So, of course, I leapt at the opportunity to get in on a conference call Q & A with Ryan Carwwright, the actor who plays Gary, one of my favorite characters on TV right now.
Most of the Q & A was the usual stuff: what changes can se expect, interactions with the cast, etc. There were, however, some really worthwhile questions about autism and ableism, which I’m presenting to you here.
Kyle Nolan (noreruns.net): Your portrayal of Gary is my favorite part of the show. Could you talk about how you decided on his mannerisms, his cadence and his accent and how you prepare to get into character?
Ryan Cartwright: Yes sure. Well I had luckily I was in a good position whereby I had a like a good month and a half from getting the role to actual production so I had plenty of time to do as much research as would make me feel comfortable stepping into Gary’s shoes.
And it was great, it was really good fun just looking at a part of the world that you’d never seen before and also with autism if you research it enough you end up appreciating looking at the world through their eyes as well.
Basically I started with lots of documentaries, lots of movies and lots of like online blogs and stuff from autistic people talking about how they experience things and just reading the books like from (Daniel Pampett), (Temple Grandin) and (Oliver Sachs) and stuff. And the firsthand account stuff from autistic people in its true form really helped because it helped me understand the neurology behind it which gave me the grace to come up with the mannerisms and stuff myself knowing the reason I’d be doing them as opposed to just meeting someone and copying mannerisms.
Like towards the end they invited me to – I was invited to like go to meet a group of autistic people in the day like a camp or whatever but by that point I kind of didn’t need to do it because I had already figured out Gary on his own and knew the reasons I would do certain things so it was really nice.
And I would just like pad around Toronto when I got up here, kind of walking around as Gary and doing the voice and stuff and reading poems and repeating things that people would say like with the (unintelligible) an stuff so yes it was just a really nice time to – it was a luxury to have all that time to get comfortable in his skin so that I’m super comfortable doing it now.
Kathy Huddleston (blastr): So what would you say your biggest challenge was this season so far?
Ryan Cartwright: I just think keeping the consistency of the character and kind of not coming out of the character to get laughs because, you know, Gary he does change as time goes on but in a different way to everyone else and it’s a lot more subtle.
So kind of Gary’s arc has to be a little bit more concentrated and mainly just keeping his voice the same, the dialog and just how he would react to these different situations, just keeping a close eye on that like once again not wanting to abuse Gary’s personality and where he is on the autism spectrum.
And then once he’s like taken care of that and you know that he’s character consistent then it’s just all about coming up with funny lines on the day. I have to try to make the other actors and alphas laugh and just having – once you know he’s like grounded then you can like inflate him with all this hot air and just watch him ascend and annoy everyone. So yes just that.
Jamie Ruby (scifivision): If you could write your own scene for Gary what would you like to see happen to him on the show?
Ryan Cartwright: My own scene? Oh it would be a day off. Gary, covers over his head, Gary in bed and I’d just be at home. Or just Gary in his pajamas with a nice coffee and the X-Box.
Lisa Fary (that’s me!): Good afternoon Ryan. First off I want to express to you how much I appreciate the work that you’re doing as Gary. My background is in special education and I’ve had many, many students with autism come through my classroom over the years and I feel like your portrayal with him is probably the truest, most honest and most respectful portrayal of autism that I’ve see on American television so thank you for that.
Ryan Cartwright: Oh thank you very much.
Lisa Fary: Your efforts are appreciated. I tell everyone I know to watch this show. But that being said I do wonder if Gary’s autism overshadows any other work that you want to do with the character or are trying to do with the character.
Ryan Cartwright: No because like I say it’s like that kind of – his stuff is just a little bit more micro, he’s just a little bit slower moving with his dealings with people and his arc. But the wonderful thing about this medium is that you can quite literally zoom in on those moments and see the changes.
It’s like people — because I’ve being living in L.A. for like 10 years now — and people are like oh don’t you miss the seasons and to an extent I do but when you’re there long enough, if you look closely enough, there are seasons and there are certain plants that come out at certain times of the year and there is still a season for everything and there are the changes. It’s just like Gary, it’s how you look at things and the angle that you view them from.
So I’m having a ton of fun still with the character. I don’t think there’s anything lacking. It’s just he has the same emotions as everyone else, it’s just that he will – it will be for different reasons that don’t seem dramatic to everyone else but when presented to Gary and he sees them, you know, people I think watching it realize how important certain things are to him and if he doesn’t get them it really upsets him.
And obviously when you see autistic people get upset with certain things to an unknowing outsider it’s like oh why is he overreacting but once you get to the know them and the day in and day out thing and how they relate to it, you appreciate that it’s – it is actually (unintelligible). So, it’s nice to show that, but it’s not all – it doesn’t have to be woman slapping you in the face or breaking your heart or, you know, someone you know blowing up. It’s, you know, there can be a lot of emotion attached to the small things in life and the devil-in-the-day (unintelligible) kind of thing.
Monique Jones (tvequals): Okay and I think, someone else touched on your role with autism and how it affects the autistic community. Has any fans come up to you saying how they appreciate what you’re doing with your character?
Ryan Cartwright: Yes, yes, – it’s – I’ve had nothing but really nice comments and people in the autistic community and, you know, friends of friends and stuff. And once again, you know, he’s never going to be exactly like everyone who’s autistic because it’s such a wide spectrum. Like, you know, it’s like, you know everyone else that (unintelligible), your average folk on the street, we’re all in this huge spectrum and we’re all seem different, but it seems, it seems everyone likes it and I don’t think anyone’s taken offense or anything like that.
And, you know, as I said before that he is his own individual person. He’s not just – he should never represent autism. It’s not that Gary is – you can never portray a whole disorder with one character. He’s just an individual within autism, but I think on the whole part everyone’s enjoyed it and liked it.
Renee Martin (fangs for the fantasy): I was wondering, there’s been a big push by this Bully Rights Activist, to have disabled people actually play disabled roles because there’s so few opportunities within the media. So I was wondering did any of that come in to play or did you consider this at all when you were thinking about taking on the role of Gary?
Ryan Cartwright: Well, I believe, I believe it was – there was an autistic person who auditioned for it. I think, I mean I think it depends on the role, you know, I mean, this is, you know, just being cast in a role and the business of getting a role and everything it’s never fair to, you know, to anyone. I think that, you know, that does need to be, I think it did start, you know, like I say with this group since – I believe everyone deserves the opportunity to audition and to go in, but you know, I think the producers and stuff felt that I was right for the role.
Yes, I guess, I don’t know it’s a tricky one I think. I think you can have a little bit of both and, you know, if someone’s a really good actor and they can do it then why not? But, at a certain point it’s the business and the industry that would have to change and I guess why I feel good about it in a way, portraying Gary is that, hopefully it will open the flood gates for more, you know, neurodiverse people and disabled people to be considered. Because before it was – a lot of the autistic roles I’ve seen portrayed before were pretty much one note. And were, there were, you know, there was a lot of clichés out there.
So, I think that showing Gary that it’s not – you don’t have to write it like (unintelligible) every single damn time, hopefully people will just think about writing for more autistic people and, you know, disabled people as well. If there are other roles like that – that are being taken good care of.
So, I think the first step, that I guess Alpha’s is helping is just showing a different side to autism and just more of a truer face to it. So, hopefully it will just – it will just create more – in roles I think that’s where it would have to start. And then a lot of it’s just, you know, if you’re a good actor, if you can do it, then yes, everyone should have a chance, but then you got to get the role man. I’m always auditioning against skinny white kids, that’s my battle.
Renee Martin: Thank you, I just have one more question. In the first season, Gary faced a lot of ableism and (unintelligible), particularly from Bill, but one of the things I like about it is that he always had a comeback and he was sure and assertive. Did you have anything to do with the fact that Gary always stood up in the face of the so-called benign impression that he played?
Ryan Cartwright: No, there was a lot of it already there in the script. There was one specific moment last year that I was quite adamant about. When he was being bullied at school and the kid pushed him and called him a retard. And I think the original comeback that was scripted was just to say, “Oh, I’m not a retard…I’m autistic.” And I was quite adamant that Gary should call him a retard back, because you live with those curses that you get off other people. And an autistic person should be able to fight fire with fire. The bully uses the R word. He’s the dickhead in that situation and he should have the same curse flying straight back at him.
I always wanted him to be just as confrontational and just as robust and throw it right back in their face. You know, because fuck them if they’re going to lower themselves to that disgusting level. Then an autistic person should be able to fight back blow for blow.
I don’t want him restricted, I guess because there’s that danger people think, oh, he – if he’s offensive himself then, you know, or that’s what he’s like.
Well no, he’s a good guy. Good guys can swear too. So, I just felt a lot more comfortable making sure that he did stand up for himself and not just stand up for himself in an apologetic way. Let him be rude.