While most of you will probably recognize him as Zane from Degrassi, Shannon Kook can most recently be found playing Zeta Bro Theo from the Carmilla web series and will soon be seen as Young Trey from Gillian Flynn’s novel, Dark Places.
From role preparation to feminism and LGBTQ representation in television and cinema, speaking with the South African actor really was extremely gratifying and I am excited to share his interview! Check it out below.
I heard that you will be playing Young Trey in Gillian Flynn’s Dark Places. How did you prepare for that role? That’s a bit of a darker film.
“Yeah, it was pretty exciting because it’s not what most people expect to see me as, because I guess I’ve been cast into a bit of a pretty boy, sweet Disney types of roles, so it was really great to break that up a bit. I did an audition tape and the director was really interested in me. He said, “I saw the people from Twilight,” but he really was taken by my tape, he gave me a few notes and wanted me to do it again and then I did the gauntlet of directors and producers.
As for preparing I was just really researching a lot of Native American culture because the character is part Native,then I was working out a shit load, eating salad lots, supplements and ECA stacks. I was a vegetarian for eight monthss. I was a vegetarian for eight months, because I was trying to fast-track getting into shape. I was just pretty frustrated trying to figure out how to get in shape as much as possible for this character because just the description of him in the book is just him working out for four hours a day. Just grunting and swearing to death metal and his body’s always at an acute angle.
There was some line saying that his body always seemed to be planched into some sort of acute angle. He’s always ready to make some comments or make a dig at you and berate you and stuff. I was like, “Man, am I focusing more on working out than the actual character?” All you’re doing is cooking, working out, working or sleeping and doing all of that. I just really detached myself from my friends, and I really mined the book. Took a lot of notes, and the book was such a huge resource.
I read the book in two days, I loved it. There was just so much gold in that. Getting into just such a sensational writer that gave me a lot of juice to bring forward into the screen, and I was just trying to figure out how to actually make that come forward to the screen, because it’s a different medium. I know there’s some very great fans of her work, so you want to do justice to that, and then also do justice to the nature of my character, because he’s an ethnic person, and I carry my own story of that coming from South Africa and having my own racial experiences. I didn’t want to dishonor any of the lineage of what the story I was trying to tell.
My character is really aggressive and he’s not a very enlightened person, but still, I wanted to communicate his experiences and why he happens to be in that situation. It’s just being the result of society and circumstance, and then what you choose to do with it, your decisions in your circumstance. Which is interesting, too, because I guess I’ve said before, that Zane on Degrassi is marked for being gay, and he’s emasculated for being gay and things like that. Whereas Trey Teepano is this mixed ethnic guy who struggles to have identity in the society that he’s in, and really channels that in a very aggressive, “I’m going to hit you first” power fueled way. It’s a totally different approach, but both of them are segregated and not accepted by society as much.”
Going off of that, your character on Degrassi, he was an openly gay athlete, whereas in Carmilla LGBTQ roles really discussed, they’re not the focus of the show. That’s what I love about it so much is that writers Ellen Simpson and Jordan Hall, they didn’t make the sexuality the main focus of the character. In comparison to Degrassi, how do you think that throughout the years portrayal of LGBTQ characters have shifted?
“I was real excited about Carmilla because they were all female leads and it was gay females, but there’s so many different names and some people identify with gender, some people don’t. I was excited about that because I didn’t think it was a topic that was addressed very much before. The same thing with bisexual roles because I feel like bisexual things aren’t really discussed, and people just assume you’re gay if you’re open.
I thought that was a great step and the females definitely take the forefront in the Carmilla series. My character, he’s the leader of the Zetas , but he’s more cerebral and he plots. He muscles with his mind rather than his body, even though he could handle himself on the sports field.
Men are starting to be able laugh at themselves, too. They’re making themselves sexual objects in a way, too. Though the women have had that in a much more narrow-minded sort of vein. I think the genders are trying to understand each other a bit more. The funny thing with feminism and all that sort of thing is, there could be a bit of a resistance, as with any change, but it comes to a question of the power of what it’s being done for. It’s whether it’s about your gender to be empowered, and more powerful; or whether it is really about equality and empowering each other. That’s where the difference lies.
Where the genius in HeForShe is, Emma Watson, welcoming men to now try and help raise women up, because men have felt like we’re not welcome by the feminists. I’ve felt that many times in my circle with women, that I felt like I’m trying to back them up and then I feel like I’m being attacked or like I’m not welcome to actually participate, and that sort of thing. But the way Emma Watson did that, it really struck me and I was quite touched by the way she did that.
I think it’s important that instead of trying to be better or stronger, that we’re actually trying to elevate “the we” rather than “the one” because we often have thought of ourselves as very separate and I think the world is slowly becoming more aware of the fact that we’re all connected and we don’t really exist separately. Society’s been schooled to think of our ego and how to compete, and that I am separate from you and just to be more successful and segregated.
That happens in little things just like sports teams, you know? You get your countries, your patriotism in countries, and then sports teams that you like and that creates barriers. Then you have racial barriers and sexual orientation barriers, gender barriers. Everything seems to be evolving, which is great.”
[Shannon and I took a bit of break here after both going a bit off tangent but I felt it was important to hear from not only a male’s perspective but also one who is an actor, regarding the movements that society has been making towards feminism and equality, especially within the media industry.]
From a male actor, that’s just really welcoming to hear. Lets get back to Carmilla for a bit. How does it feel to be part of such a big fandom? There was so much hype over the new characters and it was all rather exciting. You guys were welcomed with such open arms how did you react to the Creampuffs or the Tampon Fandom?
“The Creampuffs. Yeah, you know, you really can’t beat that. Carmilla is not some Oscar nominated show, and most of my friends I think do not know what the show is at all, but you can never really beat having, sort of a touching amongst a community. Degrassi was like that. I don’t think this is for my character, per se on the show, but the show itself, to be a part of that show. It’s not just a show of entertainment. It does actually ignite some sort of flame and self-pride within young people who are still trying to find themselves. To be a part of that is a very big deal to me. Sometimes I’m watching TV and I think, “Why am I watching TV? I’d rather watch a documentary.”
Then, you’re going in for a role and you question, “Why am I doing this role? Is it just a job or is it something that means something?” As an artist you want to do something that means something, but you know then, if you’re not working as an actor, that you’re working in a bar. A job’s a job to pay your groceries. I was very excited to be joining the world of the Creampuffs, and especially with the nature of where I’ve come from, from Degrassi, and now stepping into that. It spoke to me, and I get letters on Facebook from fans who confide in me about some very heavy things, and it’s hard for me because I want to be able to give back, but I also don’t want to speak out of place. I also don’t know how much gravity I have in their conscious, so it’s interesting. As for Carmilla, I’m really excited for them to see the arc of what happens toward the end of the season.”
What influenced you to go into acting?
“At first I was studying accounting, and I hated it. I went to a really good program and I was fortunate to be with the school, but it just didn’t stimulate me and I was doing it for the sake of doing it. Everyone, and I asked my friends, and they were like, “I’m doing it,” didn’t know why, it’s a safety thing. You do it so that you can make money.
There’s a formula. You go to school and then you get your degree, and you get that job, you get married, you have kids, and that’s that. I just wasn’t feeling like I could be that type of guy. I wanted to do something that spoke to me, that stimulated me in my day-to-day. I think there’s a misconception that if you do these safe routes that it’s going to be easy, but no matter what you do, it’s going to be a struggle. I was like, “I want to sweat for stuff that actually means something to me, and I can always change my path if it doesn’t work out.” I knew I would regret it because I saw some friends who were deciding to be actors and I started to resent myself for not having the bravery to do it myself.
A lot of my acquaintances were surprised I wasn’t being an actor, and I was surprised that they were surprised because I guess I never had the self-esteem to think that I was worthy of being an actor. So, it was partly that and then partly that I wanted to explore myself, give myself permission to feel and be different sorts of people. In society you have to live inside the box and abide by the law and be nice to people. I’m a very nice guy but I love playing bad characters. That seems to be coming a bit more forward now, it seems to be coming in the roles I’ve been playing, it seems to be happening more. They haven’t come out yet, but, I wanted to explore my existence and then I also wanted to have a ripple in society.”
Speaking of darker roles, I know you have an upcoming film, A Christmas Horror Story. What can tell us about your character there?
“That is co-starring William Shatner, and it’s basically an anthology of three different stories based during Christmas in a town called Bailey Downs, and it’s all interconnected by William Shatner. He’s sort of links the stories together. Weird things tend to happen in that town every year during Christmastime. It just goes into those individual occurrences. Each story has a different director, a different tone of film, and a different style of storytelling, so it’s exciting.
The Santa stuff’s very cool because the elves get possessed by a zombie virus and there’s Santa being like a Viking, whipping his staff around chopping off elves heads and battling it out at the North Pole. Then you have my storyline where I’m just with a bunch of high school kids. We go into a basement and are working on a school project to investigate some murder, some weird deaths that happened years before. We’re videotaping it, and then we deal with some stuff over there. Then there’s another storyline, too, with a family. Two other families, actually.”
We took to Twitter to see what some of your fans had to ask you and someone was wondering what shooting Carmilla in just four days was like compared to shooting Degrassi and other feature films.
“It was interesting because it was like theater, and that really excited me about Carmilla. We had a full frame shot of everything. One camera, so it was like an audience member, and I hadn’t done theater in a long time, although I went to the National Theater School of Canada for several years. It was a full take, instead of stopping and doing retakes, and we only had one to two takes. The tricky thing was that we didn’t have the rehearsal, because in theater you get to rehearse for several weeks, and then you do the show, and you do that one performance every time. You don’t stop.
From the TV, you don’t get the rehearsal, but you’ll block on set, you’ll deal with the cameras, and then you might get a couple takes. You don’t get as many takes as people think. I think people think you can be easy on everything and do as many takes as you want. It’s quick.
At least you get to do multiple takes on TV whereas with Carmilla they were telling us they wanted to do one take. That was the goal, to do one take, move on. Sometimes we’d do two. We didn’t have the time. Some of the other leads, they had so many lines. I don’t know how they knew their lines before. I need to run them with someone. Running it on my own is really different. It was a lot of fun though. The actors were all really prepared. I was very impressed with them. The crew was really, really great, and it’s always lovely to be on sets and work with people who are passionate about what they’re doing, and doing it because they love it. Not because they’re trying to fill their contract, it’s people and them doing it because there’s a passion they bring forward, and there was a level of that on Carmilla, so it was very refreshing and exciting. That on top of the fact of the fans, it’s very gratifying.”
Our final question, if you could work with any actor or actress, who would it be and why?
“Oh Shailene Woodley for sure. I look up to her a lot. She’s a young lady, but I love how she separated her work and the whole notion of Hollywood from everything. She’s very, very eco-conscious, and seems very awake, and she’s a spiritual person. I think Shailene Woodley has really interesting views on the world, and I love the way she’s been an example to young women and men too, by her way of life.
Her way of life is very specific. I admire her for the way she is and making it about the work. You can get caught up as an actor trying to tweet this, Instagram that, and trying to figure out how to make your career grow. She doesn’t care about the whole Hollywood stuff. She likes hugging over handshakes, she’s a minimalist. She’s really interesting. I’d love to work with her on that aspect. Then when you watch her on screen, she cracks the screen every frame. She’s so present. To be able to act next to someone with that sort of expansive heart, I think it will open me up and slap me into waking up and being a human being again. I would love to work with Shailene Woodley.”
Be sure to follow Shannon Kook on Twitter for his latest updates @ShannonKook and if you haven’t already you can check out Shannon in season 2 of Carmilla on Vervegirl’s YouTube channel and catch him in Dark Places in theaters everywhere August 7, 2015 or you can watch it early on DirecTV VOD.