Mastroianni returns to the small screen in new 'Degrassi

Mastroianni returns to the small screen in new ‘Degrassi’:[Final Edition]
Brian Gorman. Cobourg Daily Star.
Author(s): Brian Gorman
Article types: Profile
Section: Entertainment
Publication title: Cobourg Daily Star. Cobourg: Oct 19, 2002. pg. 7

Full Text (854 words)
Copyright Cobourg Daily Star 2002)

Profile of Pat Mastroianni.

It’s sometimes said that character actors play their roles as if they’re laying bricks. Pat Mastroianni plays his roles and lays bricks.

The Toronto actor was a teen star as the fedora-wearing schoolyard operator Joey Jeremiah in “Degrassi Jr. High” and “Degrassi High” in the 1980s and early ’90s. Now he and Joey are back in “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” which airs Sundays on CTV (check local listings).

However, the hat is long gone.

These days Mastroianni, 30, splits his time between playing the grown-up Joey in “Degrassi” and working for his father’s construction company.

“I have a dual life at the moment,” Mastroianni says. “I do everything from physical labor to driving a dump truck, to driving the backhoe and the rollers. … We do it all. It’s a skilled trade, and it’s my father. If it was good enough for him for the last 30 years, it’s good enough for me.”

Joey Jeremiah was one of the most popular characters in “Degrassi.” He was mouthy, a bit of a troublemaker, and he was always working an angle. He also was vulnerable, big-hearted and street-smart.

He had a unique style that was part 1980s teenager and part ’50s hipster, like a 14-year-old auditioning for a part in “Ocean’s Eleven” – not the new one; the old Rat Pack version.

And he always wore a hat that seemed too big for his body.

When the series ended, Mastroianni burned the hat. He did interviews saying he was fed up with Joey, wanted to bury him and move on.

Now, he says, the press made too much of it.

“I guess anybody who has been associated with something as prominent as the hat for several years – for me it was kind of like letting go and trying to move on with my life,” he says. “I think even the producers were feeling that we just wanted to leave the D word behind us and move forward.

“As an actor, I wanted to get out there and work with different people and play other roles. And I think, for me, it was just a symbol of been there, done that; now let’s move on.”

Mastroianni moved on, but to nothing like the fame he achieved as Joey.

After the “Degrassi” movie “School’s Out” in 1991, and the documentary “Degrassi Talks,” in which cast members crossed Canada interviewing teens, Mastroianni slipped into guest-star roles in series such as “Psi Factor” and “Once a Thief,” and bit parts in such movies as “Godzilla.”

In 1994, he landed the lead role in the prime-time soap “Liberty Street” with “Degrassi” producer Linda Schuyler. But the series fizzled after two seasons. The first year, it was up against “Beverly Hills, 90210”; the second, it was opposite “Melrose Place.”

“Unfortunately, CBC didn’t know how to manage the show,” he says. “You can’t put a half-hour drama that’s targeting the same audience as ‘90210’ and ‘Melrose Place’ on half an hour into those shows. At 8 o’clock, ‘90210’ would come on, then we’d come on at 8:30. Who’s going to switch over to watch us when they’re a half an hour into ‘90210’?”

For a while, he hosted CBC’s “MusicWorks” series.

“During all that stuff, I was working as a waiter. I was a bartender, a host at a restaurant. I was doing everything I could to make a buck and keep busy. I was even plowing snow with my father back then, too.”

Meanwhile, his attitude toward Joey began to soften. He started to realize that the series – at its peak, seen in some 60 countries around the world – was a cherished memory for a generation of 20- and 30-somethings.

Then last year, Schuyler revived “Degrassi” for CTV and brought back the old cast for the hourlong premiere episode. Stefan Brogren (Snake), Amanda Stepto (Spike) and Stacie Mistysyn (Caitlin) returned as regulars. The others, including Mastroianni, made guest appearances.

This year, Schuyler and producer Stephen Stohn approached him with a season-long story arc that has Joey taking care of his 4- year-old daughter (Alex Steele) and his late wife’s troubled 14- year-old son from her first marriage.

Mastroianni married and settled into life in his dad’s construction company. He hadn’t given up acting, but he was no longer willing to starve, lie around the house waiting for work or travel for a job.

“If I do construction for the rest of my life,” Mastroianni says, “I can look back in 30 years and say, ‘Yeah, there’s a driveway I did.’ But my image is embedded on film for eternity. And who knows if, in 30 years, people might still be watching this show on some kind of Nickelodeon channel? And I’ll have this photo album for my kids to look at one day.

“I walk onto the set with a smile on my face every day. And when I’m on the job with my dad, I’m still smiling.”

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