Degrassi actor branches out into movies (CJN)

This season we can be sure Lauren Collins, left, character on Degrassi: The Next Generation will reach new heights. After all, we cant expect less from the creators of the award-winning series, which has been pushing boundaries for seven years.

Collins plays Paige Michalchuk on the hit show that evolved from Degrassi Junior High, a 1980s series about Toronto teens coping with social issues.

Degrassi:The Next Generation, co-created and produced by Epitome Productions Linda Schuyler (one of Degrassi Junior Highs creators), features story lines that include subjects such as abortion, school shootings, drugs and date rape topics rarely covered on shows aimed at teens and tweens.

Many of these issues have touched Collins character, Paige, who was a brash 14-year-old when the series began in 2001.

Paige has certainly gone through a lot, Collins, 21, says. In season one, she started off as a great character, but very two-dimensional she got in the way of everyone elses life and was only thinking about herself. In season two, the rape story line started, and that obviously affected her deeply.

For an actor my age and when I was younger, to have the opportunity to deal with this kind of material is a blessing. Usually, whats available for youth actors is Disney fare. Ive done that and I loved it, but this is acting its really challenging and ground-breaking. It makes waves everywhere, says the versatile actress who puts in 13- to 14-hour days when shes on the set.

While attending Degrassi Community School for eighth and ninth graders, Paige pursued a high school soccer player who raped her at a frat party.

That influenced her right up until season seven now. It changed her. Especially in recent seasons, shes been questioning her sexuality, says the Toronto-born Collins.

Paiges brief same-sex relationship with Alex (Deanna Casaluce) is a first for a teen show on Canadian prime-time television.

Collins has garnered one win and two nominations for the Young Artist Foundations Young Artist Award for best ensemble actor in a TV Series. And she is proud of Degrassis second nomination for a GLAAD (Gay, Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation) Media Award.

Its really important to me because I had a big part in that story line, she says. Paige has been dealing with the relationship with Alex and just growing up in general moving away from home, going to university and coming back shes really come a long way.

Collins says Degrassis writers are open to suggestions to ensure that the series has realistic story lines.

We have a good relationship with our writers. We have a table-read of every script, then talk about it, sometimes for 10 minutes and other times for an hour, getting into a deep discussion about the issue at hand. Theyre open to us sharing personal experiences.

Since theyre adults, sometimes we say, OK guys, no one would really say anything like this, and they listen, Collins says.

Any hint as to whats in store for Paige?

Great things cant really give away too much, but as one relationship comes to an end, another might begin, Collins says.

Since Degrassi: The Next Generations filming wrapped this past December an impressive 24 episodes, it biggest season yet Collins has had time for voice work in animation, and she completed the lead role, opposite Ashley Tisdale of High School Musical fame, in Picture This, directed by Stephen Here, of Bob and Teds Excellent Adventure fame.

I play Mandys [Tisdale] best friend, Alexa. Very different from Paige, shes punky and gothic. I had dark streaks in my hair and wore combat boots, Collins says.

Its very much the Pretty in Pink movie or one of those 80s classics with a new spin to it. Really cute and lots of fun to work on. It may be coming out in the spring.

Collins role as a cheerleader in another flick, Charlie Bartlett, a comedy about a high school hero with Robert Downie Jr. and Hope Davis, is out tomorrow in theatres.

Collins takes fame in stride. Im really thankful to my family, boyfriend, friends if it werent for them, well they keep me in my place. I owe them a lot, she says.

Degrassi: The Next Generation airs on CTVglobalmedia Mondays at 7:30 p.m.

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