Farber back for sixth season of Degrassi

By DAVID SILVERBERG

Special to The CJN

When I first hear Stacey Farber answer one of my questions, I begin to think shes been well media-trained. Or has become mature beyond her years, growing up on a TV set playing Ellie in the popular teen show Degrassi: The Next Generation.

She talks in solid sentences, instead of the usual fast chatter I hear from most 18-year-olds taking the TTC. In hindsight, Im happy I chose working on Degrassi than going to camp four years ago, she says, smoothing her red hair.

And certainly her fans, both in the United States and Canada, are also happy she made that decision. In the four years since her character first appeared on Degrassi, the ever-brooding Ellie has evolved into one of the more likable teen girls on the show.

Although Ellie sported fish-net stockings and Goth-style garb in the first two seasons, she replaced her morose mood with a more practical attitude. It was this transition that intrigued Farber.

I love the change and I love being challenged, she says. When I can put myself in someone elses shoes, thats what I like about being an actor.

Like many of the Degrassi ensemble, her real-life persona varies widely from the character she plays. Ellie is shy and cant make eye contact; Stacey is bubbly and wont break a gaze. Ellie prefers a sharp, sarcastic sense of humour; Stacey will act out sketches and comedy shows with her friends. For fun.

One more big difference: Ellie acts off instinct, while Stacey thinks ahead. Take this wild ride many call show business. Farber is already practical about how her career can change instantly.

Although shes back for the sixth season of Degrassi: The Next Generation (airing in the fall on CTV), Farber will attend a New York City university in September. She already finished her first year at York University, where she took writing for the professional. (How appropriate in season six, her character attends her first year of university and volunteers as a student journalist.)

Acting can be such a risky business, Farber says. Its so crowded and theres so much rejection. I really value my education and getting a degree.

Spoken like a true honours student. Farber excelled in academics at the Claude Watson School for the Arts in Toronto, where she first felt the pull of theatrics. Back then, she would experiment with homemade videos by acting out scenes from The Parent Trap with her sister.

Farber swings her mouth into a smile. I still do that kind of thing with my friends.

When she landed the role as Ellie, Farber didnt know what to expect. She likely wasnt prepared for all the black enveloping her character: black boots, black eyeliner, black personality. Ellie might have swung into darkness, even taking a blade to her wrists in one harrowing episode, but Farber says reality is the shows focus.

And not the reality some other programs peddle. We dont look like supermodels like the kids from The O.C., but were not incredibly homely, either, she says. We pride ourselves on portraying realistic students at a realistic school.

Thats a statement the original Degrassi cast, from 20 years back, would gladly endorse. The writers of the half-hour drama know teen problems and are not afraid of exposing subjects too taboo for family-oriented programming: gay sex, abortions, suicide, life-threatening anorexia and even religious extremism. Being part of such a ground-breaking series is empowering according to CTV, the Canadian viewer average is 759,000 for last season. But it also creates a legion of fans. Screaming teenage fans.

We dont do mall tours anymore, Farber tells me bluntly. I was in L.A. once with another actor, and more than 4,000 kids showed up at this mall appearance we did. Uh, it was kinda dangerous.

There it is. Wait. A glimpse of the teenage Farber, the one who snowboards, goes to Toronto Rock (lacrosse) games with her dad and shops with a smile on her face. Its there beneath the maturity of a child actor, waiting to overflow as it surely does when Farber is with her friends.

But now shes talking to about the grown-up world she finds herself in. Im learning about the business side of acting, she says, like maintaining contacts and even how to do taxes.

The savvy, practical side of Farber is paying off. She enjoyed a minor role in the crime film Narc, a guest appearance in the TV series Doc and will be seen as a prostitute in the upcoming indie film King of Sorrow.

Oy, whats a nice Jewish girl having a gun pointed to her head in a movie? I dont ask this question, but I can tell Farber relishes the challenge, the change of pace.

And no matter what, my family will be supportive, she says. Theyre so excited for me.

Of course. What other mother can say, You can watch my daughter on television, once a week at 8:30 p.m. And you know what, theyre also making graphic novels of these Degrassi actors!

Its all well and good now, but a kid needs variety. When it comes to the future, how would Farber like Ellies university years spent?

Maybe the writers can send her on a trip to Italy, she says, only half-joking. And not just an Italian set. Shooting on location.

Farber has that gleam in her eyes and, once again, the woman becomes the girl.

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