Guess who’s back in the classroom?
Starring in the original Degrassi series was far from a ticket to the big time. As the cult show returns to TV, KIM HONEY goes in search of the original cast
By KIM HONEY
Saturday, October 13, 2001 Print Edition, Page R4
TORONTO — Pat Mastroianni is driving a dump truck when he returns a call on his cellphone.
“I’m just helping my Dad build an interlock pathway,” he says after he turns the beast off. “I got a load of three-quarter-inch crushed gravel.”
Since Mastroianni hung up his fedora as Joey Jeremiah in a 1992 movie special called School’s Out, the Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High star has been no stranger to menial jobs: Like many of his colleagues on the show, it has been difficult to make ends meet by acting alone. He helps out when he can at his father’s Toronto construction business.
“There’s a handful of us who have done okay,” said Mastroianni, who deftly plays a much-subdued Joey, now a widower with a small child, on the one-hour reunion special that airs tomorrow night on CTV. “No one’s hit it big. No one’s become Mel Gibson.”
The new series, produced by original Degrassi creator Linda Schuyler and written by Junior High alumni Jan Moore, will, like its 1980s CBC counterpart, explore issues that concern teens. A Web site and a weekly documentary series, 21, are also tied in to the show.
Quite a few, including Mastroianni, checked out Los Angeles: Two of them, Stacie Mistysyn, who played Caitlin, and Dayo Ade, who played BLT, are still living there. Mistysyn is still awaiting her big break, while Ade is the envy of ex-colleagues with recent guest appearances on series such as V.I.P and Resurrection Blvd..
A few more, including Mastroianni and Stefan Brogren, who played Archie (Snake) Simpson on Degrassi and returns as a teacher on The Next Generation, moved back because they were tired of shuttling back and forth.
Mastroianni and his cohorts were children but hardly actors when they answered a flyer — “no experience necessary” — for auditions. Still, after Schuyler and her partner Kit Hood managed to eke out a passable show — Kids of Degrassi Street first aired on CBC in 1979 — the actors got better through on-the-job training.
By the time Schuyler and Hood moved the actors into Degrassi Junior High in 1986, the children had hit their stride. Mastroianni and Mistysyn both won Gemini Awards for their work on the show: Brogren and Amanda Stepto, who played Spike, were nominees. The show won eight Geminis between 1986 and 1989, not to mention an International Emmy for tackling such controversial topics as teen pregnancy and AIDS.
By the time Degrassi High made its debut in 1989, the show was drawing a million viewers in Canada; it went on to become a cult classic after it was sold to more than 100 countries.
So it wasn’t such a leap for some of the cast to think they were pretty good at the craft, and it was pretty devastating when they couldn’t find work.
“I think I went on every audition possible,” said Stepto, who works full-time as a human-resources co-ordinator for a Toronto investment company. “Anything CBC did, I was there. I swear. Everyone knew who I was, I had seen every casting agent before. So then I’m thinking, ‘Wow. I must really suck.’ ”
Mastroianni, who appears in the reunion special, hopes his return as a more mature Joey will catch someone’s eye.
“At the very least I want this to be a vehicle for me to prove that I’m not just a one-note wonder,” he said.
WHERE ARE THEY NOW?
STEFAN BROGREN, 29
Character: Archie “Snake” Simpson
Famous for: Gemini nomination for episode where brother admits he’s gay.
Post-Degrassi: Headed to American Academy of Dramatic Arts in L.A. for three years, then worked as actor and script reader, but moved back to Canada. Seen in Hairshirt, a 1998 romantic comedy co-produced by brother-and-sister team Christian and Neve Campbell, guest turn on prime-time series Witchblade, and will be on Comedy Networks’ Endless Grind this fall. Latest project: Returns to Next Generation as a teacher. Shooting indie film Troy Denied.
STACIE MISTYSYN, 30
Character: Caitlin Ryan
Famous for: Losing her virginity to Joey in season finale.
Post-Degrassi: Auditioned sporadically for a couple of years after series wrapped; accepted into Ryerson’s school of radio and television arts three times but never enrolled. Seen in sitcom Weird Science, 1992’s Circle of Fear, appeared in Fox drama Class of ’96, did environmental tour for recycling council. Moved to Los Angeles in 1996, still awaiting big break. Has done several training videos (Smart Set, Sport Mart), recently wrapped feature Jersey Guy (yet to be distributed) and came close to landing a gig on Luke Perry’s new sci-fi TV series, Jeremiah.
AMANDA STEPTO, 31
Character: Christine “Spike” Nelson
Famous for: Getting pregnant in junior high.
Post-Degrassi: Got BA in political science and history from University of Toronto. Struggled to make it as actress, taking bit parts in small productions. Taught English in Japan for a year; went on buying trips to Asia as manager of a Toronto store; currently works as human resources co-ordinator for an investment company. Won recurring role on new Degressi because the daughter her old character had out of wedlock, Emma, is the next generation. Hopes, once again, Degrassi will open some doors.
PAT MASTROIANNI, 29
Character: Joey Jeremiah
Famous for: Baring butt in streaking episode.
Post-Degrassi: Guest roles on FX: The Series, Street Legal and War of the Worlds, bartended at a Toronto restaurant until Degrassi co-creator Linda Schuyler hired him on short-lived CBC series, Liberty Street, in 1994. Headed to Hollywood, appeared in 1998’s Godzilla but most of his fighter-pilot role ended up on cutting-room floor. Now back in Toronto and host of CBC’s Music Works, also seen waxing enthusiastically over vegetables in government ad. Hopes his turn in the Degrassi reunion special will show casting directors he’s come a long way since he lost the fedora and most of his hair.
SILUCK SAYSANASY, 27
Character: Yick Yu
Famous for: Helping Arthur call radio show for advice on wet dreams.
Post-Degrassi: Moved to Vancouver to try hand at acting but turned to bartending to pay rent, working way up to general manager of nightclub. Six months ago, moved back to Toronto where Degrassi creator Schuyler hired him to work as children’s co-ordinator, or kid wrangler, on The Next Generation. Saysanasy, best friends with Pat Mastroianni, now says he would like to direct some day.
DANIEL WOODS, 42
Character: Mr. Raditch
Famous for: Breaking it to Joey that he flunked Grade 8.
Post-Degrassi: Went into radio sale in Oakville and Toronto, did freelance voiceover work when acting gigs dried up. Produced a 40-episode series called Classic Cars for Speed-Vision in 1998 and 1999; produced Maximum Speed, yet-to-be distributed race-car series for TV with Mastroianni. Indie film The Happy Couple in post-production, features Degrassi alumni in all three bar scenes. In Degrassi: The Next Generation Radtich has moved up in the world: He’s now principal.
NEIL HOPE, 29
Character: Derek “Wheels” Wheeler
Famous for: Parent killed by drunk driver; as drunk driver, Wheels kills small child in series finale.
Post-Degrassi: Lives in Hamilton, works as customer-service rep for a fast-food chain taking complaints. Decided not to go into acting biz after Degrassi because he knew it would be tough going. Worked in Toronto as a warehouse manager for a furniture store, managed Money Mart stores. Moved to Hamilton a couple of years ago; now interested in getting back into the business, maybe freelance voice work or radio.
ANGELA AND MAUREEN DEISEACH, 29
Characters: Erica and Heather Farrell
Famous for: Being on opposite sides of the abortion debate when Erica got pregnant and wanted an abortion.
Post-Degrassi: Still pretty much inseparable, although you can tell them apart. Took off for a year-long trip to South America. Both enrolled in journalism at Ryerson University, both dropped out. Both members of Esmeralda Enrique’s Spanish Dance Company in Toronto until Maureen went to London this year to work and figure out what to do next. Both graduated from University of Toronto last year, and Angela, who supports herself as flamenco dancer, now studying to be a teacher.
Character: Melanie Brodie
Famous for: Screwing up dates with Snake
Post-Degrassi: Went into hiding after being harassed by a stalker via e-mail, snail mail and telephone. Asked the fan site, http://www.degrassiupdate.com/, not to post sightings; everyone purposely vague on whereabouts but rumoured to be into photography.