The trouble with being in this business is that everybody loves to compartmentalize everyone.”

This is what weighs on Kevin Zegers’s mind, while driving through the California night to his latest film. At 28, he is regarded as one of the most promising Canadian actors of his generation. He’s achieved both critical and popular success for his work in movies as diverse as Transamerica and The Jane Austen Book Club, as well as his numerous appearances as a regular on television shows like Titans and Gossip Girl, not to mention his starring role in the recent miniseries Titanic: Blood and Steel.

Though the Woodstock native has been acting since age 6, Zegers seems unscathed by the bright lights and big business. “They say, ‘You just sit there and learn your lines — we’ll take care of the rest and pay you very well.’ But I’m not fulfilled living like that,” he explains. “I enjoy working hard; that’s when I feel useful.”

Much of Zegers’s work ethic stems from his father, Jim, who has worked in a lime quarry for over 30 years and his mother, Mary-Ellen Zegers, OCT, who teaches at Blessed Kateri Catholic School in London. He does, however, admit that the strongest influence in his career has been Luc Renaud, OCT, his Grades 6 and 7 teacher at St. Rita’s Catholic ES in Woodstock.

“My first memory of Luc is how young he seemed,” laughs Zegers. “He was really energetic and upbeat — he shifted the energy in the school. He was invested in figuring out what each one of us needed to grow and would challenge us on an individual basis.

“He wasn’t an easy teacher by any means. He instilled in me that I had a lot more to offer than I gave myself credit for. Back then, my benchmark was to do well enough not to get crap from my parents. He pushed me way past that.”

Renaud, who recently celebrated his 21st year in teaching and now works at Bishop Macdonell Catholic HS in Guelph, chuckles to hear how young he seemed to Zegers.

Remarkable Teacher

Actor Kevin Zegers tees up some quality catch-up time with former elementary teacher Luc Renaud, OCT, (also pictured below) during a friendly round of golf.

“I was 22 at the time and there were a lot of boys in that class, so I had to really keep up with them,” Renaud says, noting that Zegers stood out even then. “He had a certain kind of spunk to him — always happy, with the biggest smile on his face. Polite as could be, and respectful — his parents taught him that. He was a boy with boundless energy, but not in a way that ever upset the classroom.”

It didn’t take long for Renaud to see that he was teaching someone with a thriving career in film and television — especially when Zegers frequently missed school due to his professional commitments.

“All three of the Zegers kids were busy,” recalls Renaud. “The girls went out for figure skating and commercials, while Kevin did TV and movies.”

When Zegers was at school, though, Renaud says he just wanted to be one of the guys. “He had a tight group of friends. He loved sports, especially hockey. He was an ordinary kid in a blue-collar town. So when he went off to make movies, he entered a world that was completely foreign to him.”

Zegers appreciates the way that Renaud dealt with his less-than-normal school life. “I always felt there was a real understanding about how strange my schedule would sometimes get,” he recalls. “I had other teachers who weren’t as sympathetic, but because Luc was so supportive I’d work twice as hard and do twice as well.”

He was really energetic and upbeat. He was invested in figuring out what each one of us needed to grow and would challenge us on an individual basis.

When it came time for Zegers to take off on a European press tour for one of his Air Bud movies, his parents invited Renaud along for the ride. Although, Zegers was no longer in Renaud’s class, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to give their son that level of understanding and support that only Renaud could offer.

Remarkable Teacher

Renaud remembers the unique experience as special, but he’s emphatic that although he was in the presence of a movie star he treated Zegers no differently than any of his classroom students.

“I always encourage my students to realize their full potential above and beyond the curriculum or their marks,” Renaud says. “I’m more concerned about the life lessons that come with it.”

That positive influence stood Zegers in particularly good stead as he prepared to make some major career decisions.

“I always thought I’d ride out the child actor thing, so that I wouldn’t be in debt when I’d go to university,” he says. “I also thought I’d go to medical school one day, but when the moment actually came, I thought of what Luc would tell us to ask ourselves: ‘What am I truly happy doing in life? Where is my real passion?’ I felt that passion for acting.”

The film industry has supported Zegers’s decision, giving him the coveted Chopard Trophy at the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and numerous Young Artists Awards. But what Zegers would probably appreciate the most is knowing what his former teacher thinks of the choices he’s made along the way. “I see him in amazing movies like Transamerica and I am so impressed by his acting ability,” says Renaud. “It’s not because I know him; it’s because he’s very, very good.”

As the years go by, the friendship between Renaud and Zegers has remained in tact. In fact, the actor recently drove several hours to meet up with Renaud in Guelph, so that they could play a round of golf.

This is just one example of Renaud’s long-term involvement as a teacher. “I always want to find out how my students’ lives have turned out,” he says. “I think they know that I truly care about them, even long after they leave my classroom.

And that fits perfectly with the way Zegers remembers Renaud.

“They say that if you’re lucky, you’ll have one teacher who will always stick out in your memory. For me, that was Luc. He was born to teach.”