Interview With Lauren Collins

Canadian teen television show Degrassi: The Next Generation has maintained a growing fan base stateside since its debut on The N in 2001,
and with three-dimensional characters like drama queen-turned-fashion assistant
Paige Michalchuk (played by Lauren Collins), the show
has stuck around for seven seasons and is still going strong.

Collins, who has also appeared in films such as Take the Lead with Antonio Banderas, is part
of the reason the show was nominated for a GLAAD Award for Best Drama this year. She plays one-half of a lesbian relationship on the series, and it was one
that kept viewers watching, talking and taking to the net.

Paige and Alex (Deanna Casaluce)
were two straight teens on Degrassi
until they fell for one another, and it was a tumultuous
relationship that led fans to create "Palex" video tributes on
YouTube akin to South of Nowhere‘s "Spashley"
fan creations. Though the relationship ended controversially in Season 7, for
the majority of their relationship Paige and Alex maintained a strong, dramatic
friendship that kept viewers guessing.

Collins is straight, but she has a strong affinity for the relationship her
character had with Alex, and despite having initial reservations has fully
embraced Paige’s ambiguity, both sexual and otherwise. She talked to AfterEllen.com
about playing gay, dating a stripper, and the possible future of Palex.

AfterEllen.com: How
long have you been playing Paige now?

Lauren Collins: It
will be going on eight years. We’ve done seven seasons and just wrapped up
production on Season 8, so it’s been a long time.

AE:
I was reading that you think a lot of people assume you’re a lot like Paige —
do you have no traits that are like your character?

LC: I have to be
totally honest — after you play a character for so long, a lot of me has gone
into her, and a lot of her has gone into me. I like to think I assert myself a
little more now that I’ve played Paige for so long. I would never be as
brutally honest as her.

AE: Do you say "hon" as much as she
does?

LC: Uh, hell no!
No, I do not. I think I probably completely stopped saying it. I talk constantly
with the writers about Paige not
saying it.

AE:
How did the writers first bring up the idea of Paige having a relationship with
Alex?

LC: I knew they
wanted to have a lesbian story line coming up in the season and were trying to
figure out a character that it would work with. I think I was hanging out with
some of the writers and they sort it let it slip, and I wasn’t supposed to know
yet.

At first I struggled with the idea of it for a while, just
because Paige was such a boy-crazy character. It was hard for me to wrap my
head around it. Honestly, once I read the script for "The Lexicon of Love,"
which was the first episode that dealt with it, and once I really looked at the
relationship between Paige and Alex, they just did such a fantastic job, it
made so much sense to me.

Paige and Alex’s first kiss on Degrassi

AE: Did
you do any sort of research before you played someone who was queer?

LC: I did — I
mean, I’ve always known people active in the community here so I had a lot of
resources.

AE: Did you watch any
movies or anything?

LC: No, and you
know what? I’ve been dying to get into The
L Word
. I know people who just love it, and I still haven’t watched it. It’s
on my list!

AE: How do you think
Paige identifies? Would she call herself bisexual?

LC: There was a
scene that I think was cut out of the episode where Paige says, "I don’t
believe in labels — why do we need labels?" And it was kind of a shame
that scene had to go, because I think for her that about summed it up. I don’t
think for her it was about being a lesbian, about being bisexual or being
straight, it was about the love that she had for this person and what the
relationship was.

AE: That
was what was interesting because she bounced right back — she dated Jesse right
after she broke up with Alex.

LC: She was with
Jesse, she was with Spinner — I think for her it was really about the person,
not about their gender.

AE: It
must have been interesting to have the whole stripper part come into it. I know
when I saw the previews for that I was like, "Oh my God, they really are going to go there!" What was
that like to play the girlfriend of a stripper?

LC: When we first
heard it, we’re like, "Someone’s going to be stripping?" But it makes
sense in a crazy way because Alex was in such a desperate state, and she’s
obviously such a beautiful girl for her to fall into that I suppose. I mean, it
made sense. I’m not tough enough to do it, that’s for sure!

AE: Are you aware of
all the Palex videos on YouTube and such?

LC: You know, I’ve
seen some. I’ve heard about the petitions that went around when we broke up.

AE: Do
you think that has any affect on the writers?

LC: I think they
have to take their tips from the fans, just so people keep watching. But at the
same time, it’s interesting for them to mess with them a bit. You want to keep
them watching. It’s like the infamous Ross-and-Rachel relationship — are they
going to be together? You always want to have that interest from the audience.

AE: Do
you think anything will change now that Alex is no longer on the show?

LC: Characters
come in and out of Degrassi all the
time, so we’ve always said, "Never say never!"

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