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.

How did you get started in acting?
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?
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?
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?
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?
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
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?
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

AE: How do you like being on Degrassi?
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
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]

Verona co-star John Bregar

AE: Tell me about your short film, Verona.
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?
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.