Daniel Clark played one of the more memorable characters on the long-running Canadian teen drama “Degrassi: The Next Generation”: bad boy Sean Cameron.
But was Sean really a bad boy?
“He's, like, kind of like the misunderstood guy, you know what I mean? He has a heart of gold, but not everyone sees that,” Clark, 35, told TODAY. “It's almost like he has terrible luck, like the worst luck in the world for someone who can also be, like, so caring and in many ways kind of act responsibly, especially for his age.”
Clark — who recently reunited with several of his former “Degrassi: The Next Generation” co-stars during a 20th anniversary panel for the ATX Television Festival — acknowledges, however, that Sean often landed himself in trouble. (All you need to do is watch the opening credits of “Degrassi: The Next Generation” to know Sean didn’t have a squeaky-clean image.)
Still, Sean “regrets what he does after he does it because I think he's more moral, like, and driven and real than we give him credit for,” Clark said.
Sean’s "real" nature was especially evident in the episodes in which a bullied student brought a gun to school and shot Jimmy Brooks (played by Aubrey Graham, better known now as the rapper Drake). Sean engaged in a struggle with the shooter that left the shooter dead.
Clark said those episodes rank among his favorites from the show.
“It was something that I thought we really got right, like, conveying what something like that would be like at your school. That's kind of what we thought of when we went in there,” Clark said. “We didn't want something that looked very rehearsed or choreographed. We wanted to really make it raw and emotional and draw on, like, what those characters would have done in that situation.
“I think that was one of my favorite moments for (Sean), because that kind of showed that he was willing to sacrifice at least something in order to stop something that was really terrible. And I think a lot of people would have done that as well.”
Like the “Degrassi” series that came before it, “Degrassi: The Next Generation” covered a wide range of serious subjects, from sexual assault to mental health to teen pregnancy. Clark recalled the young cast members receiving guidance from directors and producers on navigating heavy topics.
“These were issues that weren't exactly easy to talk about. So, I remember a lot of preparation with that,” he shared. “Sometimes they had people there to talk us through it. Some of the major issues, they had people, like, counselors on set making sure we knew the gravity and we had the support we needed while we were dealing with some of these issues related to trauma or, like, a lot of the stuff that we tried to tackle that was happening in real life.”
Of course, since “Degrassi: The Next Generation” was a TV series about schoolkids, romance played an active part in many storylines. Sean had an on-again, off-again relationship with Emma Nelson (Miriam McDonald).
“It was awesome because we got along so well, you know? Like, it made sense,” Clark said.
As Clark also pointed out, Sean and Emma had their ups and downs. They were separated for a time when he moved away, and though he would return, he eventually enlisted in the military, all but ending their story. Emma later married their fellow Degrassi student Gavin “Spinner” Mason (Shane Kippel), which Clark said blew his mind.
“I was like, whoa, wait a second, what's going on?” he said. “Because it kind of came out of left field, you know? But they had to do something, you know? But it's one of those things that drives audiences nuts. I hear about it all the time. They're like, how, why? You know, what could have been? I mean, that's the biggest thing, right?
“I bet if Sean found out, it would probably drive him a little nuts,” he added. “It was, like, the one that got away probably for him. But who knows?”
Clark thinks if “Degrassi: The Next Generation” were to get a revival, Sean would probably be in Canada, perhaps atoning for his past mistakes.
“You always wonder what he would do with his life when he was an adult, right? I think maybe, like, a detective or something like that, like someone who's trying to make up for something he did, or make up for lost time and be the good guy,” he said. “Something like that he might gravitate to. Either that or he's working in an auto shop (laughs). It would be one of the two.”
Fans can speculate on Sean’s whereabouts, but Clark is taking pleasure in the fact that they’ve revisited the Degrassi kids’ school years during the pandemic by watching old episodes of “The Next Generation” on platforms like Tubi. He described the show’s current popularity as a “resurgence.”
“It's just crazy, because you would not believe how many people have reached out thanking us and just talking about the show in new ways, and kind of helping them through this,” he said.
“Even leading up to doing (the ATX Television Festival), it's been really cool. I've been really grateful what this series means to so many people.”
ATX Television Festival “Degrassi: The Next Generation” 20th Anniversary Panel is presented by Tubi.