Amanda Stepto (Christine "Spike" Nelson) Interview by Natalie Earl
NE: How do you look now?
AS: My appearance is still alternative but not as extreme as my Degrassi years. My hair is mahogany colored, one-length in the back and I just got my bangs cut in the front. My clothing style is more "funky" than "punk". In fact, on a laid back day I might wear sweats and a T-shirt.
NE: Tell me about your education.
AS: I just finished my Bachelor's degree in History and Politics are the University of Toronto.
NE: What are your immediate goals?
AS: I will be leaving Toronto in two months to work in Japan for one year; I will be teaching English.
NE: Were you are Cathy Keenan (Liz O'Rourke) friends in real life?
AS: Cathy was my only close friend on the show. We caused a lot of mischief together in our teen years. We still hang out, go to shows and bars together. In fact we have plans to get together on Thursday.
NE: Are you married and do you have any children?
AS: I do not have any children but I am in a serious long-term relationship (since 1994). My boyfriend lives with me. He is a musician; his bands are named Pizza Mind and Star Fucker.
NE: What was the main difference between Spike versus Amanda?
AS: Amanda is more responsible. If I were in Spikes position, I would not have gotten pregnant. People thought that I was really pregnant and offered me baby clothes. However, later in the series Spike became very responsible.
NE: What are your theatrical appearances besides Degrassi?
AS: Three of four years ago, I was in a half-hour after-school special called "Rachel"; produced for CBC. Rachel, the title character, leaves her parent's home to live with her two tragically cool friends: a teen couple who have their own apartment. However, she realizes that her friends' lives are not as glamorous as she envisioned. They had shitty jobs and our house was always a mess.
AS: I was also in the rock video "My Baby's Got it Going On" for Pizza Mind, my boyfriend's punk band. The video was filmed in black and white; the song was written by my boyfriend especially for me.
NE: Did your fame as Spike help or hinder your acting career?
AS: I did a lot of auditions after Degrassi but they were unsuccessful. Having been typecast as Spike, my face was too recognizable. Fed up with rejection, I decided to pursue more productive goals, such as school. I do not regret leaving show business. The only way I would return is if the right project came along. But lately I haven't thought about it.
AS: My agent sent me to the Catwalk audition. I fucked up the audition on purpose because I did not want to be on that cheesy, low budget show. I was very intimidated by my agent, so rather than refuse, I just messed up my lines. It was a really bad show, unlike the American series "Fame". That show was good, I know because I liked Leroy.
NE: How does it feel to watch Degrasi reruns on Showcase?
AS: I hate watching myself. I cringe at the sound of my voice, it sounds stupid. Especially on that episode where I ask Snake on a date. However it's very funny watching the other characters.
NE: Was it awkward for the characters to make out on camera?
AS: I always loathed the romance scenes. It was my big fault as an actress. Kissing should be very private, I couldn't detach myself in that way. Remember when Spike dated that Irish guy Patrick? The Assistant Director told us to kiss for a background scene at the dance. I was not about to humiliate myself for a mere background scene, especially with no extra pay. So instead I made it a point to find fight him and they ended up changing the scene.
NE: Due to its dark nature some fans feel cheated by School's Out.
AS: School's Out was intended to be a dramatic feature (2 hours) as opposed to the lighthearted 30 minute episodes. Playing With Time got away with more risqué material because CBC supported it as a big finale.
AS: Personally, I don't think that School's out was a good send off. It was too "adult" . . .kind of weird. Not all the characters were equally represented; Spike and Liz hardly got any coverage. Not everybody like the characters they focused on. We never found out what happened to the other characters.
NE: Did you date any of the Degrassi guys in real life?
AS: NEVER!!!!!!!!!! Maureen Deiseach (Heather) dated Michael Carry (Simon). Pat Mastroianni dated Neve Campbell. Neve and her brother Christopher were in the Extras Repertory. Neve would later get a staring role in the Canadian series "Catwalk"; and the American series "Party of Five". Anais Granoksy (Lucy) dated one of the guys from "Catwalk", I think his name was Kirim.
NE: What was the main different between pretend life at Degrassi High and real life at Etobicoke School for the Arts?
AS: In real high school there is a lot of boredom and monotony. At Degrassi High, something drastic happened every single day. At your typical high school, not every single crisis is going to happen. I did not receive much resentment for being on Degrassi. My group of friends was not like that, they were cool.
NE: How do you feel about being an adopted child?
AS: I have no urges to explore my biological parents. I am very happy with my adoptive parents.
NE: Fans would ask you advice as if you were a psychologist, doctor, sex therapist, or a counselor? What did you say to them?
AS: I felt awkward getting questions about sex and personal problems. I was so afraid to get too close or give the wrong advice. I did not feel qualified to make life-changing decisions for them. I would give advice and opinions in a blasé way. As much as possible I would refer them to professional help such as crisis hotlines.
NE: Where have you worked in the last six years?
AS: Cathy Keenan and I ran a jewelry booth together at Lollapalooza. I used to be the Manager for a clothing store named "Shakti", it was located in Toronto's Kensington Market then moved to Guelph, Ontario; Cathy worked there too. I also worked at a furniture store called "Jalan".
NE: If you could write a sequel to Degrassi, how would you have Spike's life turnout?
AS: Spike would gradate the university, have a half-decent job, and the ability to raise Emma without being dependent on a man. Spike could be involved with a man but she must have the resources to make it on her own.
NE: What opportunities did Degrassi provide that would not have otherwise been available?
AS: Degrasi allowed me to travel across Canada, the United States and England. The Degrassi cast volunteered for charity work such as Animal Rights, Teen ASCEF, and The United Way. I was the spokesperson for Planned Parenthood in Alberta and gave talks across the Providence.
NE: When the show ended, did you go though a withdrawal period?
AS: Any problems I had were not related to acting. They were more based on the "blahs" and low points of being a teenager. When the show ended there was not a big shock. In Canada stars are not as glamorized as they are in the United States. Although degrassi was an international success the audience was more "underground" than "pop culture". It wasn't like the teen idol shows on ABC or CBS. Because the Playing With Time Repertory was so large, none of us were singled out as being "stars". Nobody revived special glory. As of yet, none of us have been 'discovered".
NE: Are you aware that the Ska band Skankin' Pickle released a song called "I'm in Love With a Girl Named Spike?"
AS: Yes I am. Mike Park wrote that song. When Skankin' Pickle toured Canada, Mike was on a mission to meet me. He finally located me at my job. We became good friends and two years later he released that song. Mike and I still maintain contact.
NE: How do you feel about being a diva?
AS: I LAUGH! It's funny that anybody would think that I was pretty or sexy. I am an average looking person. However in a way it is flattering. When I entered Degrassi, I did not have much acting experience (ditto for most of the cast) so a lot of my own personality was reflected into Spike. I was different than the other girls, so it is good that the fans accepted my true personality. I am honoured that so many people found me to be an exciting character. My way of dressing at the time was quite eccentric. Your acceptance reassured me that I was not a freak or anything.
NE: How much did the actors get paid?
AS: The cast would get paid how many lines they had in the script. There was a certain wage for the principal actors, a certain wage for extras, and a certain wage if you only had one line. It was not enough money to buy a house or anything, but when you are a teenager, $100 seems like a million dollars. It was nice to afford small luxuries like clothes and records.
NE: Describe the production process.
AS: When we first got the scripts we would sit in a circle and read through it. Yan Moore would allow us to add input to make it sound believable. For instance if the actor did not think that the phrase or mannerism was consistent with their character. Or if the wording did not seem natural to the Teenaged vocabulary. Kit and Linda were very patient, supportive, and encouraging. Each episode took two weeks of effort, one week of rehearsals and one week of filming. They tried hard not to take us out of school. The procession calendar was from April to October.
NE: Were the actors aware of how much we viewers wished we could be on the show?
AS: At first nobody imagined the success, that didn't come until later. But overall, the actors were appreciative of their position on the show.
NE: Did fans ever sneak their way to the set?
AS: Because the locations were constantly moving and so many of the scenes were indoors, fans would have a hard time finding us if they did.
NE: What can you tell me about the other characters?
AS: Siluck (Yick) moved to Vancouver, Maureen Mckay (Michelle) is married, and Pat (Joey) is now living in West Hollywood pursing his acting career.
NE: How did you get picked for the show?
AS: I found out about the audition because an announcement was posted at the drama department at Etobicoke. However, I was the only one from my school to actually audition. We had three acting workshops with three cuts. If you made the final cut you were in the repertory. Those who did not receive speaking roles were cast as extras. However it was possible for extras to upgrade to speaking parts. Liz was an extra. I went from having one line to suddenly being pregnant! A lot if it was based on your attitude and conduct.
AS: When Degrassi High ended, ten of the actors were selected for Degrassi Talks. We traveled across Canada to discuss important issues with real teenagers Each acot had a topic, mine was sex.
NE: What if your own daughter turned out like Spike or Liz, would you allow them to be as outrageous as you were?
AS: Supposing I had a teenage daughter, I would want her to follow certain guidelines. When you are a teenager yourself, you have this liberal attitude about parenting, but then you change as an adult. If my daughter turned out like Spike or Liz, I would try to be open minded about her clothes, music, and expression.