Life imitates Degrassi

JEN GERSON

Degrassi is all grown up.

Back-to-back episodes of Degrassi: The Next Generation will kick off the sixth season tonight at 8 on CTV, and, to mark the occasion, I.D.’s Jen Gerson invited three cast members and a pair of university students to a round table discussion. They met on the show’s new University House set at a North York studio.

Amid bedsheet curtains, mismatched plaid retro couches and a home that looked if not smelled like university squalor, they sat down to talk about being grownups. Sorta.

Ryerson University students Caitlin Jones and Danielle Gesualdo, both 18, have been devout Degrassi followers for four years. Growing up in Pickering, the friends, who had a Degrassi-like posse of their own, related to the trials and tribulations of the cast members on their TV screens.

They were joined last week by actors Adamo Ruggiero, 20, who plays Marco, Lauren Collins, 20, who portrays Paige and Deanna Casaluce, 20, who plays Alex.

These graduates of Degrassi Community School are juggling real-life part-time university studies with busy acting schedules. (Ruggiero is at York, Collins at U of T and Casaluce at Guelph.) They talk about missing their friends, partying too much (or too little) and about what it would be like to be normal university students.

Jen Gerson: So, you guys have made the transition into a more adult show and Caitlin, Danielle you two have made the move into real-life university. I’m just going to go around, what’s it been like to make that transition?

Lauren: It’s kind of funny because my character Paige is starting university this year, and I, Lauren, am starting university this year. So it’s been kind of cool doing both at the same time.

As far as the show goes, it’s opening up tonnes of new doors for us with the types of storylines we’re tackling. We can push the envelope a little bit more because our audience is growing up with us.

Jen: And you yourself have made the transition into university. What’s that been like?

Lauren: It’s a little weird, my first day around campus. I felt pretty cool. I had my new school bag and the new notebook.

Adamo: You so went back-to-school shopping, didn’t you?

Lauren: Oh, I so went back-to-school shopping. I planned my outfit. It was exciting but it was also scary because all of a sudden you’re one person out of thousands. It was a little overwhelming.

Adamo: My character is just starting off university right now … and Marco is experiencing this whole form of independence. He’s moving out, he’s living on his own and he’s had this whole university experience.

A lot of my friends left to go to university and they’re living in residence and through them I’m kind of experiencing how it is. You’re not in high school any more and you’re not with your friends moving from grade to grade. You’re not even in your house. You are completely somewhere different and the future is just yours.

I’m kind of doing that in my own life, but mostly I’m getting to live it through Marco. I get to see what that whole university experience is like.

Commuting: putting a damper on debauchery.

Jen: What’s non-TV university been like?

Danielle: We’re both still living at home in Pickering so I have to commute every day. So every day we take the train.

Lauren: That’s a long commute if you’ve got morning classes.

Danielle: Yeah, we take the train for, like, 50 minutes and then we have to take the subway.

Adamo: Whoa.

Danielle: In the beginning, I didn’t really like the university scene but I’m beginning to like it a bit more. It’s a big difference from high school obviously. We had a pretty close group in high school and then when you go to university …

Caitlin: It’s hard because all your friends move away and you’re stuck at home and have nothing to do.

Danielle: And everybody’s talking about getting drunk on a Tuesday and all we can think of is that we have to get up so early to take the train to commute.

Caitlin: And it’s hard to make friends at school because the people in residence kind of shun us.

Adamo: It’s okay. I go to York and it’s the same thing.

Lauren: Well, ’cause York’s such a commuter school.

Adamo: It is, but I’m doing a film, fine arts thing. So the kids are in residence and they’re very involved because they’re in school all the time, right? Doing after-school stuff. So I’m very out of the clique.

Danielle: Yeah, that’s how it was in the beginning. Then we sought out other commuters.

Jen: Caitlin, what’s it been like for you?

Caitlin: The workload and missing your friends, that’s been hard to deal with.

Jen: You were saying earlier that you didn’t really get into the university scene. Why not?

Danielle: Probably just because living at home changes it so much. All of our friends are running around party, party, party and they’re loving it.

Deanna: Yeah, that makes a huge difference. I go to the University of Guelph and it’s been impossible to make any friends. Especially when you’re in a classroom with 500 people. It’s tough. I never really got into the university lifestyle. I haven’t been into any pubs around Guelph. Nothing.

Danielle: I feel like I’m missing out.

Jen: Do you think there is a university lifestyle?

Lauren: More so in smaller towns. I have tonnes of friends who are at Western and that is the university life. They don’t really see that there’s much else to do there. So they’re all living in houses together and they all go to the same bars.

Adamo: It’s almost like university from the movies. One of my friends was, like, “You have to come down for Halloween.” And I’m, like, “Dude, do I have to dress up?” and he was, like, “Dude, you actually have to, like, dress up.”

And I dressed up and then I realized that if I didn’t dress up, I’d be a loser. They were so into it.

Lauren: Like camp or something.

We’d love to see just one sexual encounter on Degrassi end without an STD, pregnancy, abortion, break-up, broken heart, swarm of locusts, plague or sea of blood.

Jen: There are some pretty mature new storylines in season six. The show is about to get into more adult themes. Is that realistic? Are people that slutty out there?

Adamo: I think it’s pretty symptomatic of our characters growing up.

Lauren: Exactly.

Adamo: As you grow older, it’s not so much the first kiss any more. It’s the first, something else.

Like I said, our characters are becoming so much more independent from each other and from their families. Paige moves away. Marco moves out. I mean, Alex (Deanna’s character, who’s still in high school).

Deanna: I’m isolated at high school now, so none of my friends are around me.

Adamo: So in this form of independence there’s a whole new form of self-discovery.

Deanna: Our characters do grow a lot.

Lauren: And in different ways that you never expected.

Adamo: It’s giving us a lot of challenge. It’s also fun to be shooting in here, where we have scenes where we’re all lounging around.

Deanna: Can we play pretend?

Lauren: Imagine if we lived together.

Deanna: I can’t even imagine what it would be like in a dorm room or having a house.

Adamo: Imagine sharing with somebody.

Lauren: My two best friends were stuck in a dorm room the size of this table. I don’t know how they did it. It’s tough.

Jen: Danielle, your and Caitlin’s understanding of university so far, has it been as party-rific as you’d expect?

Danielle: When we go out to other universities, it’s usually a lot of fun. But I don’t know how they do it every single night.

Lauren: I say that every single time I come back from visiting a friend. How do they live like that?

Caitlin: And I don’t know how they come up with these ideas. I have a friend at Trent and they have a puke chart.

Lauren: That’s amazing.

Caitlin: They actually count the number of times and the winner gets whatever.

Deanna: That’s disgusting. I don’t know if I want to be part of that.

Caitlin: But at the same time, they’re bragging about how great it was. The first weekend that my friend went away, we went up to the university. She talked about how great it was and how much fun she was having, but then when she was leaving she said, “Oh, maybe I’ll just come with you guys and come home for the weekend.” And that was the first weekend.

So I don’t think it’s really as great as they make it seem and I think they kind of play off those things so that they don’t think about how much they miss home and how different things are.

Adamo: A lot of my friends will call me and say, “I need to come home.” I’m from Mississauga and they say, “I need to be in Mississauga tonight. I’m going to come home for the weekend.”

Some of my other friends will say that or they’ll say, “Come visit me, come visit me.”

So I think they do miss it.

Lauren: It’s got to be tiring living that lifestyle, pushing yourself all the time.

Adamo: I don’t know how they focus. Seriously. With puke charts?

Growing up’s, like, hard. Really. Especially the part where you remember to eat.

Jen: So, what about this set? Do you think it reflects the ghetto lifestyle of the student?

Adamo: It’s pretty luxurious.

Lauren: I think we have to say that Marco and Dylan (the other roommate in the show) are pretty lucky. Everyone on the set has been, like, “Man, if my first house were like this.”

But on the other hand, the decor, and the couch that completely doesn’t match anything else in the room. Because that’s what happens.

Adamo: I was on my friend’s couch in London and the leg broke off. And I was, like, “Oh my gosh!” and he was, like, “All right. Operation: We’re going to tip the couch and break off all the legs.”

And just to make everything seem in proportion, he broke the legs off of all his other ghetto couches so they were all on the floor.

Jen: And yet, somehow, they manage the video game consoles and the TV.

Lauren: Oh, yeah. You need those.

Caitlin: Usually you’d get, like, 20 university students living in a house like this.

Deanna: Filming scenes where we’re in this big university house, it makes me realize how different my life would be.

Adamo: It’s intimidating.

Deanna: It would be so different if I were living in Guelph and doing all my classes. It would be a completely different life experience.

Lauren: In these scenes, we’re “making breakfast” and a props person comes down and puts down waffles and orange juice in front of us. If we were living on our own, I don’t think there would be anyone there to do that for us. It’s a huge thing to take on.

That’s why I look at my friends at school and they won’t eat for a day if they are too lazy to go to the grocery store.

Adamo: It’s like when they come over to my house and say, “Yo, dude, do you have food?”

Lauren: If I’m visiting them they say, “Please bring us bagels. Please.”

Jen: So, is there any storyline or plot over the past five seasons that you relate to?

Adamo: I love the episode where Craig decides to go away for his band because I related to it so much. Never had the show paralleled my life so exactly because in that episode we’re all trying to be a part of Craig’s dream. He has a big record deal and he wants us all to be a part of his band.

And suddenly, the manager says, “Dude, actually we really only want you.”

And Craig feels really bad and he has to go tell Marco and Jimmy and Spinner and Ellie and they say to him, “This is you. This is your dream. This isn’t us.”

Marco says he wants to be a social worker. Jimmy wants to draw. And they all have this amazing scene where Craig jumps in the car and he’s gone.

When they shot that episode was exactly when my friends were leaving me. And everybody went away and very few people stayed in Toronto with me and a lot of my high school crew just went off.

High school’s really over and our lives are about to change. I shot that episode and I wanted to cry.

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