Local actor’s role links new and old Degrassi
Carol Baldwin, Beaver Entertainment Editor
Sep. 14, 2001
Miriam McDonald plays Emma in Degrassi:The Next Generation, which will premiere with a one-hour special on CTV, October 14.
The newly refurbished Degrassi Community School, formerly known as Degrassi High, should have been built in Oakville. Two of its permanent students – Sean and Emma (daughter of Spike, who was in the original Degrassi High television series), are Oakville actors.
And, as fate would have it, Emma has a crush on Sean. However, Miriam McDonald, who plays Emma in Degrassi: The Next Generation didn’t even know Daniel Clark (Sean) before she met him on the set. (Oakville is a bigger place than you might think.)
McDonald just turned 14, and Emma Nelson is described in the CTV cast material as a 12-year-old “rebel in training…She’s got an alternative fashion style and a unique hairdo that changes with her mood…But Emma’s individualism gets her into trouble every now and then – especially when she stubbornly refuses to listen to any views that might oppose her own…” Fans of Degrassi High might be thinking: “Like mother like daughter.”
But in the real world where McDonald is entering her first year of high school, the young woman seems too shy and reserved, dressed in typical teen garb – jeans and top – to be portraying the role of the rebel.
However, she, like Emma, is entering a new school – two actually – one until she and her family move to Toronto, and the other one after the move. And it’s the second school that offers a program for athletes and actors who have hectic schedules, which would, in a regular school setting, be upsetting for the students and the school.
In this particular school program, says McDonald, “the teachers there know how to accommodate tutors and stuff.”
Unlike most teens facing the prospect of moving to another community, McDonald is “excited” and believes it will be so much simpler for her to pursue her acting career from the big city.
“It’s going to be a lot easier, rather than driving an hour each way. Sometimes the calls are at 7 (a.m.), so we’re leaving at 6, getting up at 5,” she explains. “It’s anywhere between 7 and noon; and I go until anywhere between 4 and 8 (p.m.)”
By the time the new Degrassi airs next month, McDonald will have been involved with the television program for a year, since she first auditioned last October. During that time she did a callback audition and three screen tests. But the veteran actor – she’s done commercials and stage productions in the past – was not fazed by the experience.
“The only difference between a screen test and a regular audition is that they have some lights and the other person is there to read with,” explains the Oakville actor who says her stage career began at about the age of 5 with dance lessons at the Fleming School of Dance.
During her time at Fleming, she took diction classes, which she likens to acting classes, and she played Tiny Tim’s sister in one of FanFare presentations of Mr. Scrooge.
She says the diction classes led to acting classes in Toronto, which led to open-call auditions and a few roles in television shows and commercials.
“Then it was suggested that I get an agent, which I did,” she says, adding that she now leaves it up to her agent to find the auditions for her, which is how she became Emma, the character who links the old Degrassi with the new.
Emma is “bold, outgoing, brave, confident and independent. And when she gets an idea, she just goes with it. She does it regardless of the consequences,” says McDonald. “I think I’m similar to her, but some of the things she does, I wouldn’t do.”
One thing the teenager will do is continue to dance as well as act. Or maybe she’ll go into medicine, she says. But dancing, she adds, will always be a passion, whereas acting will probably be her career, whether it’s on stage or screen.
“On stage, everything can be bigger and it doesn’t need to be quite as controlled. On stage it has to look natural; on camera it has to look real,” she says, not quite sure which she prefers. “I also enjoy doing voiceovers. I’m the voice of YTV Junior, which means I introduce the shows on YTV pre-school programming during the days. And there’s a new animation called Ripping Friends, and I do different voices for that. And I’m the voice of the mouse on a show called Pecola.”
But right now, she’s concentrating on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Not only is she attending rehearsals, she’s watching re-runs of the old shows on TV.
“They’re playing the old Degrassi series in preparation for airing the new one. It’s really neat to see the people, who are obviously adults now, when they were kids,” she explains.
One day, when she’s an adult, she may just sit down with her kids and watch herself as a kid in Degrassi: The Next Generation, a half-hour show that will premiere with a one-hour special on CTV, Oct. 14.