Hazel Aden was a stylish and witty student of Degrassi Community School, who just so happened to date Aubrey Graham’s, i.e. Drake, character in the early seasons. For a young actress, the gig was a pivotal moment in her burgeoning career and Lewis was ecstatic to get the news. “I had just wrapped Disney’s Cadet Kelly, and my agent called me the next day to [ask] if I’d be interested in doing it? I said yes...and the next week I was on set!”
Lewis was prepared for what she was getting into: “Degrassi has a long legacy in Canada as a hit show and cult fan favorite. I knew that the next generation that I was going to be a part of would be equally as successful as the first.”
She played Hazel for six seasons and while she is grateful for her Degrassi experience, she sensed something was up with the way her character was being treated. “In my six year run, I only had ONE major storyline,” she wrote in her eye-opening blog post published on her site last spring. “Whenever I would talk to executives about ideas I had on expanding my character...it would always get shut down or pushed aside.”
We decided to give this talented and determined actress a chance to speak about her Degrassi past and her exciting present!
WeWomen: Could you describe your upbringing to our readers?
Andrea Lewis: I was born and raised in Toronto, Canada. Both of my parents are from the West Indies so I was raised with very traditional West Indian values and influence.
WW: When did you first make the decision to become an actress?
AL: I started in the acting business when I was a toddler. My mom was approached by a casting director when she was walking in the mall with me and she wasn’t sure about it at first but she took the casting director's card anyway.
The next year she was on maternity leave with my brother and had the time so she figured why not! She called the casting director and she remembered us and from there I started doing commercials and print ads for Sears and then the rest is history!
WW: What was it like working as a teenager?
AL: I had a great time as a teenage actor. I worked a lot, learned a lot and began to develop stamina [needed to survive] in this business.
WW: What setbacks do you encounter as a black actress?
AL: I haven’t experienced any setbacks as a black actress that are any different from other black actresses. I’ve been the “token black girl” in a lot of my work.
I’m constantly searching for parts that represent me and hoping for Hollywood to see me past my complexion - but those aren’t setbacks - just a part of the business. You can’t allow that stuff to affect your work or pursuit of your dreams.
WW: What are the most common frustrations black female actresses face?
AL: I think the biggest frustration is just a lack of roles and also roles that allow us to be diverse women. I’d love to see black women get to play every type of woman - strong, vulnerable, a basket case, ghetto, snobby, happy-go-lucky, you name it!
WW: You had some controversial things to say regarding your experience on Degrassi. What caused you to sit down and write that blog?
AL: I wrote that post because I was getting tired of people thinking “Andrea & Hazel” are the same person and also thinking that my lack of story line was because of a lack of talent which just wasn’t the case.
It’s not easy being a person of color in the entertainment business. Sometimes you’re going to do projects that aren’t built for you or your character to win. It’s all a learning experience, but as I mentioned in that post, I had a great time filming the show, and I wouldn’t have changed the experience because it helped shape me into who I am now.
WW: Any backlash?
AL: There were a lot of people that appreciated the post and some people who didn’t...
WW: When and why did you decide to start developing your web series, Black Actress?
AL: I came up with the idea five or six years ago. I was filming a project in Vancouver and one of the cast members was introducing everyone to his manager. When he got to me he said, “This is Andrea! She’s the urban one!” It was a really awkward moment and I was the only person of color in the group and also the only one who got the extra “ethnicity addition” to my intro.
It was at that moment that I felt my cast mate saw me the same way the script saw me - as a caricature instead of a regular person. So from there I knew I wanted to do something that celebrated black actresses and show a black girl as just a regular [person] who’s chasing a dream. The web series format ended up being the best fit.
WW: What are the benefits of a web series for actors of color?
AL: I think web series are a great platform for people of color who are writers, directors, producers and actors. There are no gatekeepers to stop you from doing whatever it is you want to do in that format. You just need an audience and a good story!
WW: You are also a very talented musician. Was music an integral part of your family?
AL: Thank you! I’ve sang my entire life - I sang before I could talk! My dad was fan of all kinds of music so I was fortunate to grow up hearing a good mix of different genres and I developed an appreciation for musicianship at a young age.
WW: If you could only pursue acting or singing, which one would win out?
AL: God gave me both talents and I would never choose one over the other.
WW: What's one thing your fans would be surprised to know about you?
AL: I'm much smaller in real life!
WW: Lastly, what advice would you give women of color who are pursuing careers in the arts?
AL: Be patient, know exactly who you are, and be positive!
Andrea Lewis' series
In the scripted web series, Lewis plays Kori Bailey, a high-spirited black woman chasing dreams of Hollywood stardom. The series is produced by Tatyana Ali, Brian Walker, and Issa Rae of The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl fame and features exclusive interviews with notable actress such as Naturi Naughton and Essence Atkins.
Will you be checking out Andrea's series? What'd you think of her thoughts on Degrassi? Tweet us @wewomenCA!