Stacey Farber is 16, rapidly approaching 17 (her birthday is August 25), but is as articulate as someone twice her age. Her character on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Ellie Nash, has been through the ups and downs of a typical teenager on a television drama. Her first crush turned out to be gay, her mother is a drunk, her father is in the armed services and is rarely home, she cuts herself to ease the pain, and she’s navigating the waters of a new relationship with the show’s troubled bad boy. Oh, and she still has time for playing in a band and an internship at the local TV station.
I spoke with Stacey on the phone on her last day of grade 11, and learned that she doesn’t let much scare her. She’s also genuinely thrilled to be playing Ellie, is excited to see Ellie in a good relationship with Sean, and has a thing for The OC‘s Seth Cohen. (Who doesn’t?)
And, in the proud tradition of PopGurls interviews with Degrassi cast members, she had a cold. “It must be a Canadian thing,” she told me.
Let’s just jump right into it. Ellie is the girl on the fringe of her social circle. In real life, where do you fit in? Are you a leader? A follower?
I’m a little bit of both. I lead sometimes, and sometimes it’s nice to just follow – not into doing bad things, of course – but sometimes it’s nice to just sit back. I don’t think anyone in my group is really a leader or a follower, fully. If I have any position in my social group, I would say that I am the entertainer. Maybe it’s because I’m the actor, that probably has something to do with it. I’m not the class clown, but I’m usually the one making my friends laugh and making sure that they’re having fun.
Fans assume that their favorite actors are always confident and ready to face any situation. Is this true of you?
No! (laughs) I definitely get nervous about things all the time. I’m human.
Is there someone you’d be nervous or even afraid to meet?
I’d probably get nervous – I know this sounds kind of funny, because people think of me as being a celebrity, I guess – but I’d probably get flustered if I were to meet someone really famous. I don’t know why. It’s weird, when I meet fans, because they get all excited and don’t know what to say, and I’m just me. I don’t think I’m anything to get that excited about. It’s weird the way that it happens, but it would definitely happen to me, too, if I were to meet someone famous.
Is there anyone in particular that you would just be terrified to meet?
I’m a fan of Julia Roberts, so that would be really exciting. I’d probably, like, get into it once I met her, then I’d be more comfortable. But the initial introduction would probably be a little scary.
Do you think that you’re more left brained – logical, detail-oriented, or right brained – creative, always looking at the big picture?
In terms of school, I’m a pretty well-rounded student. Next year I’m actually taking calculus, biology and computers. But I’m more of a right-brained person. I love the arts. I went to a school for the arts when I was younger, so I dance, I act, I’ve been taking visual arts – drawing and painting – all through high school. I’m definitely into the creative stuff, and I don’t know what I want to be when I grow up, but right now I’m leaning toward the creative side of things…the more artsy stuff.
Just to switch gears for a second, I read that you’re a fan of The OC. Which boy on The OC is your cup of tea?
Oh! Good question! This one is tough. They all have their good and bad qualities, but I think I’d have to side with Seth.
You and every other woman I know.
I know! I hate to say it, because I don’t want to be the follower, but there’s just something about him. I’m a huge fan of laughing, and I’m totally into guys who are funny. Not obnoxious, but guys who try to get people to smile. Seth just does it every time, every episode. He just has some great lines. And [Adam Brody] is so cute.
You had a small role in the movie Narc…
A very small role, yeah. (laughs)
That was a very violent movie. Do you like those types of films or do they give you nightmares?
I like scary movies, and while that one wasn’t really a horror movie, it was scary nonetheless. I don’t get scared by much, actually. I love movies, all types of movies, and it was just fun being a part of that.
Is there something about you that people are always surprised to learn?
Fans are usually surprised to learn that I don’t dress like my character on the show. That’s usually the first question that I’m asked. I love Ellie’s style and I love playing the punk rocker, but I don’t dress like her in real life. I’m more casual.
Let’s get into the show a little bit. When you auditioned for The Next Generation, had you been a fan of the original series?
I had seen the show a couple of times. I had friends who were fans of the show, so they were all really excited when they heard I had an audition for The Next Generation. But I hadn’t really been addicted to the show or anything.
What was the audition process like? Did you perform a scene that made it into the show?
Originally, I should say, I went in for the role of Kendra Mason, Spinner’s adopted sister. And I messed up. Horribly. I mean, I totally messed up my lines. But I continued with the audition, and at the end they said, ‘You know, that was great, we don’t think this is the character for you, but we’re working on another character, do you think you could read for that?’ They called me in a couple of weeks, and they had written the character of Ellie, so that’s how I eventually got to read for that role.
The audition scene that I did – well, there’s a screen test, after you’ve had a callback, and that’s the final audition, where they narrow it down to, like, three people – the audition scene that I did was in one of the episodes. It’s the one where Paige asks Ellie to move out of her seat. It was the first episode for Ellie, in the second season. I read with Lauren Collins [who plays Paige] for the screen test.
Is Ellie the Degrassi character that you would want to portray, if you had the choice to be any female lead on the show?
I am thrilled that I am playing the role of Ellie. I think all the characters are great characters, they all have their own storylines, so it’s fun no matter who you play. But I like being able to go to the set every day and dress up, and I get to pretend that I’m someone pretty different in some ways from how I am in real life. Ellie’s the one female lead – well, they’re all different – but Ellie’s the one who is noticeably different from the others, both physically in the way she dresses and in the way she acts. It’s fun playing the different character from the rest.
Degrassi does such a great job of showing teenagers as they really are, and because of that, the show itself is a role model of sorts for many kids. Do you feel that pressure, as an actor on the show, to be a role model for others in your generation?
I definitely do feel pressures at times, but there’s only so much I can do as an actor, because I’m given a script and I have to basically act out whatever is written. So, I try to do the best that I can in making it seem realistic and natural, but the writing department does a great job when they’re writing the scripts.
I had a parent come up to me a few weeks ago and thank me for what I’ve given to his daughter, for showing his daughter about different teen issues, and showing her how to deal with them – what it’s like going through high school. That was very touching.
Is there an important stereotype of student that you feel Degrassi is missing? I mean, you’ve got the smart one, the snobby one, the athletic one…
I think the show has covered pretty much every group, every type of person. People always laugh because – it’s like The OC, like any television drama – every character has a problem, and there are plenty of people in life who don’t. You know, everyone has issues, but not as serious as the characters on the show. So maybe they’re missing the type of people who don’t have any problems.
The normal people, you mean?
But that wouldn’t exactly make it an interesting show. (laughs)
Are you ever surprised by the seriousness of the issues that they cover on the show?
I’m not surprised. Everything they’ve shown on the show happens in real life, people experience those things every day. I’m actually glad that the show covers more controversial issues, so that kids get a chance to learn from the show.
What kind of research did you do for Ellie’s cutting episodes?
The director of the episode sent me a tape. It was a kind of documentary-ish film on cutting, how – unfortunately – popular and common it is in some places. I watched that, and I learned a lot about it before I went in to film the episode.
In the last couple of days, a news story broke about a Canadian school where students were cutting themselves after watching the Degrassi episode “Whisper To A Scream.” When those things happen, do the producers sit down and talk with you about it?
They did, yeah. This is the first time I had ever heard about anything like this happening, because usually we get such positive feedback. I’ve gotten tons of fan mail where kids are thanking me for what I’ve done, or thanking the writers for writing an episode about [cutting].
We were all really upset to hear about that. It was really unfortunate. We did sit down and discuss it, and talked about how I can’t really blame myself for anything that happened, because I was just doing my job. It’s so sad, and I was so upset to hear about it. I guess [the episode] was just taken the wrong way.
When you were cast in the role of Ellie, did you know that the character Marco would turn out to be gay?
No. When I was cast as Ellie there was very little to know about her. I just knew she was the punk rocker, gothic girl, and that’s all they told me.
Was it a surprise when you learned that they were going to go in that direction with Marco’s character, given Ellie’s relationship with him?
Yeah, I was surprised! We have read-throughs where a bunch of the cast and writers sit down and read through the episodes before they’re filmed. But until we have that read-though, the writers and producers keep the storylines secret from us, so that they can get our initial reactions when we read the scripts and we can give feedback. Every time we have read-throughs, the storylines are always surprising and they usually shock us. It’s a good system. We’re eager to learn what’s going to happen to our characters, and they get to have feedback from real kids about the storylines.
When you learned that Ellie was going to be in a relationship with Sean, did you think that was a natural progression for her character?
I thought it made sense, for sure. Sean and Ellie are two of the characters who aren’t so concerned with popularity. They both have their share of problems, and it’s nice to see that Ellie ends up with Sean, and has someone she can love and trust.
Did you have any concerns at all, about how fans would react to the relationship? Sean and Emma were a very popular couple.
You never know how fans are gonna react. We actually had a screening of the show last week in [the United States], and Miriam (McDonald, who plays Emma) got to go to Texas and Atlanta, so we got to see how the kids react to all the different storylines and exciting things that happen in the episodes. They loved the episodes, they were just thrilled to be seeing them.
I didn’t see them upset that Sean and Emma had broken up. They seemed to just forget about it. I think a lot of them read online, and get spoilers about what’s going to happen, so they all knew going into the screening that Sean and Ellie end up together. It kind of ruins it, but…
What is one thing that you would really like to have happen to Ellie?
Well, we’re currently filming season four. I can’t say anything that happens on the show, of course, but they’re continuing Ellie’s storylines from last season. If I could see anything happen, obviously I would like to see her overcome the issue with cutting. But, I don’t know.
Maybe it would be nice if Ellie were single for a while. (laughs) When I joined the cast in season two, almost immediately Ellie and Marco were together, and then for the rest of the season and the first part of season three, Ellie and Marco were pretending to be together. Then Ellie ended up with Sean. So there wasn’t really a time when she has been able to be independent and single.
The Ashley/Craig/Manny triangle took up a huge chunk of the last season. Ellie is Ashley’s best friend, but who do you think Craig should end up with?
Of Manny and Ashley? I’d have to say Ashley! Manny is the one who started the whole triangle, and Ashley is probably the most deserving. She didn’t do anything wrong, she didn’t deserve to have Craig cheat on her with Manny.
Do you have plans to stick with the character until Ellie graduates? Do you plan to stay on Degrassi for a while?
I’d love to go as far as the writers take it. No one really knows what’s going to happen when the characters graduate. Right now we’re filming the season where the characters are in grade 11, so there’s one more year. No one knows what will happen, but I’m willing to take it as far as they are willing to let me.
How much high school do you have left?
I’m in grade 11. Well, actually, I finished classes today!
Thank you! I mean, I still have exams next week, but I’m otherwise through.
What are your plans after school?
I have no clue.
When is it typical for Canadians to start applying for university?
It’s definitely later than the States, because we don’t have to write the SATs. We start sending in applications probably in December.
So you have some time to think about it.
Yeah, it’s soon, but not immediately.
Is there a school that you’d like to go to?
I’m not really sure. I think I’ll just apply to a bunch. I don’t really know what I’d like to go into, probably just a general arts program until I figure things out. I have a lot of time to decide, and I’m going to take that time. (laughs)
Do you think you’ll stay in Canada, or do you have any interest in attending school in the States?
I wrote the SATs, actually, this spring. I did fine, I was satisfied with my results, but I realized that there’s no point in – well, first of all, it’s so expensive for Canadians to go to the States, because of the dollar value – and it doesn’t make any sense for me, since I don’t know what I want to go into or what I want to be. I could see, maybe, after the first year of university, if I found a program in the States that I really wanted to apply to, I’d definitely do it. But until then, until I figure out what to do, I think it’s best to just stay in Canada.
As an actor, what was it like to go to those screenings in a different country, and see all those fans?
It was a thrill. It was amazing. I don’t feel like I’m a celebrity, I don’t feel like I’m a star, but when I got there, I was treated like one, 100 percent. Fans were going crazy taking pictures, and we had question-and-answer periods, and I went around in a limo…It was just really crazy, and I felt, I guess, unworthy of all the attention I was getting.
Is it different for you, in Canada?
It is different. Surprisingly. Degrassi seems a lot bigger in the States. Maybe it’s just because we haven’t had screenings like that in Canada yet. This was our first chance to see the fans from the U.S. It was just weird, seeing how excited everyone got.
I just have one more question, and you can feel free not to answer it if you’re uncomfortable.
Okay, I will! (laughs)
Degrassi episodes are often edited from the original before they are aired in the U.S. In fact, there are rumors that U.S. viewers won’t be able to see either of the “Accidents Will Happen” episodes – although we certainly haven’t gotten confirmation of that. As a teenager yourself, do you feel that your peers are capable of handling that type of information, about topics like abortion, in a format like Degrassi?
I think my peers are capable of handling it. But I can’t speak for everyone, and I think it depends on the age group. I know the [typical age] of our viewers in Canada is a lot older than what you get in the States. Most people who watch the show in Canada are, I think, women between the ages of 18 and 34. And I know that in the States it’s a lot younger than that, there are a lot more 12- and 14-year-old girls watching the show there. I think it probably has a lot to do with the age group, and how much they want to show younger viewers. I think you have to respect that.
Thank you so much for being candid, and taking the time out to talk to me.
No, thank you. It’s been great.
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