'Degrassi' heads to Hollywood as gang seeks fame and fortune onscreen and off

By Cassandra Szklarski (CP) Aug 27, 2009

TORONTO The bright lights of Hollywood lure the “Degrassi” kids to California in their first-ever TV movie airing this weekend, with celebrity friends including Pete Wentz, Vivica A. Fox, Kevin Smith and Perez Hilton among those helping Paige, Manny and the gang find fame and fortune in tinseltown.

The teen romp revolves around a tongue-in-cheek spoof of “High School Musical,” but despite its light-hearted fantasy elements, star Lauren Collins admitted the tale may hint at her own real-life career ambitions, which include a possible move to Los Angeles.

“I’ve never really spent an extended amount of time there but I think that’s something that’s in the cards for me,” said Collins, whose character, Paige Michalchuk, wrapped up her “Degrassi” storyline last year.

“Within the next year or so I’ll be doing that.”

Last time fans saw Paige, the snotty character landed a job working in fashion in Toronto.

In “Paradise City: Degrassi Goes Hollywood,” Paige has moved to L.A. to pursue her dream of working as a stylist, but instead finds herself slaving as a lowly assistant to a D-list reality star.

Collins, who turns 23 this weekend, said she’s eager to pursue new opportunities as her chapter with the “Degrassi” franchise comes to an end.

“Now that ‘Degrassi’ has finished up for me I kind of have been able to step back and look at everything that I’ve done in the past 10 years with the show, and 13 years acting, and I’m like: ‘OK, what have I missed out on because of that?”‘ said Collins, whose TV character has survived date rape and an HIV scare and experimented with a brief lesbian fling over the years.

“I went to Europe, which is something I’d put off for a long time, I just got back about a month ago … but I think, you know, as far as career-wise, I definitely want to keep acting and I think that’s why L.A. is probably the next logical step.”

In “Degrassi Goes Hollywood,” Collins gets to stretch her performance skills to the max as Paige lucks into a starring role in a “High School Musical”-style film directed by “Jay and Silent Bob” actor Jason Mewes.

Thrust into the spotlight, Paige bluffs her way through the song-and-dance role while struggling with a newfound celebrity lifestyle. Meanwhile back home, Manny (Cassie Steele), Jay (Mike Lobel) and the “Degrassi” gang decide to drive to L.A. to try to score parts in the movie, too.

Featuring musical performances by Collins, Steele and Jake Epstein as Craig, the film is a marked departure from the weighty tone that’s typical of the series. Director Stefan Brogren, known to longtime fans as “Snake” on “Degrassi Junior High,” calls it a refreshing change of pace.

“We sort of consider it our ‘Degrassi’ fairy tale,” Brogren said.

“It was an opportunity to bring back some older characters that we haven’t seen in a while, and mix them with some of our younger characters that sort of exist on the show now. It’s really about the power of celebrity and how it can be used for good or evil, basically.”

“This was sort of, in a lot of ways, the final chapter for some of them,” he added.

The past couple of years have seen several “Degrassi” alum move on to a wide range of big-time triumphs: Aubrey Graham, who played Jimmy Brooks, is storming the rap scene with his alter ego Drake; Nina Dobrev, who played Mia Jones, stars in the new CTV/CW series “The Vampire Diaries;” Shenae Grimes, who played Darcy Edwards, is heading into her second season on “90210;” while Epstein is touring North America as the lead in the stage musical “Spring Awakening.”

Brogren said he too is looking to a possible career beyond “Degrassi” as a feature film director.

But for now, he said he’s excited about the new season, when he’ll be directing six episodes. Upcoming storylines include the football jock Riley, who will continue to question his sexuality, a dangerous meth addiction that takes over another character, and an unhealthy relationship that develops between a student and their older mentor. “Paradise City: Degrassi Goes Hollywood” airs Sunday on CTV.

Copyright 2009 The Canadian Press. All rights reserved.

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