theTVaddict.com Exclusive Interview: Degrassi’s Ryan Cooley Talks About the Death of J.T.

Degrassi students don’t have it easy. Over the years they’ve been plagued with school shootings, violence, unexpected pregnancies and the inevitable drug and alcohol problems. Yet throughout it all, one thing remained a constant. They survive — learn a lesson — and continue to face the challenges of growing up.

Unfortunately one student didn’t learn a lesson and sadly won’t live to see another day. Last Tuesday, J.T. Yorke fell victim to a random act of violence. His stabbing death was senseless, shocking, and as most violent acts tend to be, incomprehensible.

Immediately following the episode, fans throughout the world leapt to the internet, posting messages of sadness, support and love for one of Degrassi’s most beloved students. Having literally grown up alongside J.T these past six years, fans were heartbroken. [ See Youtube Memorials here, here, here, and here. ]

Actor Ryan Cooley was kind enough to take time out of his busy schedule to talk to theTVaddict.com and reflect on his time at Degrassi and the death of J.T.

theTVaddict: When did you find out you’d be leaving DEGRASSI?
Ryan Cooley: I found out I was going to be leaving the show around April 2006, just before we started filming the new season.

Were you surprised to find out that your character was being killed, or was leaving the show something you asked for?
It did come as a surprise to me that my character was getting killed off the show. But at the time [early 2006], I was contemplating going to University and leaving the show, so it kind of came together nicely. My last episode was shot in August, and knowing that I wasn’t coming back made it easier for me to decide to go to university.

Was the fact that you were leaving a secret, or did the entire cast know?
We were trying to keep it very “hush hush,” so much so that we didn’t tell anyone on the set. The only people who knew that I was leaving was myself, my agent, the writers and DEGRASSI executive producer Linda Schuyler.

Was it hard keeping the secret from your castmates and friends?
Yeah it was pretty hard. It was especially hard for me not to tell my co-actors, because normally there are not a lot of secrets when it comes to story-lines. It was difficult to shoot from May to August without telling anybody, but I think that people kind of had an idea. It was going around the set that somebody was going to get killed off the show. But I tried to keep the secret as well as I could.

Did you have any input into how J.T. was going to be killed?
At the beginning of the season, they knew that they wanted a stabbing and that someone was going to die, so I really didn’t have any input into how the actual story-line was going to go. But I certainly had input as to how it went down when we did the read through.

Would you have preferred to leave the show ‘alive’ so that you’d be able to return to DEGRASSI as a guest star?
I think it was more exciting to leave the show with a bang. It was definitely a very big challenge to film the actual episode, as well as the episodes leading up to my characters death. In a way it was kind of cool to be that guy. J.T. was the first regular character that DEGRASSI has ever killed off.

But you don’t regret not being able to come back on say DEGRASSI: THE NEXT NEXT GENERATION? You didn’t want to be the new Mr. Simpson?
No I don’t think so, I don’t really want to come back as a ghost.

That was my next question actually! Will a ‘J.T. ghost’ pop up in a future episode to help guide another character, say Liberty?
I probably wouldn’t be happy playing J.T. as a ghost, it’s just not realistic. But there is an instance in which my character comes back, but not necessarily in an actual episode. I think something will be released very soon after the episode airs in the United States.

Were you surprised as to how quick and sudden J.T.’s stabbing was?
When we shot it that night, it took such a long time. That scene was under thirty seconds, but in reality, took four or five hours to shoot. When I watched it, it was definitely very fast, it was Bang! Then they cut to commercial. It was very shocking

I’ve heard that from a lot of people, how it was so random — but that’s how it is. You don’t lay there and confess your love, it doesn’t last for ten minutes. That kind of thing is fast and shocking and that’s what happened. It was what we were going for and I think we got it.

Were you on the set for your TV memorial?
No I wasn’t on the set for it. I actually watched it on TV for the first time on Tuesday just like everybody else. I’d never seen it before. Had I been there it might have been a bit weird.

As I as watching the memorial I kept wondering what they were going to do with the giant mural of your head?
[Laughing] I wonder what they’ll do with it, maybe auction it off! I certainly don’t want it.

You’ve been on DEGRASSI for six years. Fans have literally grown up with you. Do you ever watch your early episodes?
I have been lately. It’s definitely very odd. I was on the set the other day, and we were watching an old episode on the internet. My voice was like four octaves higher, I was like five foot nothing. We were all so young. I was only 12 years old when we first started. The fans have grown up watching me on the show, and I’ve grown up acting on the show.

Do you have a favourite episode?
My character’s gone through some truly crazy stuff. J.T.’s constantly getting into fights. Fighting in the Panther suit was fun, fighting Liberty’s brother Danny, I’ve fought so many people. One time we had to shoot a food fight which was pretty awesome.

But I’d probably say the death episode was my favourite one to shoot because it was such a huge challenge and a huge episode. That one I’m always going to remember.

One question numerous fans had was now that’s J.T.’s dead, who’s going to be the Degrassi Mascot?
Some poor soul [laughs].

J.T. wasn’t mentoring anyone behind the scenes?
Ummm… no. That mascot outfit just haunted me. It was the most horrible thing to have to wear. Sure it’s funny, but the audience doesn’t understand how hot it is. Some poor soul is going to have to take my spot, good luck to them!

I can’t end this interview without asking you about your strangest fan experience.
That’s easy! We used to do these crazy mall tours in the United States. I’ve been to Chicago, Los Angeles, Orlando, Tucson and New York. We’d arrive at these malls and have thousands of screaming girls waiting for us. I’m just a guy from Toronto Canada, having four thousand people coming up for your autograph, well it’s a huge honour.

One time we were in LA, and when we finished our session, we had to let 1000 people go because we couldn’t get out of the mall. When we told the people we were leaving, the crowd went nuts. The security guards had to create a human chain to get us out of there. Me and Adamo Ruggiero [Marco] were chased through JC Penny as we exited the mall. Fans were jumping out of clothing racks trying to touch us and get our photo. It was unbelievable.

So what’s next?
I’m actually studying theatre at the University of Toronto, so I’m definitely going to continue in the acting world. I’ve been working on TV and movies since I was eight years old. I thought now is a great time to explore my theatrical side. When school finishes in April, I’ll start auditioning and see if I can get anything in the summer.

Ryan, Thanks so much for your time. You should know that fans loved your character and your work on the show. You’ll definitely be missed.
I’ve been living with this since august, actually having the episode air now, it’s sad. Now it’s all over for real. It’s been a pretty emotional week, there’s been a lot of tears. But It was a great ride and I’ve got some amazing memories to look back on. Thanks.

A Special Tribute: Ryan Cooley’s Final Episode

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  • http://afcebook.com kaylee wilson

    omg……i cried when they killed jt off…..me and my sister were sitting there crying because the killed him off…………..jt and liberty were perfect for eachother and now its over=(………………….its been four days since i watched that show and im still sad….im getting a little teary eyed right now=(….=(

  • Nina

    OMG!!! When i watched the episode of him getting stabbed, i sat and cried! I saw it two times. After watching it, i got really depressed that my favorite character left! I cry about it everyday. I loved him and liberty together! I watch episodes where they are a couple because those episodes are my favorite! I miss him sooo much! I am so depressed without him on the show. Now the show seems wierd without him on it and i don’t watch the new ones as much. I hope he comes back to liberty as a ghost sometime soon! that would be the best!

  • Krysten

    OMG! I had gone searching the internet to make sure he was still alive in actual life, because I hadn’t heard anything from or about him since his death on Degrassi until now. The first time I had seen this episode is when my cousin was talking about it, because we’re both really huge fans, but I was a late fan and hadn’t seen all the episodes in order. So she told me to try and watc the episode, ‘Rock This Town’ and I bought it on iTunes and I was crying at the end when I saw J.T. die because it was so sad and cold blooded. I was seriosuly in buckets of tears, especially since everything that happened between him and Liberty and how she left upset and he was on his way to tell her he loved him, when he was killed :’( I am going to miss J.T. especially when I saw the graduation episode I wish they didn’t kill him! It’s so hard ot see the episode without him. And btw when is J.T. supposed to come back on the episode (not in person, or ghost) because the only thing I’ve seen about him since the episode when he died, is in the graduation episode when they were crying around his picture and put the hat on his grave :(

  • http://www.tvaddict.com Megan

    I heard it a long time ago and i am sitting here right now watching degrassi and these are the episodes when ryan was young and he is so cute i love him so much and the day that the episode aired i watched it and i started crying like a big baby and then i got really mad at the people that did this to J. T. and i know that the show is not real but i feel like it is.
    I just cant believe it and i kind of dont watch the show any more but i am going to watch the movie because paige does some crazy stuff i just cant wait to see it but i sucks because there is no J.T.

  • Hannah

    I was so upset to see J.T. go, but I was mostley upset that he loved Liberty, and Liberty loved him, but he was going out with Mia. It just tore my heart out when he died. I wish he would have moved or something so that we could see him more. He was my favorite male character on the show. It would be amazing to meet Ryan Cooley.

  • Lanie

    aw man JT was my favorite character! i jst watched the episode where he died and me and my friends were like, crying! lol wow but good luck at university ryan!

  • Shelby

    I’m sooooooooooooooooooooooo sad JT is gone!!!!!!!!!!!!! He pbly wuz my fav character and now that they are having like a whole marathon i can see it all in order and it all is really sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I just cant get my head wrapped around it that JT is gone foreva cuz ik someone dies but JT?!?!?!?!?!? I mean its really sad!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I mean like they are still in the process of showing the older shows where JT is still a kid!!!!!!!!!!!!! Now i everytime i see him i have to point to him and say ‘YOUR DEAD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!’ I’m like crying!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • brenda

    dear jt aka ryan,
    im ur biggest i mean huggest FAN……………I love YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    i literally cried when u died……u are my FAV character and i cant believe im crying right now why cant u like come back as a ghost like in a dream or to help some of the special characters in degrassi like Libby aka sarah
    or manny. i dont want u to go….i knew someone was gonna die but jt thats like making me very upset…..i wish i can meet u in reality but i cant….thx tvaddict ryan answered like most of my questions…!!!!!!!!!!!! ryan u should make a movie about ur life like about the diffrent movies AND shows u’ve been in!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! so i LOVE u so much ur the greatest guy i’ve seen!ur cute funny and ur popular LOL…so im just happy for u good luck wit wateva ur chasing and my fav episode was rock this town…,not becuz u ,cuz i love, its because there’s so much emotion and i kno u worked hard to make the episode ………!!!!but why did u have to die james tiberious yorke aka ryan cooley can u tell the degrassi characters that im their biggest i mean HUGGEST fan an dtell them i said hi and ask aubrey “Drake” graham if he really is dating rihanna and if he is he’s lucky cuz rihanna is a really nice person

    Ok again plz come to harrison, nj because i wanna meet u so bye good luck and i think ur hot
    your biggest friend,
    brenda
    P.S. umm…..ur hot and i love you so much!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • La’Chara

    OMG.i’ve been watching you since day 1 and i can truely say that u were my first fave guy actor on the show makin drake the second.u and him were the only reasonz why i watched the show.not seeing u on it iz really difficult especially wen im watching the old shows of you while crying my eyez out.as soon as i saw da blood rushing down ur shirt i literally screamed and cried and wuz thinking about hoppin into that t.v. and whoopin tha ugly red head guyz butt.if u were gon be off da show,they shoulda just shot your last day movin to another place or sumthing cuz that wuz very heart breaking for me and i bet that every gurl and probably boy that saw u get stabbed was litterally crying.i was crying wen drake got shot and im still crying about you AND drake.I LOVE YU AND I WISH YU THE BEST OF LUCK AND U WOULD REALLY LIKE TO C U IN MOVIES AND I WOULD LIKE FOR U TO HAVE YOUR OWN SHOW WITHOUT YOU GETTING STABBED OR KILLED OR SHOT .LOVE YU CUTIE!!!!!

  • Katelyn

    Ahhhhh I can’t watch that episode without crying!! I’ve seen it bunches an I cry everytime!! We’ll miss you Ryan!! Good luck with school! Have a great life :)

  • grace

    I LOVE YOU RYAN COOLEY AND I MISS YOU ON DEGRASSI SO MUCH. ever since season 6 ended it’s been downhill it’s not as fun without the humor of J.T. Yorke, aka one of my favorite degrassi characters. i love your ryan always always always.

  • http://aim.com Raquel

    i miss u so much ryan i read the interview u had i felt like i was with u mi fav episode was when u and liberty were makin a play and u got detion then liberty kiss u well hope to see u in moves ( the movie cipermutt came out on my brithday

  • RyanCooleyFan614

    I MISS U ON DEGRASSI RYAN!! :( But anyway,is he still dating Nina!? I just ALWAYS saw him dating Sarah!
    (But it PROBABLEY wont happen cause there BFF’S)

  • http://huh? Olivia

    Omg Ryan Your my favorite charcater on degrassi still your my cellphone wallpaper and when i saw the episode where u died I could have filled up a bucket full of water to match all the tears that came out of my eyes! One of my goals is to meet you! I love you and im gonna miss you on Degrassi I love watching old episodes and I love the gap inn your teeth never get it changed! :) oh and I love love love love love love love love your hair! :) <3

  • sommer

    he was the only thing i loved about degrassi

  • mara

    Ryan you are one of the things i liked about degrassi now that your gone i never watch it any more i love you and i always will

  • Jt admirer

    I just started watching the show and the ones u were on were my favorite! WHEN THEY KILLED JT THEY KILLED DEGRSSI!!!!!!!!

  • http://www.thetvaddict.com Nicole

    I am going to miss JT alot! He was my soul mate and its going to be really boring without him!!! JT admirer is exactly right! :(

  • Anna

    You know whats wierd. That Ryan Cooley said he did not want to come back as a ghost in Degrssi. Yet not so long ago he did! That is so funny to me! :D

  • Andrea Johnson

    I LOVE JT !!!!!!!i watched EVERY tv show i like how you really are hot an funny but wet so HOT!!!!!!! i think your really sweet!! My sisters who are younger talk about you all the time ! My room is maily all pictures of who
    YOU!!!!!!!!!! If you could email me i would really llike that my email is
    johnsonandrea10@gmail.com thanks
    love ,
    Andrea
    p.s-I LOVE LOVE LOVE YOU JT!!! YOUR #1 FAN !!! Andrea

  • Lissa

    I was really sad 2 see JT die, i cried i mean REALLY cried…………….JT was my favorite character on Degrassi and when he died it just wasnt the same anymore because he made Degrassi funny and without him its just another boring T.V. show!

  • Elizabeth

    The funny thing is that he did end up coming back as a ghost in Degrassi’s 2009 christmas special

  • http://asdfjkl.com Sareena

    JT <3

  • RyanGilliam27

    im so sorry for ryan he was great on degrassi and what was very cool about him is he has the same name as me

  • megan

    ryan you are like sooooooooooo hot! but do you miss hanging out with sarah?

  • krystal

    all of my questions where asked except 1 wich is does ryan watch degrassi dureing his spair time ?

    - Ryan you will be missed i hope you come back as a gost xD just to see you back on degrassi :)

  • erika

    OMG i am really going to miss Ryan on degrassi he was my favorite character. I LOVE HIM !!!!!!

  • Ryan Cooley’s Biggest Fan

    OMG I thought he left not got killed off!!!! NOT FAIR!!! I loved jt so so much!!! He was my favorite character and I looked foward to seeing him hes soo hottt!!! Im his biggest fan hes on my wall!! U r missed very much luv ya ryan cooley!!!!!!!! I wish I could meet u and be on degrassi!!!! Y couldn’t some1 else get stabbed????? How can I get on degrassi? How can i meet u?? I LOVE U SO SO MUCH!!!!!! Y did he get off!!! I cry 4 u Ryan I <33333333333333333333333 YOu SO SO SO SO SO MUCH I WANT To MEET u!!!! ur my bbm pic and I LOVE U!!