Last week I made my acting debut for television. I had my head shaved, my eyebrows shaved and I was thrown in a hot tub. It was a show Iíve co-written (called This Is England 86) and we needed someone to be humiliated and the guy Iíd written it with said I was perfect for it. I had a mostly brilliant time Ė the actors were amazing, the crew were awesome, the director was generous. But, unfortunately the hot tub was too hot and despite warning every one of my needs so much so they asked me all the time whether I was OK: I pretended I was fine. I then stood around in wet warm trousers while they adjusted lights and got back in the hot tub. That night my legs were on fire in pure agony. Why? Because I hadnít made my needs clear enough Ė and when others asked me I was a brave soldier rather than a truthful one. Why? Because I didnít want to cause trouble.
I have a hidden disability - I perhaps donít know what it is to be a disabled person Ė Iím not stigmatised Ė in fact, my condition Ė which is called Cholinergic Urticaria and is an allergy to physical, natural and self-generated heat sounds a bit made-up. But it is a condition Iíve struggled with now for 10 years (for six months I was bed bound because I became allergic to my own body movement) and I am differently abled than other people and I do have different needs than they do. And yet last week, I behaved like I had no issue at all, when I knew the damage I was doing to myself. Maybe itís because Ė 10 years disability young Ė Iím still learning to be a disabled person Ė maybe itís because of my invisible disability and the feeling of illegimacy I still have as a member of the community Ė or maybe it was because as a writer I now have a professional confidence, so am able to ask for what I need, but as an actor, I didnít and donít. But for whatever reason Ė I was a wimp and that knowledge pisses me off.
Last year I co-wrote and co-created a show called Cast-offs. It provoked a lot of controversy and press, some people liked it, some people didnít, we did OK in the ratings (we averaged better than the previous incumbent in the 11pm drama slot Ė David Simonís Generation Kill Ė though Iím guessing our DVD sales were Ė slightly Ė lower!) and I was hugely proud when we ended up one of three shows (alongside Misfits and The Street) being nominated for the prestigious Royal Television Society best TV drama series award. We didnít win. But being nominated felt like a vindication. I donít know why Iíd got so uptight about it (or remain so uptight about it) but the only criticism that hurt was one that was mentioned in the Independent newspaper that Cast Offs represented a Ďmissed opportunityí for telling stories about disabled people. I had two problems with that (i) we made the Ďopportunityí Ė there wasnít an Ďopportunityí available for whoever came along Ė we forced ourselves into the schedule: Alison Walsh made it by fighting for us to have space on the channel and we fulfilled her fight by making it for considerably less money than any other drama show on British television. (ii) We werenít trying to tell the story of disabled people Ė we were trying to tell stories about people Ė the sort of fucked-up people who end up doing reality TV shows and who happen to be disabled. Yeah, they donít represent every disabled person ever. No, they werenít trying to.
Anyway, how do these two things tally together? Well, itís what Iíve been thinking about while my legs have been playing up (theyíre starting to get back to normal now Ė but only because Iím slavering them in cream all the time) Ė being brave is bollocks if being brave means compromising yourself. God that sounds so shit in black and white. But I mean it, so Iíll leave it there. Cast-offs was far from perfect Ė thereís loads of writing in the show Iíd change now if given the chance. But it is what it is - it could have perhaps pleased more people Ė with considerably more crying and a Coldplay soundtrack and maybe a TV A-list actress losing her hair Ė but that wouldnít have been truthful to what we wanted to do. It was a brave show Ė not because of me, Iíd have probably compromised more, but because a team of us found collective courage and thatís why Ė despite itís flaws Ė itís one of the things Iím most proud of in my career. And yet, as an actor, I wasnít brave at all. If Iíd told people I couldnít go back in the hot-tub weíd have found a creative way around it, by lying, I helped no-one. My compromise did nothing except prove Iím weak.
Iím hugely shy and frequently slightly pathetic (I didnít want to write this blog until Nicky made me) Ė I donít feel like Iíve had enough of a career as a writer to tell people how to do it Ė plus, I wouldnít make sense if I did because how I Ďmade ití was pretty random - but the one thing I would say is that itís not about overcoming, itís about transgressing Ė itís not about being weak, itís about breaking things - about doing things differently because thatís the way change happens. I donít agree with everything Nicky, Lizzy or this site stands for, I donít have the same problem with disablist language they do and I canít promise that Iíll never work with a non-disabled actor playing a disabled role Ė but the stand theyíre making is awesome, because itís firm, triumphant and front-footed - and itís through people like them that change will occur. And thatís all I have to say. And I hope it didnít come across as a massive moan about a certain reviewer not liking Cast-offs. Because thatíd be pathetic. Wow. Canít believe youíve read this far.
Jack Thorne can be found on Twitter @jackthorne