Fear The Walking Dead star Lennie James has said there needs to be more of a debate over the casting of gay and disabled roles in film and TV.
The actor, who is currently in rehearsals for the psychological thriller A Number at the Old Vic theatre in London, thinks there should be more of a “conversation” when casting roles especially “in areas where the authenticity has been underserved”.
It comes after Maureen Lipman recently questioned the casting of non-Jewish actor Helen Mirren as the former Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir in the upcoming film Golda.
“The Jewishness of the character is so integral,” Lipman told The Jewish Chronicle, while also acknowledging that it was a “complex” argument.
James told BBC News: “Where gay actors have not been given the opportunity to play gay parts, or disabled actors have not even been considered for the opportunity to play disabled parts, in that situation then I would 100 per cent be part of the conversation of saying, ‘Why not?’ That absolutely should change.”
However, James insisted he would “challenge” the idea that certain roles must be reserved for particular actors in order for their performance to be authentic.
The Line Of Duty actor said the casting of any role should be “on a case by case basis. I don’t believe in blanket statements… because then the role of the actor slightly changes and is slightly different to the one I hope and pray that it is”.
Last year, It’s A Sin writer Russell T Davies entered the debate when he said queer actors should always be cast in queer roles. “It’s about authenticity,” Davies told the Radio Times. “You wouldn’t cast someone able-bodied and put them in a wheelchair, you wouldn’t Black someone up.”
Weighing in on the discussion, Dear Evan Hansen actor Ben Platt told NME that he “largely” agrees with Davies’ view, but doesn’t have a “black and white answer” to the question.
“I feel like the attitude should be, wherever possible, especially if the story is really rooted in a queer background or is [fundamentally] a queer story like It’s A Sin, we should be doing everything in our power to cast queer actors,” he said.
He added that it isn’t just about authenticity – it’s also about equal opportunities. “Because often, just in terms of judgement from creators and casting directors, we [queer performers] aren’t able to tell straight stories or play straight characters,” he explained.
A number of other actors have called for a more nuanced approach, believing that it’s part of an actor’s job to embody a totally different character.
Cate Blanchett told The Hollywood Reporter in 2018 that she would “fight to the death for the right to suspend disbelief and play roles beyond my experience”.