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Started from Degrassi, now they're here: 11 CSA nominees who attended Canada's favourite high school

Want a CSA nomination? Get a job on Degrassi! These alumni are up for awards this year — and whatever it takes, we know they can make it through...

These alumni are up for awards this year — and whatever it takes, we know they can make it through...

Degrassi cast and producers attend the 2010 Gemini Awards, where the program was voted Canada's Top Show of the Last 25 Years. Seven years later, Degrassi alum are all over the Canadian Screen Award nominations. (Canadian Press)

If Drake can say he "started from the bottom," then it's the same for these Canadian Screen Awards nominees. If you scan through the CSA's class of '17, so many performers have done Degrassi (Degrassi: The Next Generation, specifically) that a spot on the soap might as well be A.P. credit for Canadian awards shows.

The industry's small, so yeah, there are other series that have hired enough nominees to fill a section at the Sony Centre (Doc and Republic of Doyle, for example, or The Outer Limits if you're a nominee of a certain age). But Degrassi's still in session, and so long as there are very special lessons to teach, we have no reason to believe it'll ever stop being Canada's favourite high school — at least until someone reboots Breaker High.

Here are 11 nominees who've turned up on Degrassi, and we didn't even have to ask for their transcripts to find them.

Landon Liboiron

Best performance in a TV drama, Frontier

Degrassi credit: Declan Coyne (2009-2011)



He's spent more time at Degrassi (63 episodes) than any other nominee — even though his character, Declan Coyne, technically left after a season to attend "Vanderbilt Prep" (a school with way fewer CSA-nominated alumni, we'll note).  A sorta-kinda bad boy type with loads of money, Declan featured on Seasons 9 and 10 (2009-11) and had a complicated relationship with Degrassi's answer to Tracy Flick (Holly J.) before eventually getting into Yale. That school also has a terrible rep for producing CSA nominees, and yet somehow, he's made it this far. 

The Degrassi wiki claims that one of his nicknames was "Johnny Eyebrows" — which is amazing and accurate, although we have absolutely no memory of that being true. We do, however, recall an episode that's all about Clare having sexy vampire nightmares about Declan...because Twilight.

Look that one up before the CSAs. It's Season 9, episode 17: "Innocent When You Dream."

Evan Williams

Best performance in a TV drama, Versailles

Degrassi credit: Kelly Ashoona (2008-2009)
 

Somehow, nobody at Degrassi wrote Twilight-style fan fic about Kelly Ashoona... Evan Williams plays Chevalier on Versailles. (Canal+)

Williams is up against fellow Degrassi alum Landon Liboiron in his CSA category, but they never passed each other in the halls. His character, Kelly Ashoona, first turns up at Smithdale University. A roommate of Liberty, Manny and Emma's, he infamously introduces girlfriend Emma to pot...and then quickly gets busted for possession.

Lesson learned: Don't run in the hall, especially while carrying pot brownies.
 


 

Jonathan Torrens

Best supporting actor in a TV comedy, Mr. D

Degrassi credit: Shane McKay (2003)

In 1991, original-recipe Degrassi signed off. Degrassi: The Next Generation wouldn't arrive on the air until 2001.

As a result, Canadians made absolutely nothing worth watching for an entire decade.

The closest thing to an exception didn't arrive until the tail end of the '90s, and it was all thanks to CSA nominee Jonathan Torrens, then the host of CBC's teen talk show Jonovision.

This was a different time — a time before Google, and a time when kids all over Canada wouldn't just watch TV shows, but the exact same TV shows. They also watched something called "reruns," and if, say, their parents' cable package included Showcase, they were very familiar with the cast and haircuts of Degrassi High. So in 1999, when Jonovision reunited the cast for a two-part special, it was a TV moment celebrated by a generation (or, at least the future producers of Degrassi: TNG) — one that thoroughly answered the classic question: "Where are they now?"

A Canadian Heritage Minute is surely in the works, and in 2003 Torrens received a civilian honour second only to the Cross of Valour: a Degrassi guest spot.

Shane, is that really you? Jonathan Torrens on a 2003 episode of Degrassi: The Next Generation. (Screencapture)

He played Emma's long lost dad, Shane McKay, a Degrassi High O.G. originally played by Bill Parrott (who's still appearing on Canadian series including Orphan Black, by the way).

Shane's story is one of Degrassi's darker cautionary tales. Instead of paying Emma's mom child support, he blows the cash on concert tickets and LSD, and winds up in an accident that leaves him physically and mentally disabled. When the series picks up in 2003, Emma discovers her dad living in an assisted-living home and attempts to mend their relationship.

Naomi Snieckus

Best supporting actress in a TV comedy, Mr. D

Degrassi credit: Store manager (2008)

Torrens's Mr. D co-star Naomi Snieckus turned up on the show five years later as the manager of a lingerie store.

In the Degrassi universe, such a setting can drive a variety of timeless and emotionally charged issues facing the youth of today. Teen sexuality, for instance — or the perennial appeal of a "just say no to shoplifting" plot.

Both apply here, but the episode kicks in a third issue for a perfect trifecta of Degrassi "realness." Throughout the episode, something's off about this store manager. Mostly, it's just her accent. (It's hard to place. London? Oxford? West of Yonge Street?) By the end, she outs herself as a total racist, profiling Degrassi kid Danny as a shoplifter because he's black and therefore "gangster." To make things worse, one of his pals sets him up, tossing a few panties in his backpack as a prank.


 

Paul Sun-Hyung Lee

Best supporting actor in a TV comedy, Kim's Convenience

Degrassi credit: Juan Tong (2010-11)

When it comes to running a fictional small-business, this guy's a pro. Before he was starring on Kim's Convenience, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee was the owner of Little Miss Steaks, a country-themed restaurant that employed a bunch of Degrassi kids.

Patient and encouraging with the teenage staff, he was the sort of character that could pass on heartfelt lessons without the show's typical angst and melodrama.

Take this little gem of service-industry advice — a mantra that's got to come in handy during any Canadian Screen Week schmoozefest: "Remember: eye contact, energy, smiles."


 

Saara Chaudry

Best performance in an animated program, The Curse of Clara: A Holiday Tale

Degrassi credit: Madison Grant (2013)

These Degrassi kids keep getting younger...Seriously, though, Chaudry played a junior summer camper who was coached by Degrassi characters Adam and Imogen back in Season 13. Give it a year or two and who knows? The now 12-year-old actress might wind up enrolling there, too.

Saara Chaudry played a camper at Degrassi Panther Summer Camp. (Screencapture)

Jessi Cruickshank

Best host in a variety or competition series, Canada's Smartest Person

Degrassi credit: Kristen (Degrassi Takes Manhattan, 2010)

Whether we're talking The Devil Wears Prada, Sex and the City or Ugly Betty, movies and TV in the mid-2000s left a generation dreaming of a media career in New York. Oh, the glamour of a dying industry! The potential for intern abuse!

By 2010, the siren song of unpaid labour proved too great for Degrassi, so they shipped a few characters stateside for the special TV movie, Degrassi Takes Manhattan. Among them was Holly J., who'd landed an internship at a music station suspiciously similar to Toronto's own MuchMusic, right down to the Starbucks across the street. Her girl-boss for the summer was Kristen, played by Jessi Cruickshank (who was then a host on MTV Canada) — a Miranda Priestley type in a tube dress.


 

Dan Levy

Best actor in a TV comedy, Schitt's Creek

Degrassi credit: Robbie (Degrassi Goes Hollywood, 2009)

Cruickshank's MTV Live co-host Dan Levy beat her to Degrassi the year before, when he turned up on the show's previous TV special, Degrassi Goes Hollywood — where, per the title, a bunch of Degrassi kids go to Hollywood.

The reason? There are a few, but a movie musical directed by Jason Mewes is largely what keeps them there (really).

Levy plays the producer on that project, and when he hires Degrassi's Paige to star in the picture, he becomes her showbiz cherpa, imparting very-special lessons like this bit of advice, a line that surely resonates with anyone who's appeared on a teen soap: "There's no such thing as bad publicity."


 

Stephan James

Best actor in a leading role, Race

Degrassi credit: Julian Williams (2010-2012)

In Race, Stephan James plays four-time Olympic gold medal winner Jesse Owens. (Focus Features)

One of the great Degrassi traditions is the show's knack for presenting real-world issues in a relatable way. Bullying, teen pregnancy, eating disorders...the scourge of Toronto's thriving underage cage-fighting scene.

As Julian, Stephan James doesn't appear much on Degrassi — just eight episodes where he largely stays in the background — but his most memorable arc has got to be a bizarre subplot from Season 11, one where he helps save his wrestling teammate Drew from a path of self-destruction.

Again, it has something to do with the very real threat of Toronto's thriving underage cage-fighting scene.

CSA nominated for his starring role in the Jesse Owens biopic Race, James has enjoyed a few high-profile roles since rescuing his TV classmate from the octagon, including parts in The Book of Negroes and the Oscar-nominated Selma.


 

Noah Cappe

Best host in a lifestyle talk or entertainment news program, Great Canadian Cookbook

Degrassi credit: Security Guard (2009)

Hoping to impress Danny's friends, Leia tells them that her dad is a big-shot producer who makes records with Fall Out Boy and Aerosmith. In addition to having questionable taste in music, it turns out Leia is also a major liar and when she tries to get the gang into a show, Security Guard No. 1 (as played by CSA nominee Noah Cappe) steps in as a champion of truth.

He shuts down Leia's feeble con, and awkwardness ensues — for the teens, anyway.

Cappe's security guard is a hero. Stop trying to sneak into shows, kids. Support your local music scene.

Kevin Hanchard

Best performance on a TV drama, Orphan Black

Degrassi credit: Pest Control Manager (2011)

Kevin Hanchard (left) is Detective Art Bell on sci-fi series Orphan Black. (Space)

It's easy to make jokes about some of the corny crises facing Degrassi kids, but after all those episodes, the show somehow finds ways to stay relevant.

Kevin Hanchard's only Degrassi episode is a solid example. In just a few seconds of screen time, he delivers some of the most practical advice ever imparted, especially for youth living in the city: how to identify, and eliminate, a bed bug infestation.



 

The Canadian Screen Awards gala airs on CBC Television Sunday, March 12 at 8pm local time (9pm AT/9:30 NT). Watch it live on the CBC Arts Facebook page starting with the red carpet at 7:30pm ET.