I decided I wanted to be an actor after playing Barry in the 2013 movie “Labor Day,” a drama about a boy and his reclusive mother and their encounter with an escaped convict. I was 13 during the filming, and I loved every second of being on set. The cameras, the lights used to create night or day, the talent, my stunt coordinator (for a simulated slap to the face), the trailers, and even hair and makeup. The best part, though, was when I discovered that through my acting, I could make people laugh, cry and even gain new perspective. I could make an impact.
I decided I wanted to pursue acting as a career, but I hesitated. I wasn’t sure if it was possible, if disability would be welcomed in the entertainment industry.
Not many writers incorporate disabled characters into their work and, when they do, too often those parts go to nondisabled actors. Also, not many casting directors consider auditioning a person with disabilities for a part in which the character isn’t disabled.
I often wondered if those with disabilities were not given the opportunity to audition because of fears of the unknown (having little to no previous interaction with a disabled person) or preconceived notions of abilities. So you can imagine my excitement when I was invited to audition for the TV show “Speechless.”
From the beginning, Scott Silveri, the writer and executive producer of the sitcom, as well as the creative team, were totally committed to inclusivity, deciding early on to cast an actor with a disability to portray the character of JJ, who had cerebral palsy.
In 2016, after several auditions, to my complete shock, I found myself in Hollywood playing the role. I was so grateful to have even been considered, but then to have been cast, and to represent the disability community, was just a dream come true.
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