tillie, “she was in the books but she wasn’t really such a big character,” but Walters ended up enjoying that flexibility because she was able to put her own “pizazz” into her and have some more freedom in interpreting and adapting that role. Walters didn’t want to “just make her this shy, timid girl” like many young women were expected to be during the time period, so she made sure to infuse some wit and bring as much life and energy to the part as she could.
Walters also emphasized her appreciation for “how much thought was put into [the production].” Recreating that late nineteenth century community must have been difficult at times, especially when the script called for such period-specific inventions like an electric bike, but Glenna expressed her amazement at the sheer accuracy of the world that was built for the show. “It was just so cool, because it was stuff I had never seen or even heard of,” and then getting to interact with them in such an immersive way was a surreal experience. She praised the costume designers for their wonderful work, but she also admitted that their faithfulness to historical accuracy became tough on days when it came time to step into the August heat in a ten-layer dress. “But it looked pretty!”
As discussed before, Anne became such a huge phenomenon, and for Glenna it would be hard to pin down an exact moment where she realized it was a genuine hit because “it’s all happened so, so quickly.” Still, it began to really sink in when she would be walking around her high school and hear people say things like, “That’s the girl from Anne with an E,” as she went by. She did attend ‘normal’ high school during her time on the show, and like any young performer, it became “a lot” at times to juggle the usual teenager life (which is often hard enough) with a full working job. “It really made me grow up very fast.”
If social media plays a big role for fans, then it probably plays an even bigger role for the creators of the work they enjoy. When a project becomes a hit, creators’ followings can grow exponentially in a short amount of time, sometimes even overnight. In terms of having a big platform, Glenna is incredibly grateful that she has the ability to speak to so many people on the topics she’s passionate about, especially in terms of educating the young Anne fans who can take a lot from what she has to say. “It’s also hard, because my Instagram used to just be my friends and my family, and now it’s hundreds of thousands of strangers who I’ve never met and probably will never meet.” There are some hateful comments that Walters has received, which she acknowledges is just part of what comes with getting more eyes on your posts, but it’s become a part of her growth process to realize that it’s “their insecurities are not mine, [so] I’ve moved on.”
In regards to the huge #RenewAnnewithanE movement online, Glenna just said that “it was crazy to know that so many people cared so much about something that I cared so much about… Anne with an E fans are absolutely amazing. They’re all so sweet, and they all care so hard.” That became one of the most rewarding parts of the process for her, simply seeing how much people loved the things she and her friends had spent so much time working on.
If there’s one thing Walters has learned from being on the Anne with an E set, it’s just that “you have to have fun with it.” There are so many opportunities to improvise or add your own ideas to your character, and if it doesn’t mesh with what the director or writer has in mind then it can be dropped, but just sharing your ideas can often lead to breakthroughs that add so much to even the smallest of moments or scenes. In the future, Glenna just wants “to put myself in the character and see where it goes.”
Just next week, Walters will be appearing in Grand Army, a new teen-focused Netflix show based on the play Slut by Katie Cappiello. In her two-episode arc, she’s especially excited for “a very cool monologue” that she gets to do. The modern setting and more grim topics set it apart from Anne with an E in a couple big ways, and while Walters wasn’t able to say much about the series beyond that, she’s very excited to see it.
Glenna just started her first year of college at Humber in Toronto, but she’s continuing to audition for projects and even has a web series lined up in the next couple months. In terms of COVID-safe filming, she noted that “there’s a lot of restrictions going on, which is really comforting, and they’re being really safe about it.” Everyone on set answered questionnaires about what they would feel comfortable with, but the main precautions are centered around keeping only a small amount of essential people on set and constant mask-wearing to lower the chance of spreading the virus.
Even though Anne with an E won’t be producing any more episodes, it will always live on in the hearts of its fans (and in the comment sections of Netflix’s Instagram and Twitter accounts), and Glenna Walters is undoubtedly an instrumental part of those heartfelt memories.
Anne with an E is available to stream now, and you can watch Grand Army’s entire first season on Netflix starting October 16.