Interview: Lauren Collins Returns to Degrassi

(andPOP) – Lauren Collins has been saying for years that she’s not like her snobby, mean, sexually-confused character that she plays on “Degrassi: The Next Generation.”

But just as the fictional Paige Michalchuk has started university, so has Collins, who is taking courses in Toronto while she films the sixth season of “Degrassi,” which debuted last week on CTV.

“I’ve been kind of casual about it but now all of a sudden it’s midterms and I have all this stuff due and I’m getting a little stressed,” says Collins. “But I remember this feeling.”

It’s a feeling Collins hasn’t sensed for three years, the last time she was a student in a real school. While filming “Degrassi,” she had to take high school courses, but all of the actors had tutors come to the set.

Now she’s a genuine student again, making the commute from her home in Thornhill to downtown Toronto. Being a student with a part-time job is difficult enough; imagine trying to juggle university with acting on one of the most successful Canadian television shows.

With a midterm coming up this week, Collins says the producers have been very supportive of her studies. One of the show’s creators, Linda Schuyler, was a teacher before she started the Degrassi franchise in 1987. School, therefore, comes before the show.

“I think I was supposed to be filming (on the day of the midterm) and it was as easy as me saying, ‘guys I need to be there,’ and they said, ‘ok, we’ll make changes,’ so it worked out,” Collins says.

It was not even a year ago when Collins didn’t know if she’d have a schedule to juggle. Several of the characters in “Degrassi” were graduating from high school. If the show were to continue, wouldn’t it be following the characters still in high school, not the ones off to university?

“I was thinking,” Collins says, “once I’m not going to Degrassi anymore, how is this going to make sense? Are we all going to come back like Screech in ‘Saved by the Bell’ and be student teachers?”

Filming the final episode of last season was strange, she recalls, because it seemed like something was coming to an end. She wasn’t sure if she would be back, or even if the show would return. But she didn’t hesitate to sign back on, once she was told that the series would continue to follow her character as well as Craig (Jake Epstein), Ellie (Stacey Farber) and Marco (Adamo Ruggiero) post-high school.

And she plans to stick around “as long as it makes sense for Paige to be there and as long as they want me to be around.”

But it’s not like Collins’ acting career will end once the show does. In fact, “Degrassi” is just one credit on her long and growing resume. Collins has appeared in episodes of “Life with Derek,” “Radio Free Roscoe,” and “Angela’s Eyes,” and no role has been bigger than appearing opposite Antonio Banderas in the feature film, “Take the Lead.” Next year, she will be seen in another big screen film, “Charlie Bartlett.”

Though she acted for several years before she joined the cast of “Degrassi,” Collins says that role has done wonders for her career.

“I heard a producer’s kid knew one of us from ‘Degrassi’ and that helped get somebody a role,” she says. “I think it’s put us on the radar and hopefully it will keep doing that because I definitely was to keep working.”

Because the show is so well known, Collins may be facing the aren’t-you-from-Degrassi syndrome for years to come, and this is something she realizes. One of her favourite actresses is Jennifer Aniston, and as Collins points out, it’s hard to see Aniston in a movie and not think of Rachel Greene.

“There is that fear with anyone who has done a sitcom,” Collins says. “But I am still young and hopefully people will give me opportunities. I think it would be important to do something completely different than ‘Degrassi’ once the show finishes, like die my hair black and play Goth or something like that. That would probably help.”

Degrassi airs Tuesdays at 8:30 p.m. on CTV.

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