01 February 2018
The actor is receiving plaudits for his recent Paddy Power advert, but he deserves great praise for his work fighting for the rights of Equity’s deaf and disabled members
You’re an actor, model, wrestler and aerialist.
How often do these specialties feed into each other?
The disciplines cross all the time. I joke that I could be the first disabled action hero, because the pro wrestling has given me the combat skills (I can throw a punch, make contact in the correct way, etc), the aerial training gives me the physicality and the acting skills the character building.
Are you a superhero fan?
I’m a huge superhero fan. I grew up reading Marvel comics. At the time the X-Men had a cartoon series on TV, and I saw people similar to me – the leader of the X-Men, Charles Xavier, is a wheelchair user! They were all a bit different, but they were cool.
Do you think it’s time for a physically impaired superhero?
The thing is, there are already physically impaired superheroes. What I’d like to see – especially with all their cinematic universes, both DC and Marvel – is for those physically impaired superheroes to be played by physically impaired performers. I love Patrick Stewart as much as the next man, I like James McAvoy’s work, but these guys are not wheelchair users, and this is what my work with the Deaf and Disabled Committee’s all about. The one film I wish I could go back and change is Avatar – the only time you see the main character out of the wheelchair is when he’s a giant blue creature that is computer generated anyway! It could have been a disabled performer and that would have changed the course of the industry immeasurably.
Why aren’t deaf and disabled performers hired for deaf and disabled roles?
It comes from a place of fear. There’s a list of default arguments such as: “it’s too expensive because they’re going to need all these adaptions” or “there’s no disabled performers with name value to carry the project”. Ok, create one! Because Benedict Cumberbatch wasn’t Benedict Cumberbatch until someone took a chance on him. At least employ a disabled performer to play the character role, and you’ve can still have ‘a name’ for the production. Let a disabled performer learn from those mainstay actors and let the mainstay actors learn from the disabled performer. Other performers will then learn what it’s like to be a disabled performer and how it’s much easier to make the set accessible than people realise. Adjustments are, rightly, already made for performers with sight, hearing or memory issues — so why can’t they do it for the rest of the disabled performing community?
What was it like working on Paddy Power’s Best Seat in the House advert?
It was an amazing example of good practice. The audition was accessible. I went into the room, sang the now famous song that gets shouted to me at train stations. What made that job so refreshing was the fact that the director wanted my input. He said “We were thinking of having you in an electric chair, would you use a power chair?” And I went “no”, and he responded with: “Great, you’re not using a power chair.” He asked: “Would you push in the gloves you are wearing?”, I said: “Yeah, cause there’s crap all over the floor” and he replied: “Great, wear the gloves.” It was collaborative, as opposed to saying: “Do this”. By the way, I am deliberately singing out of tune – that’s what they wanted! I think the advert answers that attitude that “people don’t want to see disabled people on screen”. People don’t care! I’ve never had anyone say: “Oh no, you’re that really annoying guy in a wheelchair off TV”, I’ve just had “Can I take a selfie?”
You’re a member of Equity’s Deaf & Disabled Members Committee. What is it currently working on?
Many things! We’re working with Spotlight to make both its website and its building more accessible. We’re discussing the way its casting website works, so it can be made easier for both casting directors and producers to find disabled talent, but also for disabled talent to market themselves and be seen for more castings. We’re also putting together a list of accessible casting spaces, so we can get rid of a situation where deaf and disabled members have to audition in car parks because the casting suite isn’t accessible.
How can members get more involved?
If you are able to access social media, we are on Facebook, we are on Twitter (@Equity_DDMC). There’s also the deaf and disabled members’ register. This is vital for us as the committee and for the union as a whole. It is completely voluntary – you do not have to be on it, but, if you can, it is a brilliant thing to be on. Occasionally, there are jobs that get fired through, and it’s the only way we have of knowing how many deaf and disabled members we have, which gives us more points of leverage when we’re going to people like BAFTA and PACT.
What advice would you give to deaf and disabled performers who want to diversify their skills and pursue physically challenging practices?
Don’t be scared, put yourself forward because, trust me, this is an industry where people say no anyway. You’d be amazed, because you have that different skill on your CV, the things you’ll get called in for. I’ve got called in for jobs because of aerial work. I just did an advertising campaign for Invacare where I was wrestling. So if you’ve got a diverse skill, if you can stand on your head and say the alphabet backwards, don’t be scared to list it on your CV.
You can contact the Deaf and Disabled Members Committee by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org
Photography by Phil Adams