Holly J. Sinclair is Degrassi: The Next Generation’s “mean girl.” This season, not only is she head cheerleader and class president, she’s high-strung, short-tempered, and in short, the typical “queen bee.” “Pretty much everyone who started last year was a bit of a mystery at first, but Holly J. put herself out there very quickly as being annoying and trying to basically irk everyone at school,” says 19-year-old Charlotte Arnold, who plays Holly J. on Degrassi. Holly J. was a new addition last season, as Heather Sinclair’s little sister, transferring to Degrassi from a rival school. (Heather Sinclair, Arnold explains, was a character who was unseen and always mentioned on the show – “kind of a running joke.”)
This year, though, in Degrassi’s eighth season, Arnold says that Holly J. will be mellowing out, partly as a consequence of some stuff going on at home, but mostly because of a new relationship that doesn’t develop along the expected path. “She’s got a relationship starting this year but it doesn’t really go easily for her, she has to work for it,” Arnold tells andPOP. “This year’s kind of the chance where you get to see her…come back down to earth.” Arnold is excited to see Holly J. go through some changes, “simply because everybody wants to see their character get some other layers…and discover why characters act the way they do.”
Speaking of change, Arnold says that this season of Degrassi represents a change in generation, as well. “This is season eight, and everyone’s talking about [how] a generation is seven years, so this is Degrassi: The Next Next Generation, in a way,” she says. There are eight new characters this year, and the focus has changed from the university kids (the original cast members) to a younger teen set, which Arnold says is a great chance to bring new energy into the show, and a chance to put a new twist to tried-and-true material from previous generations. “The issues that go with younger kids are issues that go with university students…some of the simpler things that everyone has to deal with in high school, like feeling like you don’t fit it. It’s really nice for them to start touching on those issues again.”
So while Holly J. will have her plate full this season, Arnold is no slacker on that front either. It’s mid-fall, and while university students find themselves at this time, laden with projects and midterms, few can explain their hectic schedules the way Arnold can.
“Filming, school, everything kind of started colliding, so I’ve been struggling for a little while now,” says Arnold of the last few weeks. “But I’m expecting things to slow down next week; we’ll be done shooting.”
Arnold is in her second year of Ryerson’s Journalism program. September and October, she says, are the busiest months for her, since those are the months where filming overlaps with school. She says that she’s looking forward to focusing on school a little more, and to any possible projects that might come up once filming is over, like last summer, for example. In August, the Degrassi kids took a two-week trip to Ecuador, their second with Free the Children. The year before, they had traveled to Kenya to build a school, and this time, they built a community kitchen, dining area and water system at the main school site for the kids at San Miguel de Pomachaca. “One thing I really, really like about this particular organization is that they don’t put an emphasis simply on building,” she says. “It’s also about really learning about the culture and the issues and meeting the people so that you can put a face to poverty rather than keep it at arm’s length.”
And the Degrassi kids did indeed become firmly ensconced in the community and culture. Arnold says for the first few days, they spent some time in Quito learning about the city before heading off to the mountains, where they stayed in an old hacienda (an converted plantation that was formerly used for indigenous labour, which Ecaudor no longer employs). One thing that really illustrated the idea of “community” during this trip was a “minga,” a gathering of all the people in the area who come to help whenever a minga is called. “In this particular case, when we were having trouble finishing the school in time, they called a couple of mingas where just the entire community would get together and help us paint and build,” says Arnold. “So literally, we were working side by side with workers from the community, which was nice.”
Arnold says that it doesn’t take an international adventure to change someone’s perspective, but that her trips with Free the Children have made a huge difference. “I know you can read enough about it, you can watch it on TV, and it still doesn’t feel real when you get to a community like Kenya, for me, or whatever your first encounter with real poverty is. And it’s just shocking…. Until you see it, it’s hard to actually picture that it is occurring right now, in 2008, around the world.”
The buzzwords for Arnold this year, both in her on- and off-screen lives, seem to be perspective and change. And while Holly J. is on the brink of making a change, it definitely looks like Arnold is already there.