These young actresses have moved cities, become stars of a hit TV series and seen their share of highs and lows. One constant stuck through it all: their best friends.
Winter’s the season of love— frosty weather and magnetic energy in the air can’t help but bring people together. Although pop culture usually hones in on kisses by the crackling fireplace and red-rose romances—which are all well and good—the most powerful (and often longest lasting) form of love is found in great friendships. Girlfriends who share and support our silliest adventures, biggest successes and saddest heartbreaks are one of life’s greatest gifts.
Taking a page from my own story, I’m reminded that my best friend and I will celebrate a decade of friendship this year—a decade that included us attending universities in different countries, many a breakup, one parental divorce and several career changes. Not all those years were easy, but they were made much better by our unconditional support and love of each other.
With such a friendship in mind, we sat down with Annie Clark, Melinda Shankar, and Jessica Tyler of Degrassi for a little girl talk on a late November morning as they prepared for our photo shoot. The girls are big believers in “girlmances” on and off set, so even as their careers take off, they cherish true friends as the one love to last through it all.
While many shows are plagued with rumours of backstage drama—and Degrassi has plenty of the onscreen variety—the cast of this Canadian show is as close as can be when the cameras aren’t rolling. “The girls are like my sisters, the guys are like my brothers, and everyone’s just really close,” says Jessica, between getting her hair curled and heading to the nail art station.
Melinda, who moved from Ottawa to star in the show—and who has the most fabulous eyelashes we’ve ever seen—especially appreciates the tight knit cast. “When I moved here I didn’t have any friends, I didn’t know anyone, and I got really lucky with coming to a cast that had a lot of people, so it was kind of like that high school vibe,” she says. “It was just the best chemistry.”
Annie talks about how close the Degrassi girls are, mentioning that they even get together outside of work. “We go out for dinner together and we’ll have sleepovers, and get ready for parties together,” she says. “It’s just like high school.”
Although the girls love their jobs and each other, they know that old friends are often the best ones and make it a priority to stay connected with those who knew them before their Degrassi days. “My best friend in the whole world is Emma,” says Annie. “We met in nursery school when we were three and my mom was her teacher. She’s been my best friend ever since. She goes to university in Montreal now, but we still Skype once a week.”
Melinda even credits childhood friends for helping her land a part on the show. “My two best friends are the ones that coached me for my audition in Toronto for Degrassi, so I have them to thank for that.”
Among the young actresses’ favourite things to do with their girlfriends are going out for sushi, shopping for the latest fashions and rocking out to the Backstreet Boys and Rihanna. At the time of our shoot, they were looking forward to friends returning from university for the holidays. “One of my friends always has an ugly Christmas sweater party, so hopefully that will happen again this year because it’s always fun to dress up and be ridiculous,” giggles Annie.
These three have it pretty together when it comes to their own friendships, but their characters are often a different story. For anyone who deals first hand with the sort of cattiness and backstabbing often portrayed on the show, the girls have some sound advice. “I personally have never really been exposed to that kind of drama, only because I choose to surround myself with people that won’t be negative influences or just even that kind of energy. So that would be step one: if you know someone has that kind of reputation and thrives off of drama, don’t be as close with them,” explains Melinda.
Jessica stresses the importance of friends that stick around even when the going gets tough. “Just keep a good head on your shoulders, stay strong and find a true friend who you can lean on—even if it’s your mom or your dad. There’s always someone there who will care for you.”
For these girls, family really has been the best place to find lifelong friends. All have older sisters they’ve grown to be close with—even if that wasn’t always the case. “We’re eight years apart, so growing up we weren’t particularly close. We actually had to share a room at one point, which she hated because I was like a six-year-old and she was in high school. But now we’re closer than ever,” remembers Annie. “That’s been the greatest friendship of my life for sure. I was the Maid of Honour at her wedding, and she will certainly be the Maid of Honour at mine.”
Melinda even lives with one of her older sisters, who now doubles as her best friend. “The two of us were never that close growing up, only because of the age difference, but now I find that because we’re mentally closer in age, we talk about boys—which we never did before—we all got tattoos together, we did these things that I would never have seen myself doing.”
Jessica credits her sister as the one person who’s been there through it all. “My best friend is my older sister. All through me getting on the show… she’s been right by my side. She’s really my rock; whenever I have a hard time I go to her,” she says. “She’s taught me to learn to laugh at myself and to not take this job so seriously, as people can sometimes do.”
Growing pains aside, these ladies are champions of friendship, and love nothing more than a good laugh and a fab night out with their closest gals. “It’s probably my favourite thing to do on a weekend: get a bunch of girlfriends together, blast some cheesy ‘90s music, and everyone’s doing their hair, fighting over the mirror and picking out their outfits. That’s always more fun than the actual party,” gushes Annie.
With friends like these, who needs Prince Charming? These three starlets have found unconditional love in their closest girlfriends, which is something that’s possible for all of us. Keep your heart warm this winter with good girl talk, unrestrained laughter and friendships to last a lifetime.
SOME DEGRASSI GIRL TALK
If you could have dinner with any girl, dead or alive, who would it be?
Reese Witherspoon. I really respect her as an actress and I look up to her. Her work is amazing. I just feel like she’d be someone you could have dinner with; she seems so nice.
Marilyn Monroe. I’m a huge fan. I have a big poster of her in my room. She was just very feminine and very out there. She wasn’t ashamed of who she was, she was just her. She set the bar for it’s okay to be sexy, it’s okay to just do you, and don’t worry what anyone else is going to say about it.
I’d really like to meet Kate Middleton. My sister and I were actually really, really into the Royal Wedding. We had a Royal Wedding party together and we dressed up and everything, so I feel like it’d be really cool to meet a princess! That or Kate Winslet, who’s my favourite actress.
PHOTOGRAPHY BY RICHARD SIBBALD
Styling by Donovan Whyte for Judy Inc. Hair and makeup by Esteban Ortiz
Photography assistance by Rob Fournier. Faze assistance by Carrie Cai, Steven Edmonds and Jenni Sun.
On the cover and these pages (shown here from right to left):
Jessica is wearing a RARE dress, BCBG shoes, REMIX earrings. and cuff and imPRESS by Broadway Nails.
Annie wearing a BLAQUE LABEL dress, BCBG shoes and belt, REMIX earrings and ring and imPRESS by Broadway Nails.
Melinda is wearing a BCBG dress and shoes, REMIX earrings and bracelet and imPRESS by Broadway Nails.