Since graduating from Degrassi: The Next Generation, Jake Epstein has moved on to musical theater, starring in the touring productions of Spring Awakening and American Idiot. Now he’s staying put on Broadway as Peter Parker in Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark. I chatted with Jake about his geeky upbringing, Degrassi Stans, and singing in a harness.
LP: What was your Spider-Man education prior to doing this show?
JE: Well, I grew up reading comics. I was primarily an X-Men fan, but I definitely dressed up as Spider-Man for Halloween when I was like 12 years old. Maybe younger than that. That’s it. I mean, I watched the TV show as a kid growing up.
LP: But you’ve dressed up as Spider-Man before.
JE: I’ve definitely dressed up as Spider-Man before. I wasn’t kidding. For Halloween, I fully dressed up as Spider-Man as a kid.
LP: Do you feel like the world is ready for a Canadian Spider-Man?
JE: Oh, definitely. I grew up in Canada and was a huge Spider-Man fan, and never thought of Spider-Man as an American hero. He was just the most badass superhero, period. So, yeah, I think they’re ready for a Canadian. I’m very careful about my abouts and sorrys on stage. But yes, besides that, very ready.
LP: Obviously this is a very physical show — do you have any fear of heights? Because I was stressed out watching you up there.
JE: I love roller coasters, I love going upside down; there was never a fear of heights. I’ve never been in a harness before, so what’s funny is — I’ve been rehearsing for three weeks, which is not a ton of time. To learn how to be in a harness was probably the hardest thing for me to learn. Besides all the songs and the scenes and all the stuff that would make doing a big part difficult and challenging, then there’s this new thing that you’ve never done before. The song “Bouncing Off the Walls” took a lot of falling on your face, a lot of your head slamming into the sides of the cushions. It’s all about understanding your weight and how to shift your balance and a lot of core training, so that has definitely been the most difficult part of this.
LP: Do you feel like now you could go forward and be a superhero on the side, or are you still not at that point?
JE: It’s funny. At the end of the show, I kind of feel like a superhero. But then it’s back to like, “OK, how do I do this again?”
LP: It has to be empowering to put on a superhero costume.
JE: It’s crazy, yeah. You know, it’s all so new to me right now that I still haven’t fully processed what’s going on, but yeah, it’s ridiculous. What’s funny is putting on this suit is a quick change. I literally run off and there’s four people who help me put it on quickly so I can run out and do the next scene. So I don’t even have time to really realize that I’m putting on this thing. And all the sudden I’m on stage and in tights. There’s not a lot of time to think about it. And then you are — you are Spider-Man.
JE: What’s cool about Spider-Man is that it’s everybody — anyone, you put on the suit, anyone believes that you’re Spider-Man. That’s what’s charming about the character. He’s anyone. He’s a huge nerd that ends up being this huge superhero. I feel like there’s not a huge amount of pressure to be this thing because anyone could be this thing.
LP: Was the nerd part hard for you? Did you have to get into character?
JE: I wish I could say it was hard for me, but no, I definitely brought out my inner nerd from high school.
LP: How often are you approached by people calling you Craig?
JE: It depends on where I am. If I’m ever at a mall or some kind of place where there’s a lot of younger girls, some people will recognize me from Degrassi. But then it won’t happen for a long time. It’s funny — it happens more here in the States than it does in Canada.
LP: Maybe people in Canada are just used to seeing Degrassi actors walking out and about.
JE: Yeah, everyone knows someone who’s on the show. Everyone’s cousins with someone who’s on the show. So they’re like, eh, whatever.
LP: Do you think Craig Manning would make a good Spider-Man?
JE: I honestly think that they’re different characters. I feel like Craig Manning might become a villain character. I feel like he’d be — I mean, from the comics, he’d be Harry Osborne or something.
LP: He has more of a dark side.
JE: I feel like he has more of a dark side than Peter Parker.
LP: I feel like I have to ask you about Degrassi. It’s just such a huge fandom.
JE: Yeah, it’s still got this hilarious cult following.
LP: I mean, I used to go home every Friday in high school to watch Degrassi. It was a huge part of my high school experience.
JE: That was my sex ed class when I was growing up. We didn’t actually have sex ed. We would just have our teachers put on episodes of Degrassi to watch about whatever topic we had to learn.
LP: If you had to pick your favorite version of Spider-Man, outside of the musical, what would it be?
JE: I really liked the first Tobey Maguire movie. I thought the franchise — by the third movie, I wasn’t so into it. But the first movie was really well done and he was great. I thought he was a great Peter Parker. Like, a totally unlikely Peter Parker, which I really liked.
LP: Did you see the reboot?
JE: I saw the reboot. I thought Andrew Garfield was amazing. He was so cool. I found it refreshing to see such a dorky dude turn into Spider-Man.
LP: Well, you always have that transformation, which is so satisfying for everyone. Not just the glasses. As someone who wears glasses, I think you can be really cool and wear glasses.
JE: Well, what’s so funny is, it’s kind of hipster cool to be a nerd, to wear those glasses. It’s funny now what a nerd is versus 20 years ago what a nerd was.
LP: That’s the only thing I can’t suspend my disbelief about. I don’t believe Andrew Garfield wouldn’t be the coolest kid in school.
JE: I know! That’s why — I think he’s amazing, but I thought he was so cool. He was clearly so much cooler than everyone else.
LP: Speaking of cool, do you get that Americans just think Canadians are cool?
JE: Not really! I feel like if you’re from Europe, if you’re from England, you’re a bit exotic. If you’re from Canada, you’re just like, “Aww.” There’s a bit of like, “Oh, you’re from Canada! Welcome.” There’s a sympathy or something that I find really funny. People always let down their guard when they know that I’m from Canada.
LP: So do you see yourself sticking with theater in the long-term, or do you want to go back and forth between theater, film, and TV?
JE: To be honest, I just want to work, and I just want to do good work. I left Degrassi to go to a theater school because I wanted to go to school for it, ‘cause I loved it and actually wanted to do it seriously and not just whatever. So it made sense that after going to theater school, a lot of the opportunities I had were in theater. Since then, when I was in Los Angeles doing the American Idiot tour, I did a U.S. pilot, which didn’t get picked up, but that could have potentially… Such a stupid, crazy business. You kind of never know what road is going to lead where. So you keep going where there are opportunities. And for me, there’s been a lot of music theater opportunities, which totally took me by surprise. But I’m thrilled. When I moved to New York three months ago, if I was like, “In three months, I’ll be Spider-Man on Broadway,” I would have totally laughed in my face.