COVER

CANADA’S RISING ‘BRAT PACK’

Brian D. Johnson December 7 1987
COVER

CANADA’S RISING ‘BRAT PACK’

Brian D. Johnson December 7 1987

CANADA’S RISING ‘BRAT PACK’

She is a long way from Green Gables. The camera is set up in the parlor of an ornate Victorian residence in Pasadena, Calif. —passing as a Tennessee mansion. Costumed as a young woman of the 1920s, her corn-silk hair swirled into a stylish knot, Megan Follows seats her tiny frame in a chair across from Kirk Douglas. The 19-year-old Canadian star of Anne of Green Gables and the flinty 71-year-old Hollywood veteran are shooting a TV remake of the 1960 classic Inherit the Wind, the story of the so-called “monkey trial” of teacher John Scopes, who was pilloried in 1925 for teaching Darwin’s theory of evolution. Douglas plays the crafty prosecutor, Jason Robards the heroic lawyer—and Follows the defendant’s naïve fiancée. As the camera rolls, Follows tranforms herself into a shy, smalltown southern girl.

Riveting: Clutching hat and purse with trembling fingers, Follows casts a frightened, pleading look at Douglas’s iceblue eyes. There is a delicate quaver in her voice, which is tinged with the bourbon blush of a southern accent. Her performance is riveting, and Douglas is visibly impressed. At the end of the scene he asks Follows where she is from. “Toronto,” she replies. “My God," says Douglas. “I know so many Canadians in this business.”

Already a seasoned professional with a decade of experience in front of the camera, Megan Follows is one of the youngest—and hottest—talents in Canada’s emerging brat pack. After the extraordinary success of the first instalment of Anne of Green Gables in 1985, she has won critical acclaim for starring as a 14-year-old Montana farm girl in the recent film Stacking. And she has just finished playing a supporting role with Oscar-winning actor William Hurt in Destiny, a Second World War drama about a Basque

family in San Diego, Calif. In Inherit the Wind, which was due to finish filming this week, Follows held her own with the old guard of Hollywood actors. David Greene, the Los Angelesbased Canadian who is directing the TV movie, calls her talent exceptional. “Some actresses wear their parts like a mask,” he said. “She’s wrapped inside hers like a cloak.”

Energy: Follows belongs to a generation of Canadian actors who are driven by the adolescent energy so highly prized by Hollywood, but who also pos-

sess unusual subtlety, intelligence and poise. Nurtured in the smaller and more sheltered confines of the Canadian movie industry and the CBC, they often acquire depths of experience unavailable to their American counterparts at such an early age. At the head of the pack is superstar Michael J. Fox of NBC TV’s Family Ties. The diminutive 26year-old from Burnaby, B.C., reinvented time travel in Back to the Future (1985) and has not looked back since. A more recent recruit is 20-year-old Kiefer Sutherland, the eldest son of actor Donald Sutherland. Sharing his father’s talent for playing eccentric characters, Sutherland was a critically acclaimed vampire in last summer’s Lost Boys. In Bright Lights, Big City, due in movie theatres next February, he costars with Fox as a night creature of a different color —a clubcrawler in Manhattan.

Starring: Talent seems to be an inherited trait among Canada’s brat pack. Follows is the daughter of Torontobased actors Ted Follows and Dawn Greenhalgh. And even Jonathan Crombie, who made his acting debut as Anne’s rival, Gilbert Blythe, is the son of a highly public personality—Secretary of State David Crombie. Jonathan’s success in Anne has led to a starring role in CTV’s $17-million drama series Mount

Royal, due to première next month. Another performer following in parental footsteps is Leah Pinsent, 23, daughter of Toronto actors Gordon Pinsent and Charmion King. After several frustrating years of trying to catch a wave in Hollywood’s talent pool, the young Pinsent recently landed a leading role in Kid McCoy, the true story of an expatriate American boxer. Portraying McCoy’s first wife, Pinsent began a three-month shoot in South Africa last week. Said her mother: “She phoned the other

night, and she was lonely and a little scared.”

Pinsent and King shielded Leah from an acting career until she was 18. But Follows has literally grown up in front of the camera. She has been acting professionally since she was 9, when she made her TV debut in a Bell Canada commercial. Her career began in earnest when she was 11 with a regular role on the Global network’s Matt and Jenny, a 26-part series about a pioneer family in 19th-century Canada. By 12, Follows had played a starring role in The Baxters—a made-inToronto series created by sitcom king Norman Lear—and she was ready to move to Los Angeles with her actress sister, Edwina, now a 26-year-old screenwriter. Her brother, Laurence, 24, and her other sister, Samantha, 22, are also actors. Said Greenhalgh: “They have never really been exposed to any other profession.”

Triumph: But Megan has eclipsed the rest of the family. In 1984 she sat thrilled in the balcony at the Academy Awards as the Toronto-made drama Boys and Girls won an Oscar for liveaction short. Later, in Canada, she won acclaim as a female goalie on a boy’s team in CBC TV’S Hockey Night. The following year she triumphed as the all-Canadian Anne of Green Gables.

Now, Follows is at a difficult stage in which she will have to graduate from child star to adult actress. Even in Stacking, she was cast as a 14-yearold. But it was a lead role that offered an emotional horizon as wide as the Montana prairie where it was filmed. And with Inherit the Wind, Follows is finally playing a character slightly older than herself. The actress dismisses any concerns about being typecast as an ingenue. “I know I will age,

and my face will age with me,” she said. “It is not the kind of cutesy young face that, no matter how old you get, you still have the look of a little kid.”

Terrified: It is a face that is fragile and childlike one moment, then resolute—almost imperious—the next. Sitting in the living room of the modest bungalow that she rents in Los Angeles, she wears faded blue jeans and a pink jersey that hangs loosely on her slight shoulders. Like Anne of Green Gables, Follows seems boldly self-assured, and she admits that she identified deeply with the character. “I had a false sense of maturity when I was younger,” she said, “because I was working with adults—trying to be like them. Anne was a bit like that too.” And beneath Anne’s apparent confidence, added Follows, “she is also very unsure of herself. She was terrified of

her own sexuality, her own femininity.” Like Anne, who smashes her slate over Gilbert Blythe’s head when he teases her in class, Follows tended to overcompensate for her insecurities while growing up. “I was always a bit mean to boys,” she said with a mischievous laugh. “I did something quite terrible to one boy when I was 12.” He was teasing her before a large group of friends. “I grabbed his track pants and pulled them down in front of everybody,” she recalled. “He freaked out and chased me around the yard. I finally turned around and gave him a bloody nose.” Later, as Follows began to appreciate boys, she was devastated to find that the attraction was not always mutual. “When my hormones were happening, I didn’t get a lot of attention from boys,” she said. “I was teased for being flat-chested.”

Now, Follows has a steady boyfriend, a Canadian whose anonymity she protects. And as Anne, she has portrayed the blossoming of a 14-year-old orphan into an attractive woman on the verge of marriage. But the high-glamor hustle of Hollywood still brings out her insecurity. “There are a lot of beautiful girls here,” she said, “and I have always felt like a bit of an outsider.” This month she is moving—with her boyfriend—to New York City, where she plans to study her craft and to augment her screen work with stage roles. In February she plans to costar with her mother and sister Samantha in a Toronto stage production of The Effect of Gamma Rays on Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds— Follows’s first professional theatre role. She says that she longs to play a character who is wicked or crazy: “I would like to be known for my diversity,” she said. “Like Meryl Streep.”

Healthy: One morning in October, on the set of Inherit the Wind, Follows was sitting in her dressing-room trailer suffering from severe bronchitis. Her condition had worsened after she spent the previous afternoon standing around in a rainy graveyard to film a final scene for Destiny. Now, too sick to work, she was being sent home; her scene was postponed. As she began taking the curlers out of her hair, there was knock at the door. Kirk Douglas, dressed in a coral bathrobe, had dropped by to console her. “You have a long career ahead of you,” he said, “so go home and take care of yourself.” Douglas went on to lecture her gently about the importance of staying healthy. “He was very sweet,” recalled Follows—who accepted the advice with the grace of a young woman in training to be a star.

—BRIAN D. JOHNSON in Los Angeles