Schmidt hits stride in just 9 key words

The Record (Waterloo Region)
Arts, Wednesday, November 19, 2003, p. C11
TELEVISION

Schmidt hits stride in just 9 key words

JOEL RUBINOFF
RECORD STAFF

There’s a scene at the end of tonight’s episode of Degrassi: The Next
Generation (8:30 p.m. on CTV), in which Kitchener native Chrissy Schmidt
comes into her own as an actor.

It happens after the 16-year-old Cameron Heights student — as
under-confident Grade 10 student Terri MacGregor — gets mad at the gal
pals who disapprove of her new boyfriend and runs smack into loverboy
himself, a smooth-talking control freak with anger-management problems.

I won’t give away the ending, but he does something to her and she
responds with a line reading that, in nine words, makes her character come
to life in a way we haven’t seen before.

“The first time I read the script it was like, I know how I’m going to say
that line,” says Schmidt, on the phone from New Dundee.

“I just knew this was a very powerful line.”

Again, I won’t spoil it by giving it away, except to say it relates to the
theme of abusive relationships and took Schmidt five takes to nail
decisively.

“I asked them to let me say it again,” says the soft-spoken actor, who
wanted the right mix of grit, determination and vulnerability. “I just
felt I could make it more stronger and give it more feeling.”

The fact she had no practical experience with abusive relationships,
surprisingly, played in her favour.

“It was kind of good not knowing what it felt like, so when we were doing
the scene it felt more natural,” says Schmidt. “I got more scared, really,
I just got in the moment.

“If you’re acting out a scene and thinking about what lines are coming
ahead, it’s not going to be as real as it could be.”

Until this point in the internationally acclaimed, Toronto-filmed series
— cited for its smart, uncondescending approach to teen issues —
Schmidt’s character has been more or less consigned to a sidekick role,
supplying a quip here, a supportive look there as her more outgoing
classmates grapple with issues of their own.

She had a memorable episode early on that saw her drunk and flirtatious at
a school dance (moral: be true to yourself), another that saw her
impressing skeptical pals with her job as a plus-sized model (moral: be
true to yourself), and another where she performed a song with an all-girl
rock band to put a rapist in his place (moral: be true . . . well, you get
the idea).

But tonight’s abuse episode, she suspects, may connect with viewers in a
more visceral way.

“The whole episode is just trying to tell you not to be afraid to tell
somebody else about the problems you’re having,” says Schmidt, who plans
to watch it at home with friends.

“It’s just trying to tell everybody to be confident enough in yourself.”

While her knowledge of abuse was limited to Internet research, her own
instincts as an actor — and as a teenage girl — also came into play.

“I thought Terri would not tell her friends right away (about the abuse),”
says Schmidt, whose suggestion was integrated into the script.

“I was thinking that if this is Terri’s first boyfriend, she wouldn’t want
it to end, because she wasn’t experienced and because he sounded sorry
(after the fact) and she thought he really meant it.

“It was a challenge to focus on how someone would act in that situation.”

While tonight’s story appears to wrap up with everyone wiser for the
experience, there are indications the topic will be revisited down the
road, giving Schmidt a chance to flex her considerable acting muscle, once
again, on the Degrassi highwire.

As for the line that marks her character’s evolution from timid wallflower
to butt-kicking iconoclast, you’ll just have to tune in and find out for
yourself.

CHANNEL SURFING

It’s the last episode of The Bachelor IV (9 p.m. on ABC) and — omigod! —
the anticipation is killing me.

Not that I’ve actually sat through an entire episode of this smoochy
fairytale schlockfest. But when Bob — is that his name? Bob? — thrusts a
rose at one of the fame-hungry prostitutes — I mean, young women — vying
for his affections in tonight’s two-hour finale, it means the prime-time
scheduling spot this reality circus has been hogging for the past umpteen
weeks will, once again, be up for grabs.

I only pray they don’t give it to Joe Millionaire.

Season premiere: 360 Vision (10 p.m. on V) is a current affairs series
that explores the relationship between current events, spirituality and
mortality. Tonight, the first-ever national survey on attitudes toward
faith and spirituality.

Ah, this is more like it. “Four hundred pounds of menace, razor-sharp
teeth and crushing claws’ are profiled on The Last Maneater: Killer Tigers
Of India (8 p.m. on DISC), about Bengal tigers who hunt humans for food.

Now that’s entertainment.

Category: Arts and Culture
Uniform subject(s): Economic systems and theories
Story type(s): Column
Edition: Final
Length: Medium, 629 words

) 2003 The Record (Waterloo Region). All rights reserved.

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