Megan Follows began her career playing probably the most iconic redhead in literary history. Since then the Canadian actress has enjoyed an eclectic career punctuated by strong female characters, including her current role as Queen Catherine de' Medici on the CW historical drama Reign. That role earned her a Best Actress nomination at next week's Canadian Screen Awards. Here, she shares some of the secrets to her success including why it's okay if people call her carrots.
Embrace the f-word (failure)
I didn't have a lot of apprenticeship at the beginning of my career. The right to attempt and fail, attempt and fail that most actors get wasn't something that was afforded to me. It was more hit or miss and if I missed [with Anne of Green Gables], I was screwed. When you don't feel like you have the right to fail, that can get in the way of your willingness to take chances. That is such an important skill as an actor. Looking back to the experience of making those first Anne movies, I wish I had realized that I didn't need to know everything. It's not that I thought I knew everything, it's just that I thought I was supposed to and that was incredibly scary. This business can be so trying on one's self esteem. I try to keep in mind the old saying, "What other people think of me is none of my business," but of course it gets complicated because what other people think of me is my business. I guess it's about seeking a balance, but that is never easy.
There's no I in Theatre
I was on a film set once and I watched the accomplished actor Max von Sydow stick around as they shot huge crowd scenes with all of the extras. I remember thinking how incredible that was that he wanted to be present and he wasn't running off to his trailer whenever he got a chance. That's one of the things I love about the theatre is that you're all in it together. I'm not saying that there are no huge egos in theatre – there are. But ultimately there's a sense of a community and we are all serving something together.
Seek out power
I definitely have people come up to me to talk about Anne Shirley and how important the movies and the books have been to them. I've had people burst into tears in front of me. I don't think I could ever get sick of the association with Anne, mostly because I have so much gratitude for having been introduced to playing a primary role where that role is the driving voice of the story. Playing Anne Shirley gave me a taste for playing characters who are defined by themselves, who are not an appendage for someone else. Particularly for women – so many female roles are defined by their service to the male – the wife of, the mother of, the girlfriend of, the hot girlfriend of. Of course I have a lot of respect for the working actor and sometimes if you take a role because you need a job, but I do seek out powerful female roles and it was Anne who put me on that path.
You can only come from where you're at
Some of the best advice I have ever received has to do with dealing with grief. It's something I learned during a challenging time in my life – the end of a marriage, the death of a person that I cared about and my daughter was heading off to university. I was in a pretty dark place and people would often give the "you'll get over it," "move on" sort of advice. They want you to be somewhere emotionally where you haven't arrived yet and I remember a friend said to me that I should just try to contribute from the place I was in. That was so helpful. I was able to channel my feelings into my work, which sort of validated what I was experiencing. I was starting The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood at the time. It was so much about working through my difficult emotions so much as just giving them permission to be. Fighting against where you're at is never very productive.
Reign airs Wednesdays at 8 p.m. ET on M3.
This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea.