Degrassi’s always greener once you’ve lived in L.A.
“SEE YA at Bam Boo for lunch,” we told Pat Mastroianni.
Problem was, we saw him – but we didn’t recognize him.
We were looking for a curly-haired Joey Jeremiah from Degrassi (Junior High and High). Who knew he had shaved his head?
“It’s the Joey stigma,” he acknowledged. “This buzzed hair is great for my career.”
Mastroianni did six seasons of Degrassi in his formative years, ages 14 to 21. He is 28 now.
There are worse things than being known for Joey Jeremiah, we pressed.
“I was asked to shave my head for a role, and I like it. I enjoy the shock factor.”
The skinhead look gets him gigs as bad guys: like a psychopathic Hispanic prison inmate in PSI Factor. In John Woo’s Once A Thief, he was a psycho-murderer.
“I’m not just Joey Jeremiah, class clown – I can do Jewish and Russian, depending on the facial hair.”
He is actually Italian, the son of immigrants from Calabria.
After Degrassi was cancelled in 1991, he did guest roles (FX: The Series; Catwalk, Top Cops, Street Legal, War Of The Worlds) and bartended in a restaurant in North York. He even worked in retail, but wasn’t cut out for it.
In 1994, he got back in the biz when Linda Schuyler, producer of Degrassi, approached him about a new series, Liberty Street.
Mastroianni says Liberty never found its niche. And in 1996, after Liberty’s second and last season, he moved south to Los Angeles to test the waters.
He got the whole nine yards: the Green Card and vehicle, but not the L.A. bug. “I didn’t have the dedication to pound the pavement.”
He spent three years doing things like a small bit in the turkey Godzilla – “I was an apache fighter pilot trying to destroy the beast.”
He eventually returned to Toronto last December and got engaged to his high-school sweetheart.
Mastroianni has projects pending, some obliquely connected to Degrassi days. In 1995, while working on Liberty, he also hosted Music Works, a variety show highlighting upcoming Canadian bands. The series will return on Aug. 1 and will air Tuesdays at 5:30 p.m. on CBC for seven weeks.
“Alanis Morissette was the original host,” he chuckled. “She went off to do her `little album.’ ”
Come fall, he is at the wheel of Maximum Speed, hosting a 13-part half-hour series shown on CTV Sports Net Wednesday at 5 p.m. and repeated Saturday mornings. It profiles the next generation of Motorsport Superstars: karting, motorcross, junior dragsters, competitive snowmachines.
“Dan Woods is the producer,” Mastroianni explained. “He played Mr. Raditch, a teacher on Degrassi who was my nemesis. We bumped into each other on Bloor St. a year ago, and he said, `I’ve been trying to find you. I have an idea for a show.’ ”
Not only did Mastroianni come aboard, he is executive producer.
“We’re trying to highlight the next Jacques Villeneuve. I have a fascination with fast cars. In ’94, I participated in a celebrity stock car race with a dozen American actors including Alfonso Ribeiro of Fresh Prince Of Bel Air. I hit the wall on the last lap at 100 miles an hour and I finished the race in last place but at least I got to race.
“I own an old Ford Mustang, and my Degrassi character had an old Mustang. Linda used to take real-life experiences in the cast lives. She knew I was obsessed with cars, so Joey had a car.
“In fact, Joey streaked in the cafeteria to make money for a down payment on a vehicle. People tell me that was their favourite episode: `I saw your butt.’
“I had a tight butt, I was 18.”
A cult fave, Degrassi, in its prime, was the highest-rated show in Canada and syndicated in over 70 countries, including the U.S. on Showtime and PBS. In 1991, the Degrassi two-hour finale brought the CBC its highest rating to date: 2.7 million out of a population of roughly 26 million.
Hey, we smell a reunion. There is a projected TV-movie Degrassi: The Next Generation to be aired on CTV.
The fans are still crazy about it after all these years, as Mastroianni discovered when he auctioned off Degrassi memorabilia in aid of Multiple Sclerosis in April. They snapped up things like Joey’s hat, Degrassi watch and pin, yearbook, calendars . . .
“I made $3,500 – my goal was $1,000.”
His association with Degrassi began in 1985, when, at age 13, he responded to a flyer distributed throughout Toronto schools inviting kids to try out for the new TV show.
“It said, `Actors wanted, no experience necessary,’ ” he recalled. “My parents mailed it in, and I was one of 500 kids who auditioned. I had a one-paragraph monologue and Kit Hood and Linda Schuyler were the producers. Kit Hood didn’t like me as Joey, but Linda did. She said, `He looks like a Joey.’ I was terrible, but they said, `You look like Joey and have the energy; we’ll mould you.’
“Now I want to go back and show them what I can do. Ten years ago, I played an exaggerated version of myself; now I can separate him from me and I can build and play him with more depth.
“I don’t want to be a Brady Bunch actor, I don’t want to peak and disappear. If they remember me from Degrassi, I embrace them. These shows keep my face out there.”
Mastroianni won the Gemini Award in 1988 for Outstanding Acting In A Continuing Dramatic Role, and he’s out to prove it wasn’t beginner’s luck.
“It was only my second year of acting, and I don’t want to let people down. I hope in the next 20 years I can play character roles.”
He reckons that had he not become an actor, he would have worked in the construction business, like his dad. His father is also know for his pasta sauce and homemade wine, which was a fave of the Degrassi gang.
“I took bottles to the cast parties. Twelve people could get drunk on one bottle of wine.”