Actors come in all different shapes and sizes, with countless different motivations behind their desire to do what they do for a living. For Liam Casey Sullivan, acting has much to do with exploring himself and the relationships in his life through the contrast and comparison of his own personal dealings with those of his characters. More so, however, Sullivan finds gratitude in knowing that his acting has the ability to make his audiences think, feel, and reflect. In fact, according to Sullivan, if he could make a difference in the life of a single audience member, no matter how significant, and help them relate to the experiences he depicts through his work, he will have made it.
“Being able to be a part of quality content while knowing the impact it has on its audience is a responsibility I will always hold close to my heart. I felt that if I could assist in helping someone navigate a personal experience, one of my lifelong goals would be met,” told Sullivan.
This desire proved particularly useful in 2016 when Sullivan landed himself a role on the Netflix Original Series, Degrassi: Next Class. Known for its tendency to open conversations about controversial topics, the Degrassi franchise has become notorious for testing boundaries and showcasing the daily struggles that young adults face. For the show, Sullivan played the school president, Tristian’s, love interest. His character was intended to be a sweet, charismatic, sexually-charged adolescent. Wherever and whenever possible, Tristian and Sullivan’s character, Chris, allow their lust to get the better of them and sneak away to engage in sexual acts. It isn’t until Tristian develops a mysterious pain in his genitals that Chris finds himself left in a confused state. Ultimately, Tristian struggles to come to terms with the reality that he and Chris’ unsafe sexual practices landed them in an undesirable position and they must determine how best to address the issue.
In all, Sullivan felt honored to have been cast in such a well-known series. It is rare for an actor to grow up watching a show and one day find themselves being able to act in it. In addition, getting to do so in his and the show’s hometown of Toronto, added to the uniqueness of the experience. Fortunately for him, not only was this an exciting career move, it was also very enjoyable. He intentionally drew parallels between his own high school and Chris’ in order to play Chris as convincingly as possible. In fact, to really sell his character, Sullivan had to find a way to appear as though he fiends sex, as many teenagers do. He was determined to appear as though he thought of sex and only sex at any given moment so that he could accurately capture the amount of sexual tension necessary between Chris and Tristian for each scene. Having chemistry with Tristian and developing an on-screen relationship was crucial to the storyline and Sullivan did so with ease.
As is the case with most episodes of Degrassi, this episode aimed to relay an important message about Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) awareness to its audience. Chris’ lustful blindness cast an important light on the way in which STIs are spread and transmitted. In order to make the episode’s message apparent and meaningful, Sullivan felt that it was crucial to give audiences the impression that Chris is so motivated by sex that he carelessly ignores the possibility of contracting an infection. He wanted viewers to see how simple it can be to end up in an often irreversible position and to understand that it is not always ideal to submit to subconscious desires. Regardless of how strong a sexual desire can be, there are safe ways of engaging. In all, he felt great comfort in knowing that he was contributing to a wider, positive impact on the young viewers who watch the show. His character was not only relevant, but relatable and he takes pride in knowing that he may have proactively helped teenagers avoid the negative repercussions of unsafe sex. Being a part of such a progressive television show is a rare opportunity and he considers himself lucky to have been able to do so alongside other young actors driven by similar desires. Playing Chris allowed Sullivan to honor his commitment to making a difference in the lives of his audience members and he hopes to continue doing so for shows and films like Degrassi: Next Class for the remainder of his career.
“It’s so rewarding to know that the messages in this show are modern and progressive, connecting with youth all over the world. I remember how this show made me feel when I was venturing into my teen years and to think that it’s still going on is incredible. To also know that I was able to contribute to its development feels like such a huge achievement for me,” he concluded.
Photo by Dahlia Katz