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Since 1979, Degrassi has been “going there,” and the cast of Next Class promises the series will continue to challenge boundaries when it begins streaming on Netflix Friday.
“We’re pushing the envelope and being a little more raw and genuine with the way we approach our storylines,” Ana Golja, who plays “mean girl” Zoë, tells EW.
Sara Waisglass, the actress behind cheery sophomore Frankie, remembers when she felt the shift from leaving TeenNick (Degrassi ended its 14-year run on the network in July 2015). “We covered female masturbation,” the 17-year-old says. “And I think that was the first moment where I was like ‘It’s Netflix time.’ “
The Canadian franchise started with The Kids of Degrassi Street, and eventually the Toronto-born children graduated to Degrassi Junior High and then Degrassi High (known as Degrassi Old School to U.S. viewers). The third installation ended in 1991, and took 10 years off before Degrassi: The Next Generation arrived on TeenNick. Now, the Next Class is ready to take over.
“The ’80s incarnations are fun to watch because it’s a big generation gap and it’s kind of funny the types of things they say,” Ricardo Hoyos (Zig), says. “But it also feels so Degrassi. It’s so transcendent.”
Before the streaming service releases 10 episodes of the latest Degrassi installment, Golja, Waisglass, and Hoyos chatted with EW about what’s in store for their characters, the season’s craziest moments, and what “swatting” means.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Can you guys start off by telling me what viewers can expect from Frankie, Zoë, and Zig in the new season?
SARA WAISGLASS: My character in the past has always been really sure of herself and doesn’t really have many problems. She’s a happy-go-lucky, really energetic, and always-smiling kind of gal. This season that’s a real change because she’s just lost that constant happiness and I don’t think her happiness feels natural anymore. I feel like when she’s happy, it’s forced. So she’s going to do a lot of soul-searching and also figure out who she could keep around and who keeps her happy.
ANA GOLJA: And with Zoë, you’ll see her struggle with who she wants to be versus who she truly is at heart. And that really plays out throughout the entire season.
RICARDO HOYOS: Zig’s got a girlfriend and throughout the season he has to deal with this crushing feeling he feels when she’s with other men, even though it’s completely platonic and she’s not at all the type of person that would cheat on him. He has this irrational fear of that and this feeling of not being good enough, like he’s going to lose her. It just builds up more and more throughout the season and eventually something might happen because of it.
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And where are Frankie and Zoë’s love lives this time around?
GOLJA: Zoë’s on a rocky path. She doesn’t really know what she wants. You’ll see an unexpected love interest come into play.
WAISGLASS: Frankie has just broken up with her boyfriend who I think must’ve been her first boyfriend, so that’s obviously really hard. And her old boyfriend is really sweet and nerdy and always agreed with her, and her new man challenges her and I think that’s really healthy for her. Who knows where it will lead to.
I have read that the writers come to the cast for ideas, so is it possible you have influence over your characters’ futures?
HOYOS: Well, after each read-through, we sit the whole cast down and all the writers and the directors and producer, and we have this open discussion and we’ll talk about what we feel worked and what didn’t. I think it’s so important to have the cast there as that young perspective because there’ve been times where we’ve been like “Whoa, this isn’t really what would happen. This isn’t really authentic.” I think the writers definitely take our word into consideration and it feels great to be a part of something where your opinion matters.
Social media is something that’s been increasingly present on the show, and I’ve seen fans post on your Instagram accounts about how Degrassi saved their lives. Do you all get messages like that lot?
HOYOS: Yeah, absolutely. I did homeless youth storylines, and people reached out to me saying how that has really helped them because nobody has ever told that story. And that to be a part of is like so sobering and humbling.
GOLJA: When my character got sexually assaulted in season 13, after those episodes aired, the response was astounding. All the fans were reaching out to me and talking about their personal experiences with sexual assault, sending in letters, and tweets and Instagram DMs, opening up about their experiences and saying how the show was a real learning tool and it really helped them get through it.
Degrassi: Next Class drops on Netflix Friday.