By Alison Northcott
I’ve been jokingly telling everyone that I have a “date” with Ross Hull tonight. Most people ask, “Who?” to my ultimate disappointment. But I’m quick to inform them. “Ross Hull. You know, that guy from Student Bodies? Remember that show on YTV? Or, Ready or Not? He was Amanda’s boyfriend.
Remember that kid on Are you Afraid of the Dark? That kinda geeky guy? That’s Ross Hull.” I remember every time I’ve seen Ross Hull in person.
The first time was at an audition for some MTV series. I had been living in Toronto for about year, working as an actress (more like working at Kinko’s and scrambling to auditions every few days). I was star-struck by his semi-celebrity and bombed the audition. The next time, I was browsing in the Used Book Room in Jorgenson Hall.
He was standing next to me in the literature section. I looked up and to my right, we made eye contact, I looked back down. “Wow. It’s him,” I thought. I’d heard rumours that Hull, now 29, was a Radio and Television Arts student. So I browsed a little longer than I needed to, then lined up behind him at the cash.
I tried to make a lame joke to get his attention. “Oh, yeah, I’ll pay debit?–then it doesn’t feel like I’m spending money, it’s just a plastic card.’ He kinda smiled. I think. How lame.
The next time I saw him, we were the only ones on the overpass connecting the Rogers Communication Centre to Kerr Hall. I half-smiled at him. He half-smiled back. I wonder if he gets that “Hey, I think I know you,” look a lot here. Then another time in the overpass again. He held the door open for me and we did an awkward little “Oh, excuse, me, oops, sorry, thanks” dance as we shuffled past each other.
I thought about saying something like “Hey, Student Bodies guy.” Then I thought better of it and kept walking. But not everyone has that control. Hull says he often hears comments from fellow students when he’s making his way to one of his six classes.
The most common occurrence: A group of students will walk by and, after passing him, one of them will break into a mocking rendition of the Student Bodies theme song. Hull says he doesn’t mind the recognition; he just doesn’t know how to react. “I don’t feel like a celebrity. I’m really shy, so I think that a lot of other people would bask in it a lot more than I do and, like, enjoy it.”
In fact, when he started at Ryerson, the prospect of being recognized for his acting work kind of made him nervous. “In first year, I really had a complex about that. I really felt that any time anyone would recognize me, that question would come up. Like, ‘What are you doing here?’ And people didn’t really understand why I would want to be going to school.”
But having been an actor most of his life, Hull says he was ready to develop his other talents and interests. “I kind of always did feel like there was something missing, like there was another part of my life I needed to explore,” he says. For a shy guy, Hull certainly puts himself out there. At least that’s what Google and IMDB stalking tells me.
Growing up in Montreal, he started acting when he was a kid (his first job was a Duncan Heinz cookie commercial when he was five). It wasn’t until his early teens that he fell in love with the craft of acting. That’s when he joined Young Performers in Canada, the Montreal-based theatre company where he met his first agent.
Hull was 14 when he was first cast in Are You Afraid of the Dark? as the bespectacled Gary. He played the role until the show was cancelled after five seasons, leaving Hull out of work. High school friends and classmates had veered onto their own paths, many of them seeking degrees via the traditional university route.
But instead of going to school, Hull moved to Toronto to continue his acting career. “Ready or Not was always a show, when I moved to Toronto, that I kind of wanted to get on,” he says. The dedicated and ambitious Hull quickly got his wish and joined Laura Bertram (Amanda) and Lani Billard (Busy) on set for his first stint as Amanda’s goofy boyfriend, Danny.
“The fact that (Ready or Not) was Canadian, it kind of had that Degrassi thing where it wasn’t squeaky-clean and perfect and I think people really related to that.”
Next came Hull’s breakthrough series (by Canadian standards), Student Bodies, about the inner workings of a high school newspaper. When he auditioned for the show in 1997, he was dating actress Katie Emme McIninch, who also happened to be auditioning for the show. Coincidentally, they were both cast in leading roles; Hull as class clown Chris and McIninch as the red-headed Mags.
They continued to date, but broke up while the show was still in progress. In harsh contrast to reality, their characters on the show were hooking up. “It was actually really tough,” Hull recalls. “It was definitely a learning experience in terms of working and dating, especially in those close confines.”
Hull says he’s still good friends with McIninch, but since their relationship ended, he avoids fellow actors when it comes to romance. “I’m really interested in people who do completely other things,” Hull tells me between sips of green tea. So, as an actress and a Ryerson student studying broadcasting, I guess I’m out of the running? “No offence,” Hull says, noticing the look of dismay on my face.
OK, so I was wrong to call this a date. But at least I can still dream while watching him report on the Weather Network, his latest gig. On TV these days, Hull looks clean-cut and mature.
He’s lost the glasses he wore on Are You Afraid of the Dark? and his hair is tamer than the wild and spiky style he sported on Ready or Not. But he’s still the same Ross Hull. He has just grown up with his viewers. His generation-defining shows appealed to teenagers in the ’90s who are now in their twenties:
We’re no longer concerned about acne, or who we’re going to take to the school dance; we want to know if it’s going to snow tomorrow, or if we can go to the beach this weekend.
And, just like when we were teens, Ross Hull, a generation-defining character in himself, is our go-to guy.