Eddie McGee – Actor/Filmmaker (2007)
I know a guy who walked into a Hollywood Film Studio known for horror films, who said that he wanted to kill kids and the disabled. He wanted to be an equal opportunity killer and believed that kids and disabled folk should have the same chance of dying in films as anyone else. He shook the studio exec’s hand, and was on his way home when he got a call from his agent who told him the studio called him a “freak” and they didn’t want him ever to step foot in their office again. He told me this as I was about to jump off a building, about to commit suicide. Not in real life, just in the movies.
I’d auditioned for the Fozzy music video in New York, and sent a copy of my audition to the director, Paul Hough, in Los Angeles. He’d been searching for a double-leg amputee for his ultra-low budget music video, but told me he had absolutely no luck in finding someone who would do the role because it was a suicidal character and others felt that they shouldn’t play a disabled suicide character. The main character, a man in a wheelchair, comes to the lobby of a building to find that the elevators are out of service. He then throws himself out of the chair, and using only his arms, hand-walks up the stairs. This is intercut with the band playing on the roof. After the epic ordeal, he gets to the roof, crawls past the band, and throws himself off the ledge. The video went on to play on MTV, but the shot of me throwing myself off the ledge was censored out.
I trained extremely hard for this role and was excited to play it for several reasons. First, it was an extremely demanding physical role. But second, it was unexpected and totally not the stereotypical role a disabled actor would normally be offered.
You see, I wasn’t just another soldier returning from the war who had had his leg blown off. I’ve played that role several times, most recently on Guiding Light and Law & Order. And while I’m absolutely overjoyed every time it comes on, and will continue to play those roles, one could say that the lines for both were completely interchangeable.
I don’t believe this helps.
I went up to Canada and got trained in wire-work, which is the Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon-style of stunt-fighting. Upon the same director hearing that, he wrote a new role for me in which I got to do major wire-work stunts. It’s not often, well…never, that you see a real guy with only one leg doing triple somersaults and all his own stunts. The thing is, however, that Paul knows how much we’re stereotyped, and uses that in the film to such an extent, that when people watch it they’re blown away by my character’s revelation. I’m proud to say it has won tremendous awards from London (won Best Film at The London Sci Fi Film Festival 2007) to Canada (won Audience Award at The Fantasia Film Festival) and around the USA, even in my home town, where it won Best Film at The Long Island Film Festival. Aside from the exceptional direction, it is a part so well-written for a disabled actor that it pushes past all stereotypes.
Recently at The Palm Springs Film Festival, I was blown away by how many filmmakers, upon seeing The Angel, came up to me stating that they’d now write roles for me. What struck me was that they did it because they’d seen me painted in a particular light that was fresh for them. And that I wasn’t playing a “disabled” role.
I think that’s the major problem, that “disabled” actors always play “disabled” roles.
I have had the hardest trouble finding a good manager or agent because I’ve only been seen as the “disabled” guy. I don’t want more “disabled” roles in Hollywood. I want to see the creatives out there realizing that disabled actors can play “regular people” roles. I don’t see why an agent won’t send me out to play “the guy next door” or “the best friend” or “the boyfriend” or “the getaway driver.” Why do I always have to play the war veteran?
When I won Big Brother I got a lot of hate mail because a lot of disabled people were upset that I didn’t present them in a favorable light. Sorry, I was being myself. Until everyone realizes that we don’t only exist in afterschool specials, nothing will change.
I’m bored with seeing us as disabled. Everyone in the world knows what a disabled person looks like. Isn’t it time we show people what they don’t know? Because it’s only when people are truly educated, and not narrow mindedly reinforced, that the world will become a better place
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