AE: This isn’t the first lesbian role you’ve played on screen. I recall you appearing on ER as a lesbian friend to Elizabeth Mitchell’s characters several years ago. So it seems you certainly aren’t adverse to playing gay roles. Have you been offered many gay roles in the past?
MF: I don’t know if I’ve been offered many. I was in the play Cloud Nine, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with it. But I played three characters in that: Mrs. Saunders, Ellen and Lin. In the first act I play two roles: Mrs. Saunders is a widow having an affair with the lead man and Ellen is a governess who is secretly, absolutely in love with his wife. In the second half, I play Lin who was a lesbian. There’s all different types of gender bending go on in Cloud Nine and different relationships. She’s playing with a lot of those themes. And ultimately it’s about, whatever form it’s taking, it’s about reaching out and being connected to people – straight, gay, parental, whatever the different relationships are in the piece. And that has been my experience.
AE: Well for people who may not have seen you in that, Where Are the Dolls also grants some major wish fulfillment to your lesbian fans, who have long wanted to see you – for lack of a more delicate term – make out with another woman. Have you heard from and are you aware of your lesbian fanbase over the years?
MF: It’s funny, I guess I have and I haven’t. I haven’t necessarily distinguished it out as strongly as being a lesbian fanbase. My friend, a documentary filmmaker by the named of Heather Connell, she did a documentary in Cambodia and I narrated the film for her and was the still photographer for her. And she the other day had sent me the post from AfterEllen on the Anne and Diana relationship. She was like, look! And we were having a good laugh about that.
Credit: Photo by Mike McPhaden
AE: I think the Anne of Green Gables story also resonates loudly with gay audiences because of its story of the outsider who fights to be allowed to be herself. At the start of the story she is a person who isn’t really valued in society – an orphan girl – and by the end she’s appreciated for all of her unique qualities and abilities. There are obvious parallels that can be drawn to the LGBT community and Anne’s story. Before you friend sent you that post about Anne and Diana, had you been aware there were people who wished/hoped/pretended that they were a couple?
MF: Yeah, that is pretty understandable on that one. That is not a surprise to me.
AE: There are fan videos and fan fiction written about the pairing. A lot of those things that were perfectly normal in that time period can be read subtextually with our modern eyes. Bosom friends, kindred spirits, professing love and asking for locks of jet black tresses. Can you see that interpretation? Can you appreciate that.
MF: I can certainly appreciate it. I do think there are probably two distinct things. As you prefaced it, given the time deep intimate relationships were developed particularly between women and between men and other men because there was safety to do that. That is actually where you were developing your real sense of friendship and intimacy and loyalty and understanding. I think that component to that story, and as you said the fact that really you have a character who is not defined by a male. She is not the appendage to man. That made it really stand out that was for more than a century. It is still sadly unique because women are often relegated to the girlfriend or the wife or sexualized in a way by the male.
What was so brilliant about Anne was she was considered trash. She was an orphan, she had hair that they considered ugly, she was freckled. She didn’t allow any of that to prevent her from having a voice and was therefore able to change her community. I think that is something that all women are craving. And especially for young women to see that kind of role model contributed to the success and continued success of that character. I don’t know, there have always been questions about that author and what her personal journey was herself. There has been speculation to that, her own journey. So that would color people’s perceptions of those relationships within the book.
Credit: Photo courtesy PBS/CBC
AE: Obviously the character of Anne Shirley is beloved. Does the endurance of your performance in that particular production surprise you? It’s been over 25 years since that first aired but I am sure you are recognized all over the world for that role still.
MF: I think it is a testament to a lot of factors that came together that allowed us to be true to that story and that character when we did it. An incredible crew, a great cast – Colleen Dewhurst, Richard Farnsworth and other actors who came together – and I guess I get to acknowledge myself in that. It was great writing. It was really wonderful to be able to play that.
She had a lot of defects, too. It’s easy to over generalize. When we look back, it seems sort of fairy tale like. But the truth is this was a kid with a terrible temper, she broke slates over people’s head if you called her the wrong name, she told adults in her day that they were mean, fat and ugly and “I hate you.” And she screamed that when she lost her temper. All of those things you think, “Yeah, right on, I’d like to tell that bitch that.” But this was for a book that came out in 1908, that this girl had expression of her emotions was probably astounding. That’s why it’s enduring.
AE: There’s actually talk of L.M. Montgomery’s family remaking the book again. Do you feel possessive of the Anne character or interested in seeing another interpretation?
MF: No, I do not feel possessiveness. With any great piece of literature and character, especially one that existed before you, you borrow other people’s lives. Working a lot in the theater you get graced with spending time with incredible characters whether it’s Nora in A Doll’s House or Masha in Three Sisters and this last play I did written by Margaret Atwood, The Penelopiad. It’s kind of a wonderfully delicious thing. But there is an understanding too that it is like a library. You don’t own them, you need to put them back, you need to let go of them. Because they’re bigger than you. At least that’s the way I see it.
Credit: Photo courtesy PBS/CBC