ABC’s new comedy Speechless has only been on the air for a month. In that time, it has become a major hit, prompting the network to order a full season of episodes. One of the main reasons for the success of the show can be attributed to Micah Fowler, the actor who brings the character of JJ DiMeo to life. Like JJ, Micah Fowler also has cerebral palsy. He is the first actor with a disability to be cast in a starring role in a television series. The Mac Wire wanted to know more about this talented young man, so we emailed him a few questions. Thank you Micah for taking the time to answer them.
Read on and see what Micah says about his newfound fame, acting and his groundbreaking role in “Speechless.” Let us know what you think.
What do you like best about being on Speechless?
This really is a groundbreaking experience, a person with a disability portraying a main, lead character who has cerebral palsy on primetime television! Growing up a huge television and movie fan, I couldn’t help but notice the lack of representation, the lack of “lead characters” diagnosed with disabilities. So the fact that I get to portray a lead character dealing with cerebral palsy is what I like best. It is so exciting for me to be able to show that people with disabilities are diverse, have personality and can achieve! The best part about being on Speechless is that I get to inspire people to follow their dreams and achieve!
Who are some of the actors/actresses that you look up to and why?
I’m a huge Mark Hamill fan because I LOVE Star Wars and he brought one of my favorite characters to life and did an incredible job at it. He also voiced The Joker in the animated series Batman and I’m a big fan there as well.
Chloe Bennet is a favorite because she is such a talented actress and makes it seem so easy. I love her show, Agents of Shield, and have loved watching her portray Skye/Daisy/Quake. I met her once and she was so nice and down-to-earth. It’s been fun to watch her grow on that show.
I also really look up to my sister Kelsey. By the time she was 16 she had been in four Broadway musicals. She taught me the fundamentals of acting. It is because of her that I became interested in acting.
What was the audition process like for the part of JJ?
About two years ago, my agent asked me to send in a “personality tape” for an “untitled Scott Silveri project”. I put together a tape of me just talking about myself and joking around. Time went by and never heard anything else. A year later, my agent called and said they had requested another personality tape for the same project, now titled, “Speechless”. So I again put together a personality tape just talking about my interests and joking around. A few days later the agent said the casting director was sending 6 scenes over. I spent an entire Saturday putting together the tape of the six scenes. My parents verbalized all of the other characters lines (off camera) while I reacted to all of the dialogue on camera. My sister was at school, so my mom sent her the audition footage to upload to the agent. She texted my mom, “this is hilarious, he is totally going to book this”. How crazy is that? She called it. The agent told us they loved the tape and would be in touch. About 2 months later, I found out I booked the role on the day of my 18th Birthday, BEST BIRTHDAY PRESENT EVER!!!
How difficult is it to portray a character that is nonverbal?
JJ, uses a laser pointer and aide to communicate so I have to compensate physically by being extremely expressive with my facial expressions and body movements. It’s not hard for me to convey emotions, as I have always been a very expressive person. The challenging part is getting each expression just right, I mean conveying the exact emotions the scenes are making JJ feel and making his personality come through. My goal is to make sure the audience knows what JJ is thinking and feeling at all times. I think it is really unique that you get to know JJ without him ever speaking.
Do you have any input on storylines or certain scenes that involve JJ?
Yes, my parents and I have shared many of our personal experiences with the writers; some have already been used in episodes we have shot. I have also given input during filming certain scenes, input concerning JJ’s disability level and equipment he uses.
What’s it like hanging out with your TV family in between scenes? What do you do?
We laugh a lot while filming and in-between scenes we chat, share stories, talk about songs, movies, and television shows and even do magic tricks for each other. Kyla Kenedy and I sometimes sing and listen to music as well. She knows a lot of songs. Mason and I goof off quite a bit. It’s a ton of fun!
What do you think about your fans? What kinds of gifts have you received from your fans?
I have received such wonderful feedback from the fans. Before this all happened I didn’t even have Facebook, Twitter or Instagram! Every day I get messages of support from people telling me how much they like the show. But the ones that touch me the most are from people with disabilities telling me I’ve given them the hope or courage to do things they never thought they could do.
In the long run what do you hope to achieve with your career?
I loving acting and I would like to have a very long, diverse acting career. I hope that I can have opportunities to portray many different types of characters during my acting career. I love Mark Hamill and Michael Rosenbaum. (I’m a big Smallville fan too and Marvel, DC, pretty much anything superhero). My dream role would be to play a villain in a Star Wars movie!
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