Degrassi girl back home for play People
For five years after the wildly popular Degrassi series ended in 1991, Stacie Mistysyn found herself in a career funk.
Since 1980, Mistysyn had been part of the Degrassi family, starting out as a 10-year-old on The Kids of Degrassi Street as Lisa Canard and then moving on to Degrassi Junior High in 1987 and Degrassi High in 1989, where she played the popular role of Caitlin Ryan for four years.
“From 1991 to 1996 I was sabotaging my career,” Mistysyn told The Mirror/Guardian in an interview Wednesday at Dentonia Park, not far from her mother’s home in the Victoria Park and Danforth avenues area in East York. “I wasn’t enthusiastic about anything. I was tired of it all.”
So in 1996, Mistysyn packed her bags from her upper Beach home and moved to Los Angeles, where she was born, to pursue acting.
“I was born in the States and I had been curious to go out there,” the 34-year-old said, adding she has dual American and Canadian citizenship but considers herself the latter. “In L.A. nobody knew me and I didn’t have anything to prove. I could start over. I had friends out there so I lived with them and shared the rent.”
Her first gig in Los Angeles was less than glamorous; she waited tables to pay her rent.
“I had blown anything I made on Degrassi, and they didn’t pay us much, on friends and rent,” Mistysyn said. “I was lucky that I eventually got an agent and over the years I have been able to support myself. I went through a period where I was still deciding what I wanted to do. ‘Caitlin’ was hanging over my head for awhile.”
One of those decisions was putting post-secondary education on hold to concentrate on her acting career.
“I was accepted to Ryerson (University) for broadcast arts,” she said. “But I turned it down.”
Mistysyn’s career picked up after Degrassi ended and she appeared in several low-budget movies, including Princes in Exile, Seven Days and Jersey Guy.
She even picked up a Gemini Award in 1989 for best performance by an actress in a leading role for her portrayal of Caitlin in the Degrassi series.
And 10 years after fans said goodbye to the Degrassi crew with the release of the made-for-TV movie School’s Out in 1991, Mistysyn reprised her role of Caitlin in 2001 with the launch of Degrassi: The Next Generation, which recently won the 2005 Teen Choice Award for best summer series.
“I got a call one day saying ‘Would you be interested in the idea of…’,” she said, adding she has a recurring role and is not a regular on the new series. “I had no qualms about doing that (appearing on the show). It all depended on the script and if people wanted to see a reunion. It’s exciting to come back all grown up. I’m amazed at how long this has been going on.”
If Mistysyn had any doubt of the popularity of the show, those thoughts were quashed during the 25th anniversary celebration Aug. 29 at the CNE, when a sea of screaming fans lined up for a chance to catch a glimpse of the cast of The Next Generation and the original Degrassi cast, including Mistysyn, Pat Mastroianni, Stefan Brogren and Amanda Stepto.
“At least 2,000 people showed up,” she said. “The show (Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High) was slightly cheesy, but it became a cult classic. It was real. They (writers) got ideas from us and it was ahead of its time as far as content. It wasn’t afraid to tackle big subjects. We had acne, there was no makeup, we had cheesy wardrobe. The good thing about the new show is that it tackles the same issues, but with modern twists to them, like Internet dating.”
The news of Mistysyn’s return to Degrassi got the blood pumping for at least one of her fans.
Kevin Smith, who has written and directed cult classics such as Clerks, Mallrats, Chasing Amy and Dogma, has never kept his love for Degrassi, and, more importantly, Mistysyn, a secret.
Smith became hooked on the series years ago during his days as a convenience store clerk in New Jersey, when he and Jason Mewes, who plays Jay in five of his movies, would watch Degrassi Sunday mornings while minding the store.
“I’ve known Kevin for awhile,” Mistysyn said. “He has always let it be known that he’s a huge Degrassi fan. He wanted me to be in Mallrats, but they went with Shannen Doherty instead and made her wear a Degrassi jacket.”
Last winter, Smith got to fulfil his dream of appearing on the show and guest starred along with Mewes for three episodes.
And, of course, Smith just happened to have several scenes with Mistysyn, including a lip lock.
“The kiss was cool; it was fun,” Mistysyn said. “Who doesn’t want a guy who really likes you to kiss you?”
Plus, she adds, “He’s a good kisser.”
When she’s not working in Toronto, Mistysyn can be found in Los Angeles, working on a children’s book and teen fiction novel she’s penning.
“I love kids,” she said, adding her seven-year-old nephew, Kyle, inspired her to write a children’s story. “I had a very difficult time as a teenager, going through the elements of divorce. I know some girls who are going through a hard time and I would love to share my experiences.”
When Mistysyn was 17, her parents divorced after 25 years of marriage, something that deeply affected her emotionally for years.
“I didn’t handle it well,” she said. “I felt the brunt of the stress they were going through. I moved out at 17. I definitely wish I had someone I could talk to at that time. I kept everything bottled in and it was a very lonely period. I started showing up late for work and I went through a big phase where I didn’t want to act.”
With the past behind her, Mistysyn is currently concentrating on her upcoming performance in Arthur Schnitzler’s play The Affairs of Anatol, which opens Sept. 17 at the Artword Theatre, 75 Portland St., and runs until Oct. 8.
The Affairs of Anatol stars John O’Callaghan as the rich and neurotic playboy Anatol, searching for a perfect love, who serially seduces a bevy of seven strong women: Mistysyn, Marie Beath Badian, Kim Kuhteubl, Lindsay McMahon, Tara Samuel, Darlene Spencer and Kathryn Winslow.
Although The Affairs of Anatol will be Mistysyn’s Canadian theatre debut, she isn’t a stranger to the stage, having performed in Steve Martin’s play Picasso at the Lapin Agile at the Theatre Palisades in California in the spring.
“It’s hilarious,” Mistysyn said of The Affairs of Anatol. “It’s written so brilliantly. He (Anatol) is sexist, hypocritical and neurotic. There are seven different women and seven different relationships so there is something that appeals to everyone. I’m fairly new to the theatre world and I love doing it. It’s such a rush and you get immediate feedback.”
Mistysyn will head back to California in mid-October and is keeping her career options open, she said.
“I’m open to doing theatre,” she said. “I need to be doing creative things. Now I’m letting it be known I’m out here and my goal is to spend more time in Toronto and I’m looking for a place here. I want to write and produce my own film and since people know who I am, maybe they’ll take it a bit more seriously. I’m fairly anonymous in Toronto and every now and then people will turn their heads or say ‘Hey aren’t you that girl on that show?’. That’s the good thing about Toronto.”
The Affairs of Anatol will run Tuesdays to Saturdays at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets cost $31 or $16 on Sundays.
Call 416-923-4183 for tickets and information.