From "DeGrassi" to "Verona": Shannon Kook-Chun on Playing Gay, Fitting in and More!

Degrassi has

always done a great job telling the stories of gay and lesbian teens, and that tradition has continued recently with the coming out drama of football player Riley Stavros (Argiris Karras).

This season, the show brought on Zane Park,

played by Shannon Kook-Chun, as a new character as a love interest for Riley. So far viewers have watched Zane help the still closeted Riley continue to do with his anger issues and worries over how coming it will affect his life.

We talked to Kook-Chun about his role, his views

on gays on television, his own struggles to fit in in a world where he’s

perceived as different, his short film Verona and a

lot more.

After How did you get started in acting?


Kook-Chun: I was born in Johannesburg, South Africa. I was doing acting in

school as an extramural [activity], but never really thought of myself as someone who

could actually do it. But then one day I had a wake-up call and I moved to Canada. At

first I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go through an agent or whether I should go

to classes or theater school, so I just took it step by step.

I decided to just go for what I want now. You always try to

act like you know what you want to do like going to university, but you never

really know why you’re doing it. I’m not the type of person who does something

just for the sake of doing it so I decide to just roll with it and see how it

goes. That’s pretty much how it happened.

AE: How’d you get the job on Degrassi?

SK-C: I’d

been auditioning for a little while and I went to theater school and the

casting director saw my work. I knew a lot of the cast before. I’d hang out with a bunch of the Degrassi kids. I was good buddies with

Argiris. We hung out a lot last summer. He was crashing on my couch for like

three weeks. But they didn’t know I was friends with Argiris until I came to



with Argiris Karras (Riley)

Photo credit: Stephen Scott

AE: What appeals to you about Zane?

SK-C: He’s a

lot more bold than I am. I’ve dealt with my own issues being a mixed race guy

who comes from South Africa

and moving around the world. I’ve dealt with issues of belonging and

identity and what makes me who I am. You can often tailor what you are or

should be by what’s around you and behave in what you think is the right or

cool way to behave. I’ve dealt with that a lot and have my own questions about

who I am and where I belong.

With Zane, he’s very okay with himself which I find a very

hard thing to be. I don’t know that many people who are okay with themselves. What

I love about him is the way he stood up to people who were ridiculing him and

people who were telling him who he should and shouldn’t be. I’ve dealt a lot

with that myself, but I’ve been in situations where I haven’t handled it as

well. And I just really admire the way he stood up for himself.

Photo credit: Stephen Scott

AE: In what

way have you had to deal with these issues?

SK-C: Well, I don’t look like my cousins so I kind

of stick out. Sometimes, back home, when I go down the street people would yell

‘ching, chong’ at me. There one time when this guy jumped me from behind and

there were like six or seven guys. They surrounded me with some poles and tried to

beat me up. They chased me down the street. And I remember guys would be

yelling at me ‘Moffie’, which in South African means faggot. So I had to deal

with that kind of stuff. I don’t quite look like my mom’s side of the family. She’s

what they would call colored. And I was a bit too extroverted for my Asian side.

…I’m very proud of being South African. I’m not Canadian so

I don’t quite fit in there and when you go back home and home isn’t really home

anymore. There’s always that consistent questioning of what you hold onto and

what you evolve into. You don’t want to forget where you came from, but you want

to grow at the same time. I went home in January after six years, I hadn’t seen

my mom in that time. It was very interesting to see everyone. It sort of makes

you re-evaluate yourself.

Photo credit: Stephen Scott

AE: Do you think the fact you were friends with

Argiris factors into why you work as an on screen couple?

SK-C: It does but at the same time it can also be a

barrier because we’re such buddies. There’s a level of friendship and then

there’s the love relationship. You don’t want the friendship level to override

the love relationship so at the same time that can get in the way. I have to

remember that he’s not my buddy, he’s the guy that I’m in love with. Even

though there’s a layer of friendship that’s not what we are.

AE: What does it mean to you to play a gay


SK-C: For me it’s more than just being a gay

character. What’s really going on in the storyline for me is dealing with  difference in our lives. We all have

different things in our lives, like me with my racial experiences. The life

that you live and the path that you choose should not be prescribed by what

other people want for you. For us that is the gay storyline, but that can speak

to many aspects of people’s lives and how they deal with certain things about


AE: There’s not a lot of gay characters of

color, especially here in the States. Do you think about being one of the few

on television?

SK-C: I feel that gay Asians tend to be depicted as

effeminate like Lloyd on Entourage. But

I haven’t really thought about it to be honest and that doesn’t really sound



cast of Degrassi

AE: How do you like being on Degrassi?

SK-C: I’m loving it. I feel so privileged and I

love the cast. I just have a lot of love

for them. They’re all really great people. And I feel so privileged to be able

to be part of the gay story. And it’s a big responsibility because I know it

means a lot to a lot of people. …And it’s great to be able to play the love

scenes. I don’t get to have those kind of ups and downs in my life with romance

so to get to do it on screen with all the lights and the stories is great,

especially when you know you’re touching people.

AE: So far all the stories have been about

Riley. Are we doing to get any stories from Zane’s point of view or focused on


SK-C: I’m really not sure because we only get the

scripts two or three weeks before we shoot it. I’m completely in the dark as to

what is going on. We do have a table discussion with the producers where we sit

down and talk about the story and what’s happening and how we feel about it. So

we’re quite involved in that respect. But I don’t know what’s to come for Zane,

besides what I’ve shot, and I can’t talk about that. [laughs]


with Verona co-star John Bregar

AE: Tell me about your short film, Verona.

SK-C: Verona is a

spin-off of Romeo and Juliet, but

it’s about two Romeos. It’s based in a fraternity and there are two warring

frat houses. My character is a guy who is very promiscuous and does a lot of

drugs and parties, and there’s one day when I miss a rugby game because I’m

frolicking with the character who is called “the Jock.” I see him and for the

first time I feel like I’ve fallen in love. I totally fall in love with him and

they have to deal with the fraternity houses because their relationship is a

big problem that causes a lot of chaos. It’s the war of the two lovers

trying to be together when they’re not supposed to be.

AE: Are they going to make it into a full

length film?

SK-C: There is a full script and we shot an

abridged version of the script. We shot a 25 minute trailer and the hope to

find people to fund the project. Right now that’s what is going on, trying to

find more people to produce the show. I’m not sure exactly where things are at

right now, but there’s been a lovely response so far. I’m surprised there

aren’t more slanderous comments, especially because of the nature of the

content. People can be really rude and say all sorts of things, but maybe

people’s minds are little more open.

AE: You’re going to India. Tell me about that.

SK-C: We’re involved in a project called ‘Free The

Children’ so we’re going to be building a school there. We all paid for it

individually so it was our decision to go. So we’ll be there for two weeks

laying down bricks and interacting with the community. Where it is in India,

they’re kind of lower class and outcasts so they only have one school for 200

students. There’s really no room for all of them. People here tend to really

moan about things, but we don’t have a lot to moan about. I think going there is

really going to open our eyes.

I feel so privileged being on the show so you really want to

try and do something to give back to other people. Hopefully we won’t get sick.

The last group of people wound up in the hospital for a week. But I’m really

excited about it. We’ll get to touch other people’s lives and it’ll be a great

bonding experience. To go there and leave a school behind will make me feel

pretty good.

AE: Your bio says you like to sing and dance. Any

plans to pursue those avenues?

SK-C: I love to sing and dance. I was dancing on a show called Baxter. I’ve been dancing all my life so

I’d like to do more of that. I want to do more musicals cause I did one last

year. And I’m into photography so I’d like to direct my own work sometime. I

have many stories in my mind that I’d like to put out there. But we’ll see what

happens. I take things day by day.

Look for Zane and Riley’s story to continue on Degrassi episodes that will

air Wednesday, August 18th, Thursday, August 19th, Monday, August

21nd and Tuesday, August 22nd.

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