Degrassi girl and role a dream come true for U.S. filmmaker Kevin Smith a fan from his clerk years

Degrassi girl and role a dream come true for U.S. filmmaker
Kevin Smith a fan from his clerk years

Parlayed his fame into a short-term part
PETER HOWELL
MOVIE CRITIC

After more than 10 years of unrequited lust, the Yankee Clerks dude finally got a hug from his Canuck Degrassi dream girl.

New Jersey filmmaker Kevin Smith, the manic force behind the cult movie hits Clerks, Mallrats and Dogma, came to Toronto yesterday to scratch a top item off his lifetime to-do list: meeting Stacie Mistysyn, who played hottie Caitlin Ryan in the Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High TV series.

The two embraced for the cameras as Smith told a news conference of an even greater fulfilled ambition: He’ll appear in three upcoming episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation, the latest successful spin-off of the teen soap opera co-creator Linda Schuyler launched in 1980. Filming of his sequences continues into November.

For Smith, 34, it really is a dream come true.
He has been watching Degrassi and lusting after schoolgirl Caitlin since his early 20s, when he was a convenience-store clerk in Leonardo, N.J.

He’d view back-to-back episodes of the show on PBS Sunday mornings while manning the cash register a job that inspired his debut film Clerks in 1994 and a high-profile career since then as a director, screenwriter, actor and producer.

Smith’s obsession with Degrassi is so strong, he once wrote a tribute to the show in Details magazine.

Beginning with Clerks, he has sneaked references about the Canuck series into several of his movies.

Dressed in his trademark trenchcoat, baggy jean shorts and sockless sneakers, he joked with Schuyler that once his Degrassi “arc” is filmed, he doesn’t care if his flight home crashes.

“This would be my legacy: just to die shortly after shooting an arc on Degrassi: The Next Generation. Fantastic!”
Smith plays himself and his mute film character Silent Bob. Jason Mewes, his friend and frequent co-star, will join him. They’ll pretend they’ve come here to film a Canadian sequel to Jay And Silent Bob Strikes Back, a road comedy Smith released in 2001. The sequel would be called Jay And Silent Bob Go Canadian, Eh?

Smith said he might one day actually make the movie for real.
This is no small commitment on Smith’s part.
He also hopes to rope in actor Ben Affleck, whose career he launched. The director joked that he might now be able to save Affleck’s career, which has been dogged by a string of box-office bombs including Smith’s recent Jersey Girl, the source of much self-deprecating mirth yesterday.

“I want Affleck to show up,” Smith told reporters at Toronto’s Epitome Pictures, where Degrassi is filmed.

“So we’re going to try to get Ben to do a little cameo, too. Because we’re making a movie within the movie, so we want to make the movie as realistic as possible. And Affleck could honestly use the work right now. There’s no better way to reboot your career than starring on a Canadian melodrama.”

There may be some truth to the last joke. Degrassi may indeed be a “Canadian melodrama,” but it has started to catch fire in the U.S. It was the subject of a recent Entertainment Weekly article, a copy of which Smith happened to have with him.

“There’s so much coverage (in the U.S.) … Which is really great. It makes me feel smart because I’ve been talking about Degrassi since about 1994. Now people know, so I feel like I had my finger on the pulse. I just wish I had invested.”

Besides meeting his heart-throb Stacie Mistysyn, Smith also met and posed for pictures with her fellow “classic Degrassi” cast member Amanda Stepto, who played Christine (Spike) Nelson in both of the earlier series. Mistysyn and Stepto are also regulars on The Next Generation, playing grownup versions of their earlier characters.

Smith posed with the 12 younger cast members of The Next Generation, praising them as “insanely good actors” he’d like to steal for his films.

Smith’s enthusiasm was mixed with obvious awe that at 34, almost a full generation older than the cast of The Next Generation, he has found a way to get involved. The show’s strict rule about having 100 per cent Canadian actors is being relaxed for his three-episode stint.

He had originally hoped to join the show in 2001, when the first season of The Next Generation aired (it’s out on DVD this week), but he couldn’t get his filmmaking schedule to work with Degrassi’s. He joked about his negotiations with co-creator Schuyler. “I said, can you find a way for me to interact with kids that’s not real creepy? And thankfully, we kind of found that way.”

No plot details were revealed, but Smith hinted it involves his lust for Caitlin. “I believe she pursues me like I said, it’s a family show.”

Schuyler presented Smith with a “classic” purple-and-blue Degrassi cardigan, which he vowed to wear constantly.
Smith later admitted he feels slightly sheepish about using his fame as a filmmaker to indulge his fascination for a TV series. But it was too good to pass up.

“If I didn’t make movies, I wouldn’t be here right now. I guess it’s a little opportunistic to be like, `Want me to be on your show, just because I do other things?’ But I would be stupid not to do it. This is all stuff I was interested in before I became a filmmaker. I would hate to get to the end of my life and go, `Why didn’t I do that? Man, it would have been great to be on Degrassi!'”

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