Micah shares his experiences in acting with Moving up Intern Rianna Davis. Growing up performing in local productions with his sibling, Micah’s acting career started when he was very young. As his career has grown he has appeared in TV shows and films, quickly becoming a role model and an encouraging celebrity for young people with disabilities.
What is your disability and how does it affect your day-to-day life?
I have cerebral palsy (CP), which is basically a brain injury that affects motor movement. CP can affect people in an infinite number of ways. The type of symptoms and severity of them are so very different in each person affected. Some people with CP simply have a limp, others only a speech impediment and others use a wheelchair only. People with CP expend a lot more energy than most people in accomplishing everyday simple tasks.
My CP affects my ability to stand as well as walk. I need to use a walker to walk and can only walk for shorter distances. For longer distances, I use a wheelchair. I also have some speech difficulties and a few fine motor skill difficulties.
What inspired you to become an actor?
My sister Kelsey began performing local theater when she was seven and then she started performing in her first Broadway show at age 10. Seeing her have so much fun acting on stage is really what made me want to begin acting. I did some community theatre and then did a few background appearances on Blue’s Clues and Sesame Street. I really loved it. Kelsey’s agent saw me and began to send me out for roles they thought I would be a good fit for and Kelsey helped me prep for auditions. When I was 14, I booked my first movie, Labor Day with Kate Winslet and Josh Brolin. After several audition videos, I booked the role of JJ in Speechless the day I turned 18. Now that I am older, I want to continue to pursue acting not only because it’s fun but also because I just love that I can make people laugh, cry and gain new perspectives in life by acting and portraying different characters.
Has your disability ever led you to face barriers when it has come to your career?
Yes! I have had problems just getting into audition rooms…literally. On one audition, I had to be carried up some steps because there was no access for my wheelchair.
There is also the lack of auditioning opportunities for the disabled, sometimes even for roles where the character is disabled. I honestly think one reason some casting directors, producers and studios cast able-bodied actors as disabled characters is because of unintentional misconceptions. Many people just tend to generalise the functioning levels and capabilities of people with disabilities.
Additionally, there is definitely a lack of auditioning opportunities because there is a lack of characters living with different disabilities written into scripts; therefore a lack of diversity for disabled character roles.
In major metropolitan areas, there is also a lack of handicap accessible access to auditioning rooms. All of this leads to a lack of auditioning opportunities and casting of disabled actors.
I truly hope in the future we see more scripts with characters living with different levels and different types of disabilities, more auditioning opportunities and more accessible auditioning spaces. I look forward to the day where going to the disabled community of actors first to fulfill those rolls is the norm and not the exception!
If so, how do you overcome some of these?
Work hard! Show everyone who watches Speechless what I can do without even using words. It is an extra challenge to be a non-verbal actor. I can only use my expressions and movements to convey many different thoughts, opinions and emotions. Also, work hard to educate people that those with disabilities each have very different functioning levels, talents and capabilities.
Is there anyone who is your role model or you inspire to be like?
I really like Mark Hamill because, first of all, I’m a huge Star Wars fan. But I have also seen all the other things he’s done, including a lot of voice work. He has shown me that you have to be broad in your abilities and be willing to try different things.
How do the other actors / actress you work with treat you? Do you feel accepted regardless of your disability?
Everywhere I’ve worked as an actor, I have been accepted as just another one of the cast and crew. Obviously, there are some accommodations that need to be provided for access, but everywhere I’ve worked I have been treated with the same respect and dignity as anyone else.
Has there been any point where part of you wanted to give up / quit?
After filming Labor Day, I really wanted to audition more and do more acting gigs. There didn’t seem to be many opportunities, so yes, I felt discouraged, but never wanted to give up learning and trying.
Do you have any advice for a young disabled person looking to go into acting or performing arts?
Study the craft! Watch and learn from great actors and their performances. Learn everything you can from good acting teachers/coaches. Watch great performances, look for bold choices and try to pick up the techniques and skills other actors portray. Take lessons, practice, practice, practice and don’t be afraid to fail. Get yourself an agent and when you get into the audition room, be extremely confident, have fun and let it flow! Show your abilities to be an actor and make them believe in you as the character! Be the character they want! Fine-tune your craft so when you get in the door you nail it!
I almost didn’t get into acting because I was afraid of the rejection! I am a sensitive person so I think the thing that scared me the most, was the rejection. The most important lesson I learned from my sister was that, in this business you need to have tough skin and be able to face rejection, without taking it personally. Ninety-nine percent of the time you don’t get the job and know there are many contributing factors that go into casting. So you have to be able to audition with confidence like you already have the job, then go home and move on like you already did the job. Then, when a booking comes along it’s the surprise bonus!
Is there any particular discrimination they might face? How should they prepare for this?
This is a tough question. There is always a possibility of one facing discrimination for any number of reasons. I would say develop a mind-set to not let any type of discrimination throw you, if faced with it, don’t look at it as an obstacle that stops you in your tracks but rather a challenge to conquer.
Are there any resources specifically for disabled actors?
I am not aware of any resources specifically available for “disabled” actors. However there is an incredible amount of resources for actors. There is an infinite amount of books on acting, acting techniques, the business part of acting. Additionally, there is an infinite amount of classes offered by those in the industry. So educate yourself!
If you’re interested in finding out more about the interview, Micah’s work, or Moving Up, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org