This September, actor Jake Epstein is enrolled in two high schools – Earl Haig Secondary School in North York and television’s Degrassi (Community School).

Jake joins the cast of CTV’s Degrassi:  The Next Generation when its second season begins Sept. 29.  He plays student Craig Manning, the stepson of Joey Jeremiah (Pat Mastroianni), a graduate from the original Degrassi show.

Craig’s charm hides a dark inner life that includes his mother’s death and abuse at the hands of his father.  By comparison, Jake, 15, lives a normal life with his family.  His father is a lawyer; his mother is a writer and his older sister Gabi is a student and singer.

“Craig has an abusive father that has messed him up a little in the head,” Jake says.  “[He] is trying to fit in and find a happy life.  I end up living with my stepfather Joey Jeremiah.”

“My character changes as the shows go on,” he says.  “As he tries to fit in, he gets himself into a bit of trouble.”

The teen actor made his professional debut in 1998 in Soulpepper’s production of Our Town at the Royal Alex Theatre and starred as the Artful Dodger in Cameron MacIntosh’s production of Oliver at the Princess of Wales Theatre the next year.

On the small screen, Jake played Chris in Real Kids Real Adventures in 1999 and Cam in The Zack Files on YTV in 2000 (the show was on air for two seasons).  Two years ago, he acted in the Disney movies Mom’s Got a Date with a Vampire and Quints, which earned him a Young Artist Award nomination.

This past summer, Jake took a break from acting and went to Camp Gesher, where he played soccer and performed in a student play called Lip to Lip.  The play won an award for best play in the Toronto District at the Sears Theatre Festival.  Jake played the son of a lesbian.

“I was thinking of not acting anymore, but Degrassi changed all that.  When the audition came up, I was excited.  Acting really becomes your life and if it is going to become your life, you have to really want to be happy with it,” Jake says.

Initially, Jake found joining the already close-knit ensemble cast of the weekly ½ hour series intimidating.

“At the beginning, it was threatening,” he says.  “There were all these kids that had been there for a year and they are all best of friends.  Everyone is hugging and kissing each other and it felt awkward.”

But Jake soon felt comfortable on set with his peers.

“The kids are really nice; I now feel loved,” he jokes.  “It is all good fun on the set, especially working with Pat Mastroianni.  He’s one of the coolest people I know – although I wouldn’t say that in front of him.  He really helped me to feel part of the cast.”

Jake says, “Craig is a good character to play.  He’s an artistic person, which I can relate to.  He’s a photographer – in real life I don’t take pictures, but I’m learning.”

Source:  Canadian Jewish News (September 26, 2002)