Jake Epstein Trades Degrassi Community School For Beautiful On Broadway

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Were you a theater fan growing up?
The one thing my whole family kind of agreed on was theater. So once a year our parents would drive my sister and me to New York and we would see a Broadway show. We were always in awe of New York and Broadway. I grew up with cassettes of old musicals that we would buy in the ’90s.

My sister and I are the same way. We still have all our old playbills. I just found Beauty and The Beast, which was my first show.
Yeah we have all these hilarious cassettes of Big: The Musical, which I think was the first show we ever saw. I think it was considered a flop, but it was such an awesome [experience]. I think we might have broken the cassette, we listened to it so much. Titanic, The Lion King, all those cassettes. It’s so funny.

The first show you were in on Broadway was Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark, which obviously had a lot of hype and a lot of attention. Which role would you say is more difficult: Peter Parker or Gerry Goffin?
They are like maybe the most complete opposite kind of parts.

Although Gerry did have a flirtation with heights.
[Laughs] Yeah I guess they share that love of being up on a roof. I mean Peter Parker was young and innocent and anxious. I found it vocally challenging and physically challenging, but there was so much love in the part. You were Spider-Man for those two hours. With Gerry there’s gravity involved in the part but its sort of emotionally challenging to do that part every single night. Certainly originating and playing a part like Gerry Goffin is a dream come true but Peter Parker was my Broadway debut. It was such a big deal for me. I was a huge comic book fan, so I really have loved both experiences but for different reasons.

And your big break as an actor was on Degrassi: The Next Generation, which has just been huge in Canada and here in the States. Did you expect that it would come to have this kind of cult following and still be on air?
No! Nobody did. The original Degrassi was a big cult hit in the ’80s — I remember watching it in reruns and it had this really popular following. When I was cast I was kind of hoping to live off of that. The fact that it became quite popular, like mainstream popular, was something that nobody expected, and certainly the popularity in the States was something that none of us expected. We thought we were making this Canadian soap opera thing and then all of a sudden we were flying to the U.S. to promote it and it was on TV in the U.S. and people started to recognize us. Yeah, it totally took us by surprise.

Is there anything you’ve learned from your time on Degrassi?
You know what’s funny? At the time I just did it. It was like a second high school — everyone was playing an exaggerated version of themselves and they would write in things that you brought to the table. The fact that I was on the show for six years, and the amount that you learn about yourself and being on camera and how to pace yourself [in that time]? For me, they threw all these really beautifully dark storylines into my character [and] I loved it. I loved researching and talking to different people about it and [wanted] to portray these things in a really honest way that teenagers were going through. I think it was like what you [go through] in high school. You learn a million things at the time but you don’t really realize it.

Jake Epstein and the Degrassi cast

[Photo Credit: Splash News]

Is there an episode or scene that people still come up to you and want to talk about?
We’d get some letters about people who grew up in an abusive home and how much how we handled the relationship with Craig and his abusive father meant to them. Or the whole bipolar arc. I’d get letters about people who were going through the same thing and how much it meant for them to see that in a TV show.

Looking back at the people you were working with at the time, so many of them are breaking out on TV, movies, music just like you are.
It’s great. It’s kind of like finding out the people you went to high school with are out doing interesting things; it’s great. Some of them I’ve been in touch with, most of them I have completely lost touch with. It’s great and it’s certainly great for my country, Canada, and Toronto. I think just the fact that so many of us are doing well, it gives us all kinds of cred for being part of that show.

Who from the cast do you keep in touch with?
I’ve kept in touch with Paula Brancati, she’s a really good friend; Jake Goldsbie is a really good friend, Shane Kippel, Dalmar Abuzeid. I have seen Miriam McDonald and Cassie [Steele]. Lauren Collins is a good friend.

Now that you’re living in New York, what’s your favorite thing to do on an off day?
My favorite thing to do besides sleep? I love going to Chelsea Market. I love going to Brooklyn, wandering Brooklyn and discovering something new. I think my favorite thing to do is find some corner of New York I’ve never discovered.

What are you guys going to do if Beautiful wins Best Musical?
Probably drink a bunch that night and feel really good. You know what, we’ll probably keep doing what we’ve done. It’s never been about the nominations or awards. We’ll probably keep doing the show and make it as good as possible.

[Photo Credit: TeenNick, Getty Images]