Amybeth McNulty has opened up about the impact trolls had on her emotional wellbeing when she was cast in the lead role of Netflix series Anne With An E.
The talented 16-year-old Donegal actress beat almost 2000 other young women to land the iconic role in the new small-screen adaptation of the classic Anne Of Green Gables series.
However, when the first trailer was released, Amybeth, who was then just 15-years-old, was subjected to negative criticism from some fans, based entirely on her appearance.
“I have such a wonderful support system, I really do,” she tells Independent.ie, “I’m so grateful for my friends and family and they’re with me every step of the way, but at the same time there’s nothing they could do once the words had hit me.”
When the trailer was released, Amybeth went straight to the comments to see how people reacted and was shocked by what she read.
“Bearing in mind this was the first thing I had ever really done that was really that big, I never expected criticism, because they hadn’t even seen my performance yet,” she says.
“I remember specifically the first 12 comments were just so nasty towards me and specifically towards my appearance. It really hit me. I was 15 when that trailer released and that’s such a tender age.”
The young star did not tell her mother about it initially as she “didn’t want her to worry”.
“It’s something a lot people go through and it’s heartbreaking. It really is,” she says.
“But now I’ve used my platform to stand up against it and specifically to talk about it, because that’s the thing – you don’t talk about it because you don’t want to worry people or think about it or talk about it. But it needs to be addressed.”
Amybeth has received rave reviews for her performance in the series, which ploughs slightly darker terrain than the books, and the show has garnered quite a fan base, with a second season landing on Netflix on Friday (July 6).
She is subjected to much less negativity online these days.
“People have actually seen my performance now and they’re not just basing their criticism on my appearance and the way I talk and maybe the two seconds they saw of me acting in the trailer. Now they have the full picture.
“I say to anybody who didn’t like my performance, ‘that’s okay, you don’t have to like it, but there’s no need to shame or publicly criticise me for it and make me feel bad for something that I now no longer have any control over'.
“In the end I’m just doing my job, I’m working hard, I’m putting my best foot forward and the criticism is not going to change anything I’ve done or will do in the future. If you don’t have anything nice to say don’t say anything at all!”
Bright, insightful, and articulate, Amybeth is not unlike her character Anne, who has been described by showrunner Moira Walley Beckett (who previously won three Emmys for her work on Breaking Bad) as an ‘accidental feminist’. The second series boasts an all-female writers’ room and explores racial issues and has an LGBTQ storyline.
“We talk about the differences between the 1800s and 2018 and realistically they’re not that different, which can be surprising and shocking but that’s the way it is,” says Amybeth.
“I love having the show set so long ago and having these new topics that are so topical and timely and timeless and I love how it relates to so many people, of any age. It’s very political. It’s my kind of show.”
Anyone who may have a lingering impression of Anne of Green Gables being a somewhat twee, children’s tale, has those notions dispensed by the first episode of the first season.
“It’s the type of stereotype I kind of want to disregard right now,” says Amybeth. “A six year old can relate to it, but she can watch it with her granddad who can also relate to it. It’s such a special thing to be involved in.
“I think it’s so interesting that a family can sit down and watch it and have a talk about what was discussed in the episode and what it brought out in their politics, views or values in general.”
Anne With An E is filmed on Prince Edward Island as well as locations in Ontario which necessitates long spells away from home for Amybeth. Her northern accent veers into that of her character and back again when she speaks.
“It’s definitely hard work,” she says of filming. “It’s hard work and I’m in a different country doing a different accent.”
Given Anne’s fondness for language, Amybeth also has to learn pages and pages of flowery dialogue, but she says there’s “no point in getting upset about it or complaining about it – you just do the best you can and the work will hopefully pay off”.
She also has to dye her brown hair bright red every two weeks although she giggles that this is more like a “spa treatment” than a chore.
Prior to Anne, she played a young Morgan in the horror film of the same name but most people in Ireland will remember her from RTE's Clean Break, in which she played Jenny Rane, who was held captive by Ned Dennehy's character.
She comes from a family steeped in the arts. Her grandparents worked in opera, her aunt is an opera singer, and her uncle is a writer.
“It’s always been kind of around,” she says. “I started off doing stuff in theatre in Letterkenny from quite a young age. It was just a hobby, something I enjoyed. Some kids like tennis or guitar. I just enjoyed musical theatre so my parents got me into classes.”
However, she insists they were “never the pushy parents”.
“Even though they had the arts in them, I think that made them more cautious because they had an understanding of how dangerous that world is.
“They’ve really kept my feet firmly on the ground so I’m really grateful for their support system and their caution with me. They’ve said they’re never leaving my side until I’m at least 22 and I’m 100 per cent okay with that!” she laughs.
Anne With an E season one is available on Netflix and season two is available to watch on Netflix from Friday July 6.