An Interview With Daniel Clark

To continue our celebration of Degrassi: The Next Generation’s twentieth anniversary, we interviewed the one and only Daniel Clark AGAIN!

Daniel played everyone’s favorite bad boy with a heart of gold, Sean Cameron, in the show’s first seven seasons. Throughout his time on Degrassi, Daniel turned in a number of strong performances, portraying issues such as poverty, underage drinking, and street racing. While Sean was known to cause occasional trouble on screen, he never ceased to be endearing and remains a fan favorite today.

Other notable TV shows and films from Daniel’s acting career include Juno, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Goosebumps, I Was a Sixth Grade Alien, ER, and Model Behavior. 

In this interview from December 2020, Andrew and Daniel cover topics such as the possible influence Eminem had on Sean, crazy mall tour memories, and whether Daniel would be open to returning for a Degrassi reboot.

Check it out below and stay tuned for more Degrassi interviews on Conventional Relations! Also, be sure to catch Daniel and various other Degrassi alumni at the ATX Festival on June, 11th!

How have you been lately? I know the whole world’s changed quite a bit since our last interview.

I’m doing okay! I’m here in Toronto. We had a great year weather wise and I only bring that up because you know, you try to find things to be grateful for during a time when we can’t all have everything we want. You’ve gotta pick things that you enjoy doing, so we took advantage of the city we live in over the summer. Thankfully, things weren’t too bad so there was some sense of normalcy. 

I was talking to my partner Mandee yesterday and I said, “It feels like we’re at  thirty thousand feet in a jet and we’re cruising, but the engine’s are off.” We don’t know what’s going to happen next, we just know the engine’s aren’t working. It’s not like there’s turbulence or anything. We’re just coasting and we don’t know how long it’s going to take to land. We’re not crashing, we’re coasting. That’s sort of what it’s felt like. Mandee and I were in New York City in mid-March when this all went down and it all just happened kinda overnight. 

Has your work life been affected much?

I’m a business owner. I run a real estate company. My partner runs a candle company and she does custom candles for a ton of clients- you know, real estate agents, weddings, that kind of thing. To answer your question, it’s been a mixed bag. We’ve had to pivot with her company to focus more on the E-commerce component to try and find these customers online in lieu of coming to our brick and mortar store or in lieu of a lot of the events that are just not happening this year. So that’s been a mixed bag, but we’re kind of on the upward swing. The real estate company just kind of went on because everyone still needs houses. 

One silver lining of the pandemic is that I’ve started writing again. I have a really great friend of mine and for the last year or so, we’ve been working on a couple of screenplay projects. One’s a series, one’s a movie. So I will say a silver lining is that a lot of people, myself included, have had the luxury of being a little creative or investing time in things that you otherwise probably wouldn’t have. There are certain opportunities that wouldn’t be here if the world were still spinning the same way. 

Getting into Degrassi, do you remember what your audition process was like for the show?

We went in for an audition and then they’d have this thing called callbacks where you go back in and they take you a little bit more seriously… and you take them more seriously, as if you didn’t the first time [laughs]. You come in more prepared in front of a larger group of people. Usually it’s like a producer and director, along with the casting director. I originally read for Jimmy. I didn’t read for Sean. In fact, if I remember correctly, there wasn’t even a Sean character. If there was, I wasn’t going out for him. It was all Jimmy.

I remember not getting the part and kind of being upset about it. We knew it was going to be this great series and we knew it was going to be about high school and issues we were all going through at that time. It seemed like a cool evolution to start doing shows like that after doing kid’s sci-fi shows. I feel like a week went by or something like that and then my agent called me and they said they wanted me to re-audition for this Sean character who was a little more of a chip on his shoulder, rebel with a good heart type of a character. I think they had me come in and read for a second audition… or they might have actually cast me without auditioning me. I’d have to ask the producers, because I honestly don’t remember. The only thing I remember is being rejected for Jimmy [laughs]. 

Sean was slightly more complex than the other characters in the original Next Generation cast. Is there anything you drew inspiration from when playing him? 

That’s a good question, because as an actor you always try… like I’ve always wondered who I’m emulating when I’m watching movies and stuff, even if it’s something small like a gesture or a way they say something. Don’t you ever say to yourself, “Oh, that’s clever! I like how they did that.” In terms of a whole character and not just little pieces, who would I have modeled Sean after? [pause] I would say Luke Perry in 90210, but he wasn’t really Sean. Was it Eminem? [laughs] I’m trying to think of who I was listening to at that time and what I was paying attention to in culture. 

[Laughs] It seems like Sean had the whole denim vibe going on in the first couple of seasons and then went full Eminem in season three. 

I will say in terms of the character development, they did that deliberately. By they, I mean the writers and the producers. You start off with jean jacket Sean who likes motorcycles, right? Then they’re like, “Well, we’re not sure jean jackets are cool anymore. In fact, we’re pretty confident they haven’t been cool in a couple of decades. Oh crap, we should probably change that.”  Then they’re like, “Also… our insurance company will not insure Sean on a motorcycle.” “But that’s a huge part of the story!” They’re like, “We know. We’ve gotta change this up, it’s a big problem.” 

So they’re like, “Alright… no motorcycles. What’s cool still? What about cars?” I think they knew that on the side I’m a huge car guy. The cool thing about Sean is there were some parts of the character I identified with. My folks aren’t together. My mom kind of raised us on her own for a while there. I’m huge into cars. I can also identify with being out of place because I’m an American who moved to Canada when I was seven or eight years old. My peers never let me hear the end of that when I was younger. 

I spoke to [Degrassi director] Stefan Scaini recently and we discussed the fight scene between Sean and Jimmy. He said something funny about you and Aubrey originally wanting it to feel slicker and karate-esque and he had to step in and make it more unchoreographed. What do you recall about shooting that?

I think he’s right. He had to make the argument to us that fights are supposed to be messy. We were teenagers so we just wanted it to be this big elaborate thing. It was a big moment, right? There was this tension between the characters and it reached a boiling point. I think it’s strange because Aubrey and I got along so well and had such a great time with the episodes we shot in those early seasons. A part of me feels like the producers and writers didn’t like that and they wanted us to be separate. They’re like, “They’re having too good of a time!” [laughs] If you think about it, Jimmy and Sean spent a lot more time together in the earlier seasons than the later ones. 

But with the fight scene, we probably just wanted to look cool. We always wanted to be tough. With guys, especially teenage guys, they always wanna be tough and I think I remember Aubrey and I both very much wanting to convey that. Who doesn’t want that persona, right? Especially when you’re trying to impress people which I think is what you’re doing in high school a lot of times. I remember them putting a pad down and throwing leaves over it for Aubrey when he falls back or something like that and us being upset. Like, “We don’t need that crap!” [laughs]

Television reboots were more uncommon in 2001 compared to now. When working on season one, what were the expectations for how successful The Next Generation was going to be? 

I think from day one, everyone knew how successful it was going to be in Canada. I don’t think anyone had any idea of how well the show would do among American audiences. I really don’t think that became apparent until about season two or season three and that’s when it really started heating up. I know at least in Canada, there was an expectation that it was going to be a great Canadian show, but I don’t think they ever in their wildest dreams could have imagined it would become THE Canadian show. 

There were shoes to fill with Degrassi, but I think they had taken enough time to develop this show and had a pretty clear idea for how they were going to make it work. Also, the old show preceded a lot of the other shows in its genre. Even the US based shows. I think 90210 might have even been inspired by Degrassi.

Many have said that [90210 producer] Aaron Spelling originally tried to buy the rights to Degrassi, but Linda [Schuyler, Degrassi co-creator] declined out of concern that he would make the show feel too Americanized. I’m not sure if she’s ever officially commented on it though.

It’s possible. The series was eventually purchased by DHX which is now WildBrain. It’s a Canadian based production company and they purchased the entire franchise in 2015, but that would have been on the last years of Next Class and I think they had purchased all the back catalogue content from all the old shows. If Spelling had done that, that would have been interesting. I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for that deal. Linda probably made the right call. If you look at his other productions- I’m not saying they weren’t great productions, but you can certainly see how they were more varnished, polished and perhaps a little less authentic than the Degrassi experience Linda created. I think that would have done the show a disservice. I think what gave the show a lot of its authenticity were components that a US producer would have removed, like the acne on my face, or some of us having braces, or us not working out eight times a week when we were fourteen years old. Our wardrobe [laughs]. We were wearing stuff from the Gap and American Eagle. I don’t think any of it was ever sponsored. It was certainly not deliberate in terms of placement. There was never the planning of the show in the way that a lot of the bigger US based shows are produced. So Linda absolutely made the right call if that’s true. I think the show was better for it. 

You did some big mall tours and promotional appearances in the US back in the day. Do you have any favorite memories from those?

I have two. One time in Los Angeles, they had a big signing with some of the cast members. I don’t think I was supposed to be a part of it because I never heard about it. I was in LA at the time and I was with a friend of mine in West Hollywood. I got a call and it was either Miriam or Shane. They were setting up shop at this mall and they said that I should stop by or something casual. We ended up driving there and we didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal. We walked through the front door of the mall and we started noticing there’s a massive crowd – like thousands of people. It was an enormous crowd that we weren’t prepared to see and they were not prepared to see us. I walked in and they freaked out. They started screaming, the place started shaking. We weren’t afraid for our lives or anything, but security got involved because things got a little crazy. 

Another one is when we launched season six, they had a viewing party in Times Square where they let in two or three thousand people. That was a crazy moment because it was the moment Sean came back and it was like a make-or-break where I was worried that it wasn’t going to feel real and authentic and that people weren’t going to believe why he was back. We’re backstage getting ready and I think we’re all dressed up in suits. The episode’s going on and you can hear the crowd’s reactions to the different scenes and you can tell they’re loving it. We’re listening to them get more and more amped up as the episode airs and we start getting excited. It got so loud leading up to the end that the place started physically vibrating… like my clothes were moving. I remember waiting to go on stage and I think it was Shane who grabbed my shoulder and was like, “This is amazing! I can’t believe this!” Then we went out on stage and people went nuts. I think a couple girls in the front row even fainted. One girl definitely vomited and fainted later when she met Aubrey which is crazy because that probably happens now all the time. But to see his reaction that night was really crazy because we were all just kids. That’s the second moment that I really remember. 

Did working on the show feel any different when you returned in season six?

You know, something I did deliberately… We were all very close, the cast. We grew up together and spent a lot of time together, more than even high school peers because our days were longer than days at high school. But I always kind of distanced myself deliberately. I wasn’t what you would call a method actor, but certain components of that I found useful and one of those was isolating myself from other people. In this case, it was the other cast and their characters because Sean was from the other side of the tracks and he wasn’t supposed to belong. I always thought that if I belonged, it would bleed into the scenes and people would tell and it would be harder for me to portray this character who was supposed to have a chip on his shoulder and not belong.

When I came back for season six, there was an even greater void because it felt like I had missed two years of what they had gone through and I had no knowledge of it. I obviously didn’t really watch the show, again deliberately because it added no value to trying to land the character again. I think season six was actually more successful because of that lull. It allowed, in real time, that void to manifest on screen. That’s what it felt like. It felt like coming home, but that home had changed and it changed without you. 

Looking back on Sean’s arc, is there anything you wish the writers had done differently with the character?

I don’t think so. You know, they were more plugged in than I was to the overall thing and I think I respected that. We clashed in a number of ways on the wardrobe, on Sean staying or going. This was a time in my career when I probably wanted to do other projects and I think any person who’s in multiple seasons of a show, they think the same thing. They think, “Is this the only thing I’m ever going to do?” And what a ridiculous thing for a seventeen or eighteen year old to think about. Some actors don’t hit their stride until their forties or fifties. But there was probably some discussion about Sean’s exit from the show and how it would go down. I think that happened in season four and then thereafter in season six and seven. Like, “What do we do from here?”

So there was clashing on the wardrobe, clashing on Sean’s exit from the show. I’m trying to think if there was anything else. You know what I always hated, because I’m terrible at sports? I hated the scenes where Sean played basketball [laughs]. I was like, “Guys, I can’t fake this!” I used to get frustrated at that because I thought that was maybe a less relevant part of his character, but it was an important part of high school and an important part of the other kids. I was like, “This guy cares about motorcycles, this guy cares about cars.” But we had gotten pretty in sync early on with his character… he was supposed to have a good heart and I think that served as our compass for how we were going to develop him through the seasons. He could go through anything, so long as the cardinal rule wasn’t broken that at the end of the day, he’s just trying to do the right thing. 

This next question might be strange. In season three, when Sean started hanging out with Jay and Alex, there was another member of their crew named Towerz who never had any dialogue. There’s this weird internet urban legend that the actor was fired for being late to set. Do you recall working with him? 

Hm… Towerz. You said he never had any dialogue?

Oh! I remember exactly who you’re talking about. I don’t remember him ever being late and I don’t remember him ever not being punctual. I remember thinking it was very strange that he had no dialogue. We couldn’t understand why that was the case. I feel like he was even a love interest for someone. Wasn’t he?

He dated Liberty for like half a season [laughs].

Yes! That’s right! We were like, “What is happening!?” [laughs] I think we invented dialogue for him. Like, we wrote our own fanfiction in the background because we were so weirded out by him just not saying anything. Things would go down in the scene, there would be plot points and then he would react to them without dialogue. It was crazy. It tripped us out. But I don’t remember him being fired for not being punctual. I always wondered why they didn’t give him dialogue. That was more of the mystery. I thought it was some sort of shtick.

If, or hopefully when, Degrassi gets rebooted again, would you be open to returning?

It would have to be authentic, right? What you want is a show that would do the characters justice. If I were to create a show, it would be a show that wasn’t about the high school at all. It would be a show about the characters and the premise would be, “What happened to your long lost high school friends?” Perhaps maybe the drama never stopped. There was always drama surrounding the high school, but what if these characters had the same kind of drama in their lives as adults and you came back to their lives in the present day? 

I haven’t been acting in a very long time. I mentioned that I’ve been writing recently. I write news, but in terms of television or movies, this is the first time I’ve done it in a long time. I’d have to think about it. It’s possible. Really, one of the things that COVID has done for me is it’s taught me to not say no to things and explore creative opportunities in my life. I’m very different from who I was as a teenager. My grandfather used to say to me, “If you have a talent, you should share it with people and it’s a disservice not to.” I certainly don’t think I could ever say no to something I think people would love and appreciate.

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