How Drake Made That Epic Degrassi Reunion Happen

Exclusive: Miriam McDonald and Shane Kippel sound off on the epic three-day shoot Drake orchestrated with over 20 members of the Canadian teen soap's orignal cast

By Tierney Bricker Jun 14, 2018 7:42 PMTags

"There were tears. There was laughter. There was reminiscing."

And you thought your high school reunion was epic. Drake (Aubrey Graham) gave longtime Degrassi fans the greatest gift with his "I'm Upset" music video on Wednesday night, staging a massive reunion with the iconic Canadian teen drama's original cast. Emma, Manny, Spinner, Craig, Paige, Marco...they were all there. Even Rick (Ephraim Ellis), the student who shot Drake's character Jimmy, paralyzing him, was invited. 

So how did Drake pull off this massive Degrassi High reunion, filmed on the original set in Toronto, without anyone catching on? Well, it all happened very quickly, according to Shane Kippel (Spinner, Jimmy's BFF), the first cast member contacted about participating in the video, and Miriam McDonald (Emma). 

Degrassi: Where Are They Now?

Kippel told  E! News it was "two weeks from concept to filming" for the "I'm Upset" video, with the three-day shoot taking place June 8-10, wrapping Sunday around 5 a.m.

Of the cast's interactions in the video, which quickly became a worldwide trending topic on Twitter after its release, Kippel said, "It could not have been more natural. The energy that was caught on camera, nothing of that was played up for effect. That was how we were really feeling being in each other's presence, so I'm happy it translated. How it looked on-camera is exactly how it felt when the cameras stopped rolling."

Both Kippel and McDonald were quick to credit Karena Evans, the video's director (a 22-year-old Toronto native who revealed she grew up watching the show on Instagram), for encouraging the reunited cast to just be themselves and have fun on-camera. Which is exactly what they did. 

"[She] did an amazing job of almost under-directing us in a sense. She wanted to capture that nature feeling," McDonald said, noting that it was Cassie Steele's idea to have Emma fuss with Manny's revealing ensemble, a direct nod to the original series (What true fan could forget Manny's thong?!).

The chance to be "a part of this incredible piece of Aubrey's journey" meant a lot to the cast, but so did the opportunity to get the majority of  the original cast in the same room together since the series premiered in 2001. 

"We have known each other for 17 years," MacDonald said. "The ones who were in season one met 17 years ago. A. That makes me feel old. So these are some solid friendships."

Of course, fans immediately noticed several key players were MIA, including Ryan Cooley (J.T. Yorke) and Daniel Clark (Sean Cameron). 

Both Kippel and McDonald weren't sure exactly why they were missing from the video, she did say, "I did hear that Ryan Cooley apparently thought it was a scam, didn't believe it. I guess it was too good to be true or something. Aside from that, not 100 percent sure. We love the entire cast, we're so grateful to the ones who showed up and we were thinking about the ones who weren't there."

Kippel added, "They were all missed. We did reach out to them…made as many phone call and FaceTime attempts as we could, but availability is always an issue when you're dealing with such a large group."

(Clark told Page Six that he was never contacted to be in the video.) 

Of course, at the end of the day, it was really about the man of the hour, the artist formerly known as Wheelchair Jimmy. And while Drake has become one of the most celebrated musical artists in recent history, he's still just Aubrey to his former cast members. 

Though some of them hadn't seen the rapper in years, Kippel said, "He really hasn't changed. He's the same person we knew and loved back then with just way more authority now." 

McDonald added, "When we all saw Aubrey I think we were all just so happy and excited and so thankful to him that we got to be part of this amazing ride."

Never one to shy away from his teen soap past, Kippel said staging this Degrassi reunion was an important part of the rapper's current career plan, with his next album, Scorpion, coming out on June 29. 

"As excited as we were to see him, he was maybe even more excited to see us because it was part of his plan," he explained, "whatever point he's at in his career right now, he's really embracing his past and all the different events lined up to bring him to where he is now. He orchestrated this reunion. He had the vision, he wanted to do it, he made the calls and I think he was just so excited and grateful that everyone showed up and was there for him to be a part of it. It almost seemed off-side, like how could we not be a part of this?! He was overwhelmed by the response he got from friends he hadn't seen in a very long time...he was as touched as were to be asked to be a part of it." 

To bring this to fruition, Drake brought back together over 20 cast members, which included Dalmar Abuzeid (Danny Van Zandt), Sarah Barrable-Tishauer (Liberty Van Zant), Paula Brancati (Jane Vaughn), Stefan Brogen (Archie "Snake" Simpson), Lauren Collins (Paige Michalchuk), Nina Dobrev (Mia Jones), Marc Donato (Derek Haig), Jake Epstein (Craig Manning), Stacey Farber (Ellie Nash), Jake Goldsbie (Toby Isaacs), Andrea Lewis (Hazel Aden), Linlyn Lue (Laura Kwan), Melissa McIntyre (Ashley Kerwin), Adamo Rugguiero (Marco Del Rossi), AJ Saudin (Connor DeLaurier), Christina Schmidt (Christina Schmidt). Plus, Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith, who guest-starred as themselves in several episodes, including the Degrassi Goes Hollywood film special, also appeared. 

And because the show had so many characters, it wasn't a typical experience to have a large number of cast members in the same scene, making this video shoot a truly memorable experience. 

"There wasn't a day where we actually filmed Degrassi where all the characters were present," Kippel said. "On the average day, you would have maybe 3-5 cast members here, but to have everyone in  the same after not seeing each other anywhere from a couple of weeks to over a decade all thrown back into this scenario where we're filming Drake's music video as a backdrop was just such an such a layered experience.

As McDonald simply put it: "It was everything."