Degrassi gets schooled
It’s a month into the eighth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation, but the cast wrapped filming last week. Four of the actors and actresses — Charlotte Arnold, Raymond Ablack, Nina Dobrev and Evan Williams — are now either going back to school, planning for their next year or using the lessons they learned, all at Ryerson University.
Walking through the studios on the last day of filming in the North York set, the atrium, gymnasium and hallways were eerily quiet and not like the usual hustle-and-bustle that’s portrayed in the show. The iconic doors weren’t ushering students in and out. Drama reverberates between these walls from May to October each year. The teenagers responsible for saying the harsh words, initiating make out sessions by the lockers and starting the food fights that make up high school are now out to do what they please.
Arnold, a second-year journalism student who plays mean girl Holly J., and Ablack, the first-year psychology student behind the passive football player Sav, are returning to the halls of Rye High just in time for their exams. They haven’t been to their classes in weeks, and have had no time to study.
Arnold has been doing some homework and trying to keep up with group presentations, but acknowledged that her peers have been supportive and professors have given her leeway to work at her own pace.
“I’m trying to keep up,” said Arnold. “I’m starting to struggle a little bit and balance the two, but if I were just to have Degrassi, for the rest of the year I would be doing nothing.”
Ablack told one of his psychology professors at the beginning of the semester about Degrassi, and found that most of his notes would be on Blackboard or provided by a friend. But he’s had no time to weave through the long textbook chapters.
“My mom’s always on me to get on my books,” said Ablack. “But at the same time, she’s great in that she understands how exhausted I can be from a 13 hour work day.”
Anyone with an acting contract can’t study in the theatre program at Ryerson. Arnold, Ablack, and Dobrev wanted to go into the program at first, but as they figured out, their chosen programs mean a lot more to acting than they thought.
“My logic was if I could understand characters’ thought processes, I could be a better actor or draw on those for different characters that I play,” said Ablack.
Arnold decided she wanted to do broadcast journalism after a trip to Ecuador this year with other members of the cast, which was turned into a documentary about the conditions in the country for MTV.
“I want to do something different,” she said. “I’ll keep doing Degrassi as long as they’ll have me, but I’ve thought of combining journalism and film.”
Dobrev, who plays the teenage mother/cheerleader/model Mia, deferred at the beginning of the year because as one of the more prominent characters this season, her filming schedule was too hectic.
“I’m playing it by ear. I am coming back, it’s just a matter of when,” she said.
Now, between flying to L.A. for auditions and sticking around Toronto for Degrassi, she has to decide if she can tackle a full filming schedule and her sociology major at once.
“I’d rather do what I’m doing at work and then go to school to learn about something completely different that I don’t know much about so I can expand,” she said.
Williams, who plays Kelly, one of the newest additions to the cast and roommate to characters Emma, Liberty, and Manny, has four years of Ryerson acting to look back on as he does stints on other television shows, more auditions and releases his first acoustic EP.
“I loved it,” said the 2007 graduate. “It was probably the most difficult thing I’ve ever done. They don’t really spare your feelings at all, but it’s to your benefit. Nobody would in the industry.”
The four will become dominant characters this season. Mia continues to model. Sav pursues “going all the way” with his girlfriend, Anya. Kelly will be in a love square with his roommates. Holly J. will find a love interest, a new job and some hard times.
But they haven’t only acted inside the Degrassi walls. Arnold was fresh from her lead role in the family series Naturally Sadie. Ablack, at age 11, played Simba in Toronto’s musical of The Lion King. Dobrev was in films Away From Her and MTV’s The American Mall this past year. Williams is in TIFF 2009 films Grey Gardens and A Flesh Offering, but he said “Degrassi is my favourite job that I’ve ever had.”