Why Drake Once Threatened Legal Action to Nix His ‘Degrassi’ Character’s Wheelchair
Drake didn't want his Degrassi character to be in a wheelchair and even apparently threatened legal action against the show because of it.
In a new interview with AV Club, the former Degrassi cast and creators spoke about the Season 4 plot in which a school shooting resulted in the "Hotline Bling" singer's character, Jimmy Brooks, getting shot and subsequently using a wheelchair. The team explained that they wanted to tell a balanced story and show how bullies can become victims. (Ultimately, they attempted to make the character of the shooter someone that the audience could sympathize with.)
Writer James Hurst recalled the moment when he got a legal notice from Drake, real name Aubrey Graham, regarding his participation in the show in light of his character's new storyline.
"There was a letter from a law firm in Toronto, and it was from Aubrey. It was an odd letter that said, 'Aubrey Graham will not return to Degrassi Season 6 as Jimmy Brooks unless his injury is healed, and he’s out of the wheelchair,'" Hurst said.
When Hurst brought Drake into his office to talk about the letter, Drake claimed he did not know that the letter was sent to Hurst. Hurst then asked how the rapper felt about his character being paralyzed following the shooting plot.
"He’s like, 'All my friends in the rap game say I’m soft because I’m in a wheelchair.' And I said, 'Well, tell your friends in the rap game that you got shot. How much harder can you get? You got shot, and you’re in a wheelchair,'" Hurst explained.
Hurst said that Drake "was so nice and apologetic about everything" after their talk and that he "instantly backed down." He also reminded Drake that his onscreen portrayal of Jimmy might help others out there who use wheelchairs, especially since he was "the coolest kid on the show."
"I think [Aubrey] struggled, just physically with having to all of a sudden do everything confined to a chair," actress Lauren Collins, who portrayed Paige, added. "That was really hard for him. I definitely have a few memories of him toppling the chair over and falling off of makeshift ramps that they’d constructed for him."
Collins noted that she didn't want to speak for anyone, but that Drake might have also struggled with the idea that he, out of the two main Black characters on the show, ended up getting shot.
"[There’s] the apprehension of having your character confined to a wheelchair, or even not really feeling like it’s right to be portraying someone who is confined to a wheelchair if you’re fully-abled yourself. But that pertains to [Aubrey] and how he felt with that," Shane Kippel, who played Spinner, added.
Daniel Clark, who played Sean, recalled that the crew did not let anyone see Jimmy get shot while they were filming. The episode was so intense that it initially didn't air in the U.S.
Stefan Brogren, who portrayed Snake and was also a director on the show, explained that there was a constant conversation surrounding Jimmy becoming able to walk again.
By the series' graduation episode, Jimmy had received a stem cell treatment that allowed him to walk using crutches to receive his diploma.