Talk Nerdy With Us recently had the pleasure of chatting with Canadian actor Raymond Ablack. He is best known for roles on Degrassi: The Next Generation, Orphan Black, Defiance, Teenagers and the upcoming series Shadowhunters. To find out more about Ablack, read our interview below.
When was the moment you realized you wanted to be an actor?
My parents had just taken me to see a production of the Lion King on stage in Toronto. I saw the kid playing Simba on stage and I thought “I can do that, nothing special there”, and then two weeks later I saw auditions in the newspaper and I asked if I could go, and I fluked out and got it. It was somewhere in watching the Lion King on stage in that audience that I thought “I could probably do that”.
Then you did, which is kind of amazing! So when you were on Degrassi, you were also in school the entire time. Is that true?
Yeah. I was finishing my last year of high school and then I went to Ryerson University the next year.
Are you still in school now?
I am still in school now. (Laughs). I switched majors.
What are you studying?
I’m studying Radio and Television broadcast at Ryerson University.
What is your favorite subject in school?
I think it would have to be anything to do with production. Any of the production courses or certainly camera work, and then beyond radio and television it would lay somewhere either in english or astronomy.
Do you have any desire to work on the production side or behind the camera?
No, I don’t think so. I really like being in front of camera … but I do like the whole production format when it comes to broadcast media. In my head as a back up plan I would love to be a sports anchor on a sports network.
Specifically for hockey or for any sport?
(Laughs) Specifically for hockey. I’ve been playing hockey for something like 16 years, so that’s my encyclopedia.
What positions did you play in hockey?
I’ve played every position on the ice. Right now I’m on goal. A bunch of kids from Degrassi, Luke Bilyk, Munro Chambers, myself, Craig Arnold, we have a hockey team and I’m their goalie.
Are you guys good? (Laughs).
We won the championship this year!
Congratulations! You’ve said before that Craig Manning was your favorite character from Degrassi. Did you watch Next Generation after you left?
After I left? I didn’t watch too much after I left but prior to my role, I watched it pretty religiously.
Do you have a favorite character from the later seasons?
I’m a fan of Claire. Aislinn Paul, I think is one of the best. I think she is one of the best actors to have been a part of the Degrassi franchise. I think the world of that girl and her talent and ability.
Let’s talk about the webseries Teenager. How did you join the series? Was it because of your connections or did you have to audition for the character Gabriel?
It really just fell into my lap. It’s just funny how the industry works, I guess. My best friend Dalmar (Abuzeid), who’s also my roommate, was in a film called Pompeii with another young actor from Toronto named Emmanuel Kabongo. Dalmar took me as his guest to the wrap party of that film. I met Emmanuel and Emmanuel was talking to me about a show that he was working on with Matt Murray (the director of Teenagers).
He pretty much on the spot offered me a part in the show, and then I met with Matt. Matt said there was just one other character that they were looking to fill now and it was the character of Bree. They described what they wanted the character to be like and I was like “oh, I know a girl like that! Her name is Chloe Rose, you should give her a call”, and then they called up Chloe, and it was all very word of mouth, like “hey, do you know someone? Do you know someone? Do you know someone?”. People, friends of friends just brought each other on to the show.
You’ve said that you are very similar to Gabriel, but in what ways are you different?
I think I’m a more loyal friend so far than Gabriel has shown. I don’t know if you remember in the first season when Ash contracted an STD and I sort of distanced myself from him because it would affect my popularity in the school. I feel like that’s not something I would do.
We know that snakes terrify Gabriel. So, what terrifies you?
Spiders. Well, insects in general terrify me. I can’t do bugs. (Laughs).
All of season two has aired so do you think Bree and Gabriel are official now? Are they Boyfriend/Girlfriend?
That’s a question maybe better for Matt Murray, but yeah, the way I felt while performing it with Chloe was that we were official and we worked past the turmoil that we’d seen earlier in the season.
Since it is a webseries and you don’t have to deal with networks, how does renewal, or new seasons work? Are you guys automatically doing a third season? What’s the deciding factor for another season?
I think a lot of it has to do with how quickly Matt and Sara (Tamasoukas) can write a new season, and then as well … I mean the first season of Teenagers was just a school project for Matt. He had to do a film project for his film course and he did Teenagers. So if we do a third season it’s because it’s received so much admiration. I think that’s why we would be doing it again. The difficulty lies in getting all these people who worked on it, getting them back together and making sure schedules don’t conflict, people sometimes get other work and stuff. That can slow it down. Yeah, we don’t have networks and money to appease people, it’s just getting schedules to work in harmony.
How long does filming an episode actually take?
It’s actually pretty quickly. Again, because there is no network and there’s no rigid production schedule where they have to get one episode done in two days or something, there’s no formula like that, it’s just as quickly as he can shoot everything that he has. Usually he writes the entire season and then we start shooting the entire thing all at once. I don’t think it’s shot per episode, I think it’s shot per location. In season two, for example, we have like ten scenes in the school classroom, so we shot all ten scenes from the whole season at once. It’s just for better efficiency.
Did doing Degrassi prepare you for that mindset since you guys would do a bunch of episodes at once?
Yeah, I think any show that any actor in the world is working on would prepare you for that style of shooting. Because, everything is about efficiency. Nobody has the time to shoot episode by episode. Degrassi really did help me to learn about shooting out of order and maintaining your consistency of character throughout.
Besides Teenagers, you guys just got funding for Ashes. What can you tell me about my character, Jay?
A friend of mine, Jacob Raymond, who’s also on Teenagers, wrote it. Jake ended up getting on Teenagers because Matt needed to do a party scene and the day of the party scene kept getting pushed because it’s difficult getting together 10-20 people all on the same day, so the day kept getting pushed.
Jake Raymond is a friend of mine and it was confirmed we were going to do the scene and we needed extra bodies so I invited Jake to come out and join the shoot. Matt was okay with that. I think that Matt took a liking to Jake and started writing him in as one of my friends on the show. That was an interesting little story of how Jake ended up on Teenagers.
Anyways…about two years ago, Jake, Dalmar, Craig (another friend of mine from Degrassi) and I, we all went out on a trip in the summer. Just to Bodega Beach which is a beach north of Toronto. We were kind of joking around about like “wow, this place is deserted, we should shoot something here”. Jake took it seriously and went and wrote this film and put all of his friends in it.
I just play someone who Jake meets on his journey to the beach. I don’t want to give too much away about it. It’s a supporting character in his film which is pretty beautiful.
According to Twitter, you’re going to be on Shadowhunters, right?
Yeah, yeah. I don’t know if maybe that was a mistake letting that slip (laughs), but I’m supposed to … I don’t know if I’m supposed to keep that under wraps, but yeah I’m excited to join the cast of Shadowhunters!
Can you tell us about your audition process for it?
Yeah, I auditioned for Shadowhunters maybe five or six times for different characters, so I knew that maybe something in the performances was in the right realm of what they were looking for, but maybe I just wasn’t a fit for all the characters. It was very similar to Degrassi. I had auditioned and screen tested for Degrassi I think twice before landing the spot of Sav. I felt like maybe there was an opportunity, maybe there was a chance to get on the show, but I sort of didn’t even believe it. I auditioned for, I think Simon and Alec.
I remember Melinda Shankar had also auditioned for (Alec’s sister) Isabelle. I remember her coming over to the apartment and us running lines together as Izzy and Alec and there being a lot of brother/sister chemistry. We still had it in us from playing Sav and Alli. So that would have been interesting and fun!
Did you read Cassandra Clare’s City of Bones prior to your auditions?
I’m starting the books right now. I’ve seen the movie, but from what I understand there is just so much more in that series, there’s so much in that series that the movie wasn’t able to … you know, and often that’s the case with movies of books, you can’t put everything, all the intricacy and delicacy of the books into a movie. So yeah, I saw the movie, but I’m more excited about starting the books right now.
Can you tell us what kind of character you’re playing, or who you’re playing, or is that under wraps?
All I can say is I don’t know if my character is good or evil, because I, myself don’t know.
Do you and Dalmar now have a TV?
We just got one. We just got one a little more than a month ago. We moved into this place in April and we were both fortunate enough to have a good amount of work, acting work, so we didn’t have a lot time to be sitting in front of the TV. Now it’s winter time and work has slowed down a little. Certainly, I’ve got my school which I should be doing my essays all the time, but I don’t mind procrastinating with a little bit of TV now. (Laughs).
Do you enjoy watching yourself? Will you be watching Shadowhunters?
I don’t enjoy watching myself, but I will watch because I want to see what this show brings. Just from the preview and the trailer it looks like it’s going to be epic. Like every episode is going to be epic, like in the vein of Game of Thrones or Walking Dead, just every scene looks fantastic in terms of set deck and lighting, and beautiful actors, and performances that I saw first hand. Maybe you can’t tell about the performances from the trailer, but I can tell you from being on set that the cast is very, very talented. There’s so many aspects of the show I’m going to have to watch. Even with me being in it. Usually me being in it would deter me from watching it, but even I have to watch this one.
So for people who think that Shadowhunters is strictly for young adults, what is a reason for them to watch it?
I think the content and the story defies more than just young adult. It defies more than what would be entertaining for only young adults. The stories are so universal and attractive to a larger audience than simply young adults. If someone were to use that as an argument to not watch the show, I think that would be doing them a disservice. And I think the lighting on this show is the best of any lighting I have ever seen on any show I’ve been a part of. It’s a very pretty show.
You’re also working on another webseries with Scott (Paterson), Melinda and Dalmar.
We’re doing a comedy series called O Brother Comedy. It’s just sketch comedy, very much like Dave Chapelle. I think it’s very very controversial Material, but hopefully it will be received well and in good humor. We are just about to launch an IndieGoGo campaign to get that funded so we can shoot our first 15 episodes. I think it will just be up online on YouTube for the first season until we get some network support for the second season.
Since our website is called “Talk Nerdy With Us”. What do you nerd out about? Or what makes you a nerd?
I’m the biggest Toronto Maple Leafs fan in the world. Prior to your call I was listening to radio interviews of journalists talking about last nights game. I do this every single morning. I think it drives Dalmar crazy. I listen at the very top volume while analysts talk about the Maple Leafs.
Video game? NHL 15.
Orphan Black clone? I‘m gonna have to say Beth because she’s tied to Raj.
Tweet that you’ve tweeted? I think I tweeted something about how I killed a spider in my room and I don’t have to go to the gym, or I don’t have to worry about cardio because my heart rate is up now.
Superhero from Marvel and DC? DC, Batman. Marvel … I don’t want to be too obvious, but maybe Spider Man.
Movie? One Flew Over the Coo Coo’s Nest with Jack Nicholson.
Fairytale? The Golden Bird. It’s like a Russian fairy tale.
Song of 2015? Oh geez, I don’t like a lot of current music. Let’s see. Oh, pretty much anything by Chance the Rapper. I like the entire Surf album.
TV show? Game of Thrones.