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Why isn't Artie on Glee played by a disabled actor?

by Joel Keller, posted Nov 11th 2009 2:04PM
Kevin McHale as Artie on Glee. From the episode When I saw the kids from Glee sing at the World Series earlier this month, I was surprised to see that Kevin McHale, the actor who plays disabled gleester Artie, wasn't disabled in real life.

Not sure why this surprised me; non-disabled actors have been playing disabled characters for decades. Maybe it's because McHale handles his wheelchair so well, or because Glee seems to be pretty proud of its not-calling-attention-to-itself brand of diversity. Maybe I just figured that, in 2009, hiring a disabled actor to play a disabled character wasn't a big deal.

I guess I was wrong. And I'm not the only one who's puzzled and disappointed by the show's decision. Tonight's episode, in which the gleesters rally around Artie so he can travel with them to the regionals, is the jumping-off point for an AP article on how disappointed disabled actors are about the casting of McHale in the role.

As much as I don't like to get bogged down in political correctness, the folks who speak in this article have a point. There are plenty of disabled actors who are talented enough to take these roles, including fellow FOX star Daryl Mitchell, who has had a productive acting career (Ed, Brothers) since being paralyzed in a motorcycle accident.

The excuse Glee producer Ryan Murphy uses, that McHale was too talented to not use him, doesn't wash. You mean to say there wasn't a wheelchair-bound actor who was as good as McHale at singing, dancing, and acting? Heck, they might have found a person that does an even better job of moving around in the chair than McHale does, because it's a part of his life. Just the sheer number of actors out there would have improved the odds of finding an equally-talented disabled actor.

And it seems that other productions have gotten around the supposed time and liability "issues" that others have cited as a reason not to hire disabled actors. It didn't seem to hamper David Milch, who cast Geri Jewell (remember her from The Facts of Life?) on Deadwood, or Vince Gilligan, who hired RJ Mitte to play Bryan Cranston's son in Breaking Bad.

So, what's the hold-up? Why are disabled actors having such a hard time getting work in Hollywood? Maybe you folks can come up with some theories, because I certainly can't.

[via TV Week]

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Wow!!! It's called ACTING. Any third grader could figure that out

October 14 2012 at 10:08 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

I think the reason is right in front of your face, so you cannot see it. If they are disabled already and insurance and lawsuits were involved. Let us say they were injured again in a Glee episode. More lawsuits.

June 08 2012 at 3:37 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

p.s Sarah, I love you!

January 11 2012 at 11:44 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Joel, this is one of the dumbest rants I have ever read. Overwhelmingly, the replies are not in your favor. I hope you now understand how silly your article sounds.

January 11 2012 at 11:42 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Bubble Burst

Just because Kevin isn't disabled doesn't mean he shouldn't play Artie! When they choose an actor, they choose the best one out of EVERYONE. Not the best disabled actor. If the best-suited character happened to be disabled, then perfect! But if the person wasn't, like Kevin, then that's okay. It's acting. Do you think Blaine and Kurt should be played by gay actors and Quinn should be played by a real cheerleader? Of course not. Because it's just acting. That's the same case with Kevin and Artie.

December 02 2011 at 5:52 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply

GO SARAH! Duh, like are people seriously making a big deal about this? Hmm..why didn't they just use real gay actors for broke back mountain? Why didn't they use a real transvestite in Rocky Horror? Why didn't they use a real boxer in the Rocky movies? Why didn't they use 2 completely deaf people in Switched at Birth? Become a director find out what you do and don't need to creat a hit, THEN come back and re-write your article.

September 25 2011 at 8:08 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

Sarah nails it. If he were an actual disabled actor, he couldn't do any dream sequences or explore his desire to walk, which make up part of him and work nicely into a story of him embracing, accepting, or trying to overcome his disability.

If he was disabled, they would have to hire a look alike for this, and it would either have to be cheaply done like a dream sequence where he is a mega hulk, or ignored all together. His character is one of the ones I prefer to see developed.

September 01 2011 at 1:11 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

They're limited with a disabled actor! They can't do dream sequences like "safety dance" if he was disabled- and that's one of my favorite Artie moments!

August 26 2011 at 10:06 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

First of all, disabled or not, Kevin McHale IS too talented not to be used, and perhaps was the best actor for the part at the time. Second, If Artie were actually in a wheelchair he wouldn't have been able to do any "dream sequences", which further develop his character. Without more airtime and scenes and story lines, you can't get to know Artie as well. Hiring an actor who is actually in a wheelchair, pretty much closes the door on any type of "dream sequence" like the one already featured (which was extremely well-done), unless you hire a different actor to dance in Artie's place, disconnecting the audience from his character. Wouldn't you rather have whole episodes devoted to developing Artie and shedding light on his situation? The thing about that scene that was so relatable is that everyone has dreams about being able to do something they can't actually do.

Furthermore, you're right - this is not the first time Hollywood has hired a non-disabled person to play a disabled character. Sean Penn, Juliette Lewis, Dustin Hoffman, and many other actors were all hired to play characters who were in some way disabled, though they, themselves were not. Why start a discussion over an extremely talented kid, like Kevin, who's getting his very first real break? The fact is, you don't know for sure that someone else would've been better and it doesn't matter anyway because what are they going to do now? Fire him to hire an actor that's more authentically disabled? Please.

There's a musical called Side Show which features a pair of conjoined twins as the main characters. Done as a stage musical, logistically, it makes no sense to hire ACTUAL conjoined twins, due to the fact that it's a live performance, there are 30-second costume changes, tight, audience-visible spaces, and trapdoors built for one. Plus a lot of character development happens in "dream sequences" where the twins must be separated due to a romantic storyline. Much like Side Show, it may have also been infeasible to hire someone on Glee who was in a wheelchair due to several factors we don't even know about, let alone the storyline itself.

Also, you do realize Daryl Mitchell is like 46, right? Do you even watch the show?? Remember: Glee is set in HIGH SCHOOL. How is he going to be believable as a 16-year-old?! Just because he's the only differently-abled actor you could think of when you were writing this article, doesn't mean he's right for the part (Seriously. Why Ryan Murphy didn't hire you to cast a show you CLEARLY DON'T EVEN WATCH baffles me...).

Also, Glee did hire actors with Downs Syndrome - the two actresses who play Becky, and Sue's sister, Jean (Lauren Potter and Robin Trocki, respectively).

Glee is a TV show that is meant for entertainment and has launched the careers of several very talented actors. Get off your self-righteous high-horse because you have no idea what you're talking about.

March 15 2011 at 4:47 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply

Beacuse of the safety dance dream.

March 08 2011 at 3:15 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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