Comparing Cassie Steele's role in the The L.A. Complex (which premieres tonight at 9pm on The CW) to her real-life persona, it seems as though the character of Abby Marcus was written for her. Both are Canadian, both are trying to break out in Hollywood, and both are grappling with the challenge of making a new home in a foreign country.
What distinguishes Steele from her on-screen counterpart is that unlike starving-artist Abby, she's already an established actress and singer in her home country. Those of us who grew up tuning into Noggin or The N might be familiar with her role as the legendary Degrassi: The Next Generation alum, Manny Santos, infamous for her transformation from Emma's bubbly, do-gooder sidekick to the insta-popular, promiscuous girl in school who walked the halls of Degrassi High in a hiked-up thong.
We caught with up the gorgeous 22-year-old making her stateside television debut for an entertaining conversation about how The L.A. Complex differs from other teen shows, growing up on Degrassi with Drake and bracing herself for U.S. success.
Interview by Tara Aquino (@t_akino)
Do you relate to your L.A. Complex character Abby?
I definitely related with the character. I went down there [to L.A.] to work on my music, which made it a bit easier for me because I wasn’t always waiting on everything. I was working on something else proactively, which was nice. But I do relate to her situation, whether it be me personally or just by knowing a ton of friends that have been through the same thing in the industry. She’s a very realistic character. I hope I did her justice.
Did you personally encounter any of the same challenges Abby faces in the show?
For Abby and everybody who goes down, it’s not even just like they’re moving away for a job, they’re moving away to try and get a job, which is a lot different. You have to consider the relationships around you, the decisions you have to make, whether it be long distance relationships, friendships, the things you have to say yes or no to, your personal life. Those little things aren’t irrelevant when you’re trying to, in such a few months, go from zero to ten.
The L.A. Complex gets a lot of comparisons to Melrose Place and other shows that are on the CW right now. What would you say sets your show apart from them?
Well, it has a different name. [Laughs.] It's flattering because L.A. Complex is a really good fit with all these wonderful shows that are on-air right now. I’ve never personally watched Melrose Place, but I’ve heard so many good things. I think what makes The L.A. Complex different is their personal relationships and things that happen to them. Everything is revolved around work and around your job and the relationships between other people sort of don’t matter as much. I think especially during pilot season, all you can think about is work. That’s the your life, you know? You’re always looking for the next job, you’re always trying to make it, especially in L.A., or you’re trying to stay there if you have made it and keep your sanity. It also has a comedic element to it. You have to be able to laugh at yourself, so I think that’s nice.
I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but it seems like every CW show is led by an actress from Degrassi. Is this all part of some Degrassi takeover of the that you guys had planned?
Well, yeah. Nina [Dobrev], Shenae [Grimes], and I performed a séance a few years back and asked the spirits to put us on the CW. I’ve been a bad girl, so I was last. [Laughs.] That’s all I can say about it. Don’t touch the Quija board!
Do you guys still keep in touch?
I actually just saw Shenae when I was in L.A. I just came back. Everybody tries to keep in touch as best as they can. But when you’re working—you know, Nina lives in Atlanta now. It’s so far away, I just don’t stop by in Atlanta. I mean, I go to L.A. all the time for work, but it’s not just like, “Oh, you know what? Let’s call Nina! We should do lunch in that little spot that we know.” And God knows where she is, you know what I mean? Everybody tries to keep in touch as best as they can. Sometimes it gets a little hard. If I’m not hanging out with anybody, I’m missing them a lot.
Another one of those people is Drake. Are you still in contact with him?
He’s like the epitome of an example of somebody that’s just too busy for anything. He’s had major success, we’re all so proud of him, and he’s on a tour in Europe right now. I would love to have a coffee with him, but by the time I get there, I’m sure he’d be across the world.
You also have a music career, so was a collaboration with him something you’ve ever thought about? Has it ever come up?
I mean, yeah, sure! It kind of feels like he was like my big brother growing up. I’ve known him since I was like 11 years old. Obviously, there’s a ton of admiration for somebody when you’re that age and Aubrey was a few years older than me. When you’re 11, that’s a lot, that’s like a decade. It’s like, “Whoa you know so much about so many things!”
He’s so talented and it’s not like he just bought it. He was always like that. He was always working on music and I think that’s something that anybody who is trying to make it in the industry should really take note of. He was working on it since—I can’t even remember. It’s something I’ve always thought of him doing or that he was doing.
For people who haven’t watched Degrassi and witnessed your huge success in Canada, you’re pretty much a blank slate. Would you consider that an advantage or a disadvantage?
I don’t think it’s either. Obviously, it’s an advantage because to have loyal fans is so incredible and rewarding, but I don’t think it would be a disadvantage. They’re two completely different shows. If anything, the people that grew up with Degrassi are ready to see something more mature, and edgier, and something different. There’s sex in it so everybody can relate to that, can’t they? Well, maybe they can’t, but everybody wants to. [Laughs.]
I really loved playing Manny. I look at it again and see that the fans were so loyal and it really made my life. I don’t know what I’d be doing without it. So yeah, I’m definitely not trying to separate, I’m just trying to make my new character the most relatable in every way possible for them and for new viewers.
Speaking of relatable, you’re pretty open on your Tumblr and Twitter. Once you start getting more famous and getting more recognition for the show, do you expect yourself to start changing and becoming more secretive about your personal life?
Yeah, I mean as far as my relationships go. But with myself and what I choose to be open with, I don’t think I’d ever let the public dictate that. What I choose to keep private is not on there, which I think I’ve done great job with. [Laughs.]
You definitely want your fans to see the real you and not something that’s written for you, not someone who’s tweeting or Tumblr-ing for you. They want to know you and I think they deserve it. For all their time watching you and supporting you, they deserve it. I just like to really connect with them. But there definitely is a large part of my life that I keep private and that’s what you don’t see on there. So, you can imagine all the private secrets I have! [Laughs.] I’m just joking.
In one of your posts you mentioned that you easily cut off your suitors.
Well, I’m 22. if you can’t do that, then you’re gonna have your heart broken a lot. [Laughs.] Although I’m working a lot, so it's not like they can come find me, you know? Its like, “Oh well, I’m in another city now, ha ha ha!”
You don’t want to be hung up on someone when you’re across the country trying to make it in your 20s, when it matters. You know, I don’t want to be like, “Ugh, but I have to call him!” Or, “Everybody stop! Stop filming! Stop it! I have to call somebody before we get into this.” [Laughs.]
Given the success of other teen shows like Beverly Hills, 90210 and the The O.C., what do you hope that The L.A. Complex becomes?
You just mentioned two really amazing amazing shows that are definitely on the history boards, of television, not actual history boards in school. [Laughs.] But gosh, I just hope it becomes something like that, something that gets recognition for what it is.
A lot of people worked really hard on this, so I think that it’s like an experiment and sort of a breakout for a lot of people. For Epitome, who produced Degrassi and Instant Star, which play in the States, this is their first CW show. For Martin Gero, the creator, this is something out of his element. He’s done Bored to Death and Battlestar Galactica and Young People Fucking. I think that it’s a really big risk and a really exciting time for a lot of people. I just hope that it’s everything that we all, as the group, want it to be. I would like it to be on the same steps as The O.C. and 90210.
So if it does become like The O.C. and Abby becomes an iconic character, would you mind being known as Abby for the rest of your life?
Of course not. I think that if somebody is iconic, it’s made an impression on people. I think that if you’re on that level, it means that you’ve affected people positively with your character portrayal. I definitely don’t think I’d mind. If you’ve gotten through to your fans or whoever was watching, it’s a very special thing. I mean, everybody on set calls me like “Cathy” or “Manny” or “Abby” or “That Girl” or “Alex” because my sister works on set. You can call me anything. Not anything. But a lot of things.