Lead Actors with Down Syndrome on British TV series

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Joined: 25 Aug 2013
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02 Oct 2022, 9:26 am

Actor duo with Down's Syndrome break new ground with their comedy drama series

Millions loved them in The A Word, and now Leon Harrop and Sarah Gordy are breaking new ground with their own comedy drama series.

Both have Down's Syndrome and new show Ralph & Katie tells the story of a couple navigating life as newlyweds.

They are the first actors with learning disabilities to land lead roles in a major UK show – which was written by scriptwriters who all have a disability.

But Leon, 30, says it is proof that hard work – and, talent, though he is too modest to admit it – can take you an awful long way.

He says: “Being born with a disability is not the end of the world. We can still have amazing lives too.

I’ve got special needs, but I never, ever give up on what I want to do.

“I don’t care if people say, ‘You can’t do this, you can’t do that, you can’t act’. I’m a normal human being with a disability and I can do stuff myself. I’m really pleased that two people with Down’s Syndrome are the main characters in this drama. It was always my dream to have a lead role.

Fans of The A Word – about the family of a boy with autism – saw brewery assistant Ralph and Katie come together in the last series. The spin-off is a delightful tale which follows their new life in the Lake District.

“I love Ralph & Katie because it’s about two people with Down’s Syndrome having an independent life.

“It’s very important to show them in bed together, falling in love, drinking alcohol, making friends, going to work and all the things that everyone else does. Sometimes people think that disabled people don’t do those things, but if they watch Ralph & Katie, they will change their minds.

Hopefully they will see what we can do. Difference is important. It would be boring if we just had normal people on television.”

To accommodate the special needs of Leon and Sarah, the production made several adjustments.

Leon was accompanied on set by his dad, while Sarah had two personal assistants. Rehearsals were extended and a creative coach helped the pair with anything they didn’t understand.

Director Jordan Hogg, who has cerebral palsy, explains: “She was essentially an interpreter for Leon and Sarah. She helped them to find the emotions they needed.

Writer Lizzie Watson, 27, who has autism, says: “People ask me how Ralph & Katie approaches the topic of disability, but it’s not approaching the topic. The characters’ disabilities are not the whole point of the series, it’s just a part of their story.”

Fellow writer Annalisa Dinnella, who is visually impaired, adds: “I think it was crucial the writing team was entirely made up of disabled writers.

“I’ve been in situations where I’ve been the only disabled writer in the room and when you’re the only one you not only have to do your job, you’re also educating everyone around you and weirdly having to represent the entire disabled community.”

And co-writer Tom Wentworth, who has cerebral palsy, adds: “When I grew up, I rarely saw anyone who looked like me on TV. If you can’t see it, you think you can’t be it.”

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“My autism is not a superpower. It also isn’t some kind of god-forsaken, endless fountain of suffering inflicted on my family. It’s just part of who I am as a person”. - Sara Luterman

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04 Oct 2022, 12:55 pm

Ralph was genuinely the most compelling part of The A Word because he was portrayed as a full and complex human with competing desires. Contrastingly, from what I remember Joe was just there to give his parents a reason to fight.

I never saw Series 3 and don't really remember much of Series 2.