Pictured: Actor Craig Arnold. Photo Courtesy of Craig Arnold.

Pictured: Actor Craig Arnold. Photo Courtesy of Craig Arnold.

Craig Arnold initially planned on being a musician. From the age of 13, the Toronto-native focused on playing guitar and putting together bands. He did not consider acting to be a long-term interest, until his participation in a high school play revealed unexpected similarities between playing in bands and acting in a cast.

“You have to learn to work with your cast mates, just as you do with bandmates, to get the right chemistry,” Arnold said. “There’s an alchemy to both music and acting, where you blend these different variables into a larger whole.”

Since then, the 24-year-old rising star has made guest appearances in a number of television shows, including CTV’s Spun Out and Played, Global’s Bomb Girls and The Firm, CBC’s Heartland, Showcase’s Lost Girl and King, and Syfy’s Haven. He has also made one previous feature film appearance in the 2012 film Blackbird.

Arnold is best known, however, as Luke on Degrassi: The Next Generation, a jock conflicted between his Christian faith and the temptations that come with being an adored high school athlete. The role requires the actor to play a bully and a homophobe while injecting enough pathos into the performance to prevent the character from becoming a complete heel. He will resume the role when Degrassi: The Next Generation returns this fall.

While Arnold has certainly made his mark in the world of television, he is making a strong case for his potential as a film actor as well. Wet Bum, Arnold’s latest project which premiered at this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, follows Sam (Julia Sarah Stone), a 14-year-old social outcast who confronts the pressures and realities of growing up while moving between school, swim practice and her job working at a retirement home. Arnold takes on the role of Lukas, Sam’s older swim instructor, who proves to be both charming and threatening, and serves as a lesson to Sam that those distinctions are often conflated. The film is the feature debut of writer and director Lindsay MacKay, who has admitted that the plot is partly culled from her own experiences, and has been met with an overwhelmingly positive response thus far. In addition, Julia Sarah Stone was named one of this year’s TIFF Rising Stars. Reviews have praised Arnold’s versatile performance, establishing him as a young talent to watch.

Recently, Arnold took the time to talk to GALO about Wet Bum, working with a first time director, and the challenge of playing shady characters.

GALO: You’ve been on Degrassi: The Next Generation for two years now. What was it like joining a franchise with such a long history and loyal fan base?

Craig Arnold: It was amazing. It’s been the highlight of my career so far, for sure. It’s so popular in Canada and especially in Toronto — it’s this cultural staple, almost. To join it was huge. So it was great in that sense, and it was also my first series regular part, so I got to learn so much about working on a show and the industry in general. They have such great people working on the show, people who have been there since it first started in the ’80s. I’m so proud to have been a part of it.

GALO: Was it challenging injecting yourself into a show that had been running for 12 seasons when you signed on?

CA: It was tough because they have been successful and they’ve done something that people have liked for so many years, but they kind of have it down to a science there. They write scripts that they know are going to resonate with the audience and the director and crew perform their roles like clockwork. So it is a little nerve-wracking, to jump into the mix, but it was cool to get into something that everyone has been grooving with for 12 years already.

GALO: Describe how you landed the role of Lukas in Wet Bum. What was it about the script and the character that initially appealed to you?

CA: The script was a fresh take on a coming-of-age story. There was really beautiful imagery in the script, and my favorite thing about the script was that all of the characters were really well fleshed out. No one came across as a typical high school kid or old man. There were no black-and-white characters; they all had their own grey areas. So I was really drawn to that. Lindsay is so great, in her writing she poses these questions about life, death and love, and doesn’t necessarily try to answer them. And a lot of the stuff I’m drawn to is like that, where you can’t necessarily tie everything up neatly at the end, but you venture to ask some questions that are interesting to think about.

As far as Lukas goes, I thought he was really interesting. In the first audition, there were two scenes, the first one was from early on in the movie, when he and Sam have a kind of innocent relationship, and the second scene was from later in the movie, and it was kind of intense and creepy. It was cool to see the two sides of the character and go, ‘Wait, this is the same guy doing these things?’ It felt very real.

GALO: Did your interpretation of the character match Lindsay McKay’s? Was there anything you altered about the character with your performance?

CA: We were pretty much on the same page. We wanted to make sure that you would like him and he would come across as a nice guy, so that the turn at the end would be kind of a surprise. There were a couple of scenes near the start of the movie where she would alter my performance a little bit, she would ask me to play scenes as the instructor with a little more authority when I was playing them more fun, but for the most part we were in sync with how we thought about the role.

Before we started filming, Lindsay suggested I watch the film Fishtank (2009) by Andrea Arnold, where the character played by Michael Fassbender is very similar.