Annie Clark says he plays a student in the series Degrassi: The Next Generation it came easily to him, but in fact if he is one? That’s a different story.
Clark, who portrayed Fiona Coyne in the youth drama for four years, says the confidence she gained while performing on the show didn’t carry over into the classroom at the University of Toronto, where she earned an art degree.
“With acting, I go to a lot of interviews every week and I put myself out there and play,” she said. “And it’s funny because that doesn’t make me crazy.
But raising my hand in class really scared me. I think it’s because I had more experience in drama. I didn’t feel very confident at school, so I was nervous when I had to speak in front of the class.”
But Clark was able to overcome these fears and other challenges he encountered on the way to completing his degree. He graduated this spring capping a 10-year academic journey in which he split his time between Toronto and Los Angeles to pursue acting projects.
“As I was doing my final exams, I was feeling surreal,” he says. “It took me a while to realize there was nothing I could do.”
Clark has been forging his own path since high school, when he decided to continue playing Degrassi instead of following most of his university classmates. He was on the show in his last two years of high school and what would be his first two years of university.
Annie Clark on the set of her winning episode of Degrassi (photo courtesy of WildBrain Media)
When her time on the show ended in 2012, Clark came to a crossroads.
“I didn’t have a plan after the show ended,” he says. “I did a few movies, but those took a month or two. I felt I needed to commit to something I could focus on for a long time.”
He enrolled at U of T that year, but never gave up on acting. Balancing the life of an actor with the demands of university was not easy, he said. He remembers meeting with an academic advisor, who helped him manage his priorities. “He made me feel like it was okay for me to make the choice to stop school,” he said.
After a break there he found television and film roles, including a starring role in the 2013 comedy. Alonereturned to university in 2016.
“Things were slow action-wise, and I wanted to focus on something productive,” he says. “In playing, you don’t have much control. At school, I was able to control what I was doing.”
At EU of T, Clark chose to enroll in courses in topics that interested him rather than pursue a major in which his studies would focus on him. He explored many avenues, not surprisingly, starting with film.
But I have been working in the film industry since I was 14 years old. So I asked myself, ‘Why am I trying to learn something I’m already working on?'”
Then he considered other fields such as social, law and crime, finally he found that the American studies program was the most suitable.
Clark says: “When I came back, I found that I was doing courses that were equivalent to an American degree, although it was something I had never considered.”
“It was perfect for someone who doesn’t want to go into one discipline. I should take political science courses, English courses, history courses. This degree was more about learning than trying to get a job in a particular field. “
Still, juggling assignments and auditing was difficult for Clark, especially as he continued to split his time between Toronto and LA, spending the fall semester at U of T while living in California from January to June. “That’s why it took me so long,” he says.
He took another break from his studies and moved to LA permanently in January 2020—just weeks before the COVID-19 pandemic hit North America. When the film and television industry came to a sudden halt, he returned to Toronto to be with his family.
Clark resumed his studies when U of T moved to distance learning — a format that ended up playing to his strengths as a student. He found it easier to focus on driving his grades up – and his confidence, too.
He says: “I have never loved school as much as I did in a year and a half.” “I loved doing it online. I felt responsible and very uncomfortable to participate. And it made me feel good to be productive at such a bad time. I came out of my shell in a way I didn’t expect.
“I know that wasn’t a lot of people’s experience with online learning, but for me it worked.”
Clark is still interested in acting and is auditioning for upcoming projects while wrapping up his latest film, Love Hackswhere he plays the main role.
“I feel really happy to get my degree, if I decide to change paths again,” he said. “For me, it is a sign of my dedication and perseverance. And it will be so much fun to walk across the stage at graduation and have my family there. “