MORRISBURG – “I have a feeling that whatever I do as an actor, I’m still going to be best known as ‘that guy who shot Drake’,” laughed Ephraim Ellis, who is currently playing Paul in the new Upper Canada Playhouse production of Neil Simon’s Barefoot in the Park.
Ellis, who is making his debut at the Playhouse, achieved his earliest theatrical notices as ‘Rick Murray’, an emotionally disturbed teen on Degrassi: The Next Generation, the internationally popular Canadian television production. His character ‘shot’ rapper, pop star and actor Drake’s character in 2004.
“To tell you the truth, it was fun,” Ellis said, grinning.
For the young actor, the ‘Rick Murray’ role was literally his breakthrough into television and stage acting.
“I was 18 that summer, just six weeks after graduating from high school in Toronto. I was planning to go on to theatre school in the fall, but I suddenly got the chance to audition for Rick.
Technically, I became a series regular, doing eight episodes in two seasons.
I never did go off to theatre school. I threw my hat directly into the acting ring and it proved to be a good choice.”
Ellis recalls his time on Degrassi: The Next Generation with great fondness.
“The writers always tried to make the show as real as possible. Every episode had a message about topical teen issues, which really seemed to speak to kids.”
It was also a fertile training ground for a young actor, who had decided that his career would be in acting.
He learned to cope with the demands of screenplays, where scenes are often shot out of sequence over 12 hour days.
“You have to build your character,” Ellis said. “You use the same role building ‘muscles’ as you would use in live theatre, and you use your imagination to craft the character.”
Since his time on Degrassi, Ephraim Ellis has appeared on television in productions as diverse as Zixx: Level 2 and Zixx: Level 3, Falcon Beach and The Murdoch Mysteries.
“I love both live and film acting, but both for completely different reasons,” he explained. “Film will always have a special place in my heart, but I am developing the same feeling for the theatre. The immediate reaction you get with a live audience, the laughter, the tears, is wonderful.”
He is excited about his role as Paul, the young husband in the current Playhouse production of Simon’s comic classic, Barefoot in the Park.
“I was able to switch into Paul fairly easily,” Ellis said. “In his original stage directions, Simon wrote ‘Paul is 26 years old, but acts 56.’ My girlfriend read this and said, ‘Well, that describes you,’” he laughed. “Paul can be a fuddy duddy at times, and I can be one too.”
Ellis said that as an actor he must compartmentalize the different characters he is called on to play.
“Each character has a little drawer in my brain,” he said. “When I build a role, I ask myself, what do I have in common with this person? How are we different? I start from there.”
Ellis comes from a family connected to the arts. His mother is an artist and jeweller and his father is a visual artist, who was at one time the stage manager at Second City. His sister is a medical artist.”
“My family thinks my career is great,” the young actor laughs.
Following a run of Barefoot in the Park at the Playhouse, then at theatres in Orillia, Collingwood and Brampton, Ellis will be traveling to Roseneath Theatre for Young People in Toronto.
There he will join a United States touring production of The Money Tree, a show aimed at young children.He readily admits that “theatre is my world.”
It is the profession to which he is prepared to devote his life.“People are paying me money to pretend to be other people in film, or television or on stage,” he laughed, “and I love it.” He is passionate about acting.
“I’ve been in this work for over 10 years now. Nothing brings me more joy, or makes me feel more like myself.”