Degrassi fans know Manny Santos’ transformation kicked off with a rhinestone blue thong — and it turns out they have her portrayer Cassie Steele to thank.
“I remember being the youngest of the cast and I just wanted to be taken seriously and be mature and more sexy. And so the whale tail was something that I wore one day to rehearsals, and I thought I was so cool,” Steele exclusively told Us Weekly in a recent interview. “I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh, I’m getting all this, like, attention and I must be really pulling this off right now.’”
Steele believes that chatter about her outfit among the male cast members, handlers and producers influenced the writers.
“It was super embarrassing, [but] at the same time, being really exciting because Manny had not been really in the forefront until that episode,” she continues. “She was the best friend before that. And this kind of gave her her own identify, which was exciting and embarrassing, you know, makes the girl sweat in all the good ways and all the bad ways.”
In the episode titled “U Got the Look,” which originally aired in October 2003, Steele’s Manny tells BFF Emma (Miriam McDonald) that she wants to “be hot” — “not cute, not adorable, hot” — and wears the bedazzled blue whale tail with low-rise jeans, a flowy crop top and a matching hat.
“I think that I was probably one of the characters that I feel like they modeled after the actual actor, not to say that everything that Manny did was things that I did,” Steele tells Us. “But I think that the big milestones — her wanting to become an actor or going to Hollywood, and even her friendship with Emma, me and Miriam were very close at that time. [And] Shenae [Grimes], who played Darcy, was also very close with us. So I had a relationship with Darcy on the show when Shenae and I were [friends].”
In honor of the 20th anniversary of the iconic episode, Steele teamed up with Tubi, where fans can stream every season of Degrassi, to bring back the outfit as a limited-edition Halloween costume.
“I think I kind of always knew it was [Manny’s moment]. It definitely created the most impact on my life,” she says. “And it was really significant because I knew it had been based off of something that I had done on set. I didn’t know it was iconic in the way that we talk about it now, but I knew it was a really big milestone [and] something that had caused a big splash.”
Steele now sees fans wearing a version of the look in October every year. “It’s probably only recently that I realized how iconic [it was] or how the nostalgia really impacts people,” she adds.
“Y2K had a lot of fun styles. So, I see it and I like to think that maybe it was [Manny] inspired, but I don’t see as much of the relation because it’s done really differently,” Steele says.
Steele — who has an EP coming out on Halloween with her band Psychocandy — played Manny for nine seasons of Degrassi: The Next Generation and in two TV movies, Degrassi Goes Hollywood and Degrassi Takes Manhattan. She’s currently watching the show for the first time since it aired.
“Oh, my God, my mustache in the first season — I almost couldn’t even make it through,” she says. “I’m trying to watch it with my partner and I’m just, like, ‘I can’t.’ I don’t want to bring, like, attention to it, but I’m like, ‘Wow, that’s a really dark shadow under my nose.’”
She adds that she’s looking forward to season 3 — to see the whale tail and Manny’s infamous love triangle with Craig (Jake Epstein) and Ashley (Melissa McIntyre).
“The Christmas episode with Craig, Ashley and Manny, that’s really exciting. And then some of the later seasons, I’m just really excited to get to. I’m on season 2 now. I feel like after a couple of seasons go by [when you’re filming], you don’t end up watching every episode. So I think I’m the most excited to explore what the other characters did that I didn’t necessarily watch,” she says.