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Schuyler Grant: From Anne Shirley to Diana Barry

Benjamin Nicholas

It wasn’t always Megan Follows who Kevin Sullivan intended to cast as Anne in the Canadian classic, Anne of Green Gables.

In 1985, Sullivan was creating his own world around the character of Anne Shirley, whilst trying to remain in touch with the roots of L.M. Montgomery’s magical novels, both visually and dramatically. Sullivan went over and beyond to match his unique vision of the dramatic heroine he imagined for his film. In fact, there were well over 3,000 girls from across Canada and the US who auditioned for this role.

One of the legions of girls who was screen-tested, was 15-year-old Schuyler Grant. She was referred to Sullivan by her great-aunt, legendary movie actress Katharine Hepburn; a four-time Oscar winner for Best Actress, along with numerous other awards. Hepburn was enthusiastic about her niece Schuyler, auditioning for the role, as she had always wanted to play the role of Anne herself when she was a young actress. Hepburn ended up being cast as Jo March in the 1933 film of Little Women., while Dawn O’Day snagged the role of Anne in the 1934 film of Anne of Green Gables and changed her screen name to “Anne Shirley” as a result.

 

While trying to find an extraordinary actress for his version of Anne, Sullivan had a great deal to reflect upon. He also heavily considered public opinion in Canada. Many thought a Canadian simply had to play the key role of Anne Shirley, since the film was being made in Canada from a novel that was a Canadian classic. However, as Sullivan reviewed thousands of auditions and screen tests he came to the conclusion that he was not going to find Anne sitting in the middle of a field in Saskatchewan! It seemed there was almost no-one who had the technical screen-experience and dramatic range to capture the pathos and comedy the role implicitly demanded. There was only one actress that stood out for him: Megan Follows.

Megan was quickly called back to the studio three times for screen-tests; with hair,costume and make-up variations.  After her final test Sullivan was absolutely convinced no-one else could do justice to the role. In what would become a career-defining role, Megan accepted the role of Anne to the excitement of everyone involved in the production. However, Sullivan was still impressed enough by Schuyler Grant’s screen-tests, despite her not being the Anne he envisioned, that he kept her in the back of his mind. He would eventually cast her in the role of Anne’s true “kindred spirit” and truest “bosom friend” Diana Barry.

Schuyler fit the character amazingly-well after being outfitted with a mane of black hair, in the form of a wig that covered her natural strawberry-blonde.  Schuyler and Megan immediately bonded as good friends and soon became a dynamic-duo, not only in the first Anne of Green Gables film but the two Sequels that followed.

After playing Diana Barry and starring in a number of other TV movies (several with her great-aunt, Katherine Hepburn), Schuyler Grant moved on from acting to open her own Yoga studio in Brooklyn NY, as the founder and co-director of Kula Yoga Project and the co-creator of Wanderlust. She is now online and teaching millions of students across the world. Schuyler has been quoted as saying she could not have imagined she would be teaching yoga after such an illustrious introduction to an acting career; but then nothing in life is ever really certain.

To see Schuyler Grant as Diana Barry and to watch the entire series of Anne of Green Gables films, visit GazeboTV.

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