Surviving the spotlight at 15; Megan and Mary have been there

When "Anne of Green Gables" arrived, teen-aged Megan Follows was startlingly good. More startling was the way she often avoided big-time films and TV afterward, instead doing Shakespeare and Ibsen and such.

Now -- 30 years after being cast as Anne -- she's back on TV in "Reign," which starts Thursday (Oct. 17). I have mixed feelings about the show, but not about Follows. Here's the story I sent to papers:


It’s not easy, perhaps, to have the world watching you when
you’re 15.

Mary Stuart learned that 455 years ago. Already Scotland’s
queen, she arrived in the French court, preparing to marry that country’s
future king.

And Megan Follows learned that 30 years ago, when she was
cast in “Anne of Green Gables.” That was followed by fame, praise … and
detours. “I didn’t really, perhaps, go in a straight line,” she said.

Follows did some movie and TV, but spent more time in theater.
 She did Shakespeare and Ibsen and
Stoppard, Sam Shepard and Marsha Norman and more; she was far from the big-movie
world. “You take away the pyrotechnics or car chases,” she said, “and (have)
the intricacies and inter-actions of people.”

And now she’s in “Reign,” a lushly filmed TV series --
playing Mary Stuart’s future mother-in-law.  

This is one of the great characters from history, said writer-producer
Laurie McCarthy. “Catherine de’ Medici … continued to have great influence over
much of Europe.”

And she did it mainly by manipulating French kings – first her
husband and then her sons. “I love that she has that power,” Follows said. “But
she has to (get it) through other people’s power.”

Strong and smart, she’s the sort of character Follows has
loved to play – ever since that “Anne” role. “It certainly gave me a huge
appetite for strong female characters who are driving a story,” she said.

Growing up in a busy theater family, Follows starred in a
Canadian TV series (“Matt and Jenny”) at 11, then moved to Los Angeles to live
with her older sister, also an actress.

Follows played Martin Mull’s daughter in one situation comedy
and Nancy McKeon’s cousin in a “Facts of Life” episode that was a pilot fora possible
spin-off series. But the break came from her homeland.

“Anne” is a beloved book about a head-strong orphan, raised
by a quiet Canadian farm family. Follows starred in the mini-series and its two
sequels. “I was incredibly lucky,” she said.

She did some more mainstream TV, perhaps keeping her theater
ethic. “My parents taught me you had to do the work, do the job.”

The big step was a 1992 “Romeo and Juliet” at the prestigious
Stratford Festival. In “Fifty Seasons at Stratford” (Madison Press Books,
2002), Antoni Cimolino described learning Follows would star with him. “I had
seen her once onstage and thought she was unbearably cute …. She was terrific
as Juliet.”

Critics agreed. In the next two decades, Follows spent a lot
of time onstage and in Canadian films. Now she’s in a big U.S. series -- filmed
in Canada and Ireland – that has strong female forces colliding.

One is Mary Stuart. “She was very witty, charming, very, very
intelligent,” said Adelaide Kane, who plays her. “She spoke six languages. She
played two instruments. She wrote, she hunted, she hawked, she danced, she
played golf …. She was married three times and widowed twice by the time she
was 26.”

The other is Catherine, with brutal influence. “It’s a dark
world,” Follows said, “and heads do roll.”

“Reign,” 9 p.m. Thursdays, CW, debuting Oct. 17

Adelaide Kane is Mary Stuart, queen of Scotland,
soon to marry the prince of France; Megan Follows is Catherine de’ Medici,
queen consort of France