Line Of Duty is one of, if not the biggest fictional crime drama in the UK. It follows AC-12, an anti-corruption unit investigating unlawful activities within the police force and stars the likes of Vicky McClure and Martin Compston however those familiar with the television series will also know long-serving cast member Tommy Jessop.
Tommy plays civilian character Terry Boyle who throughout the six series has been a victim of cuckooing, a term used to describe when drug dealers invade the homes of vulnerable individuals for criminal activity.
Tommy is also one of the first actors with Down Syndrome starring in a prime-time BBC drama. Talking about this Tommy replies “I am that honoured and proud of myself. It was hard work, but wicked and I just think of myself as an actor, I don’t really think about Down syndrome. I just get on with life as it is”.
However, I think that Tommy’s role in Line Of Duty speaks volumes about how the entertainment industry is slowly changing and recognising disabled talent. Even as little as ten years ago it was very rare to see a disabled actor on the television let alone on a drama that the whole of the country is gripped to.
The idea that a disabled actor gets to play a disabled role is still one that’s highly debated amongst both the disabled and non-disabled community.
Terry Boyle playing a central role in the storyline development particularly in the current series is really important and encouraging for those with disabilities and particularly with Down Syndrome, as they are able to see themselves represented at the very highest level of televisual entertainment.
I asked Tommy whether he felt a responsibility to represent the Down Syndrome community to which he replied “I think it is everyone’s responsibility to represent the Down syndrome community in the best way we can, but I do stand up for people living with Down syndrome whenever I can and on their behalf”.
Television should always be about touching on real-life and documented in a way that unifies communities and breaks down barriers. In my opinion this is something that writer Jed Mecurio is a master of, as although some of the language used towards Terry’s character could be classed as ableist it shows an accurate representation of how physically and mentally disabled people are treated, whilst also showcasing brilliant disabled talent to counteract.
Tommy insists “It is important that people living with Down syndrome should be given more roles in TV and film to show who people living with Down syndrome really are and what they are capable of doing”.
What’s clear is that Line Of Duty is leading the way in facilitating disabled actors and showcasing an underestimated community.
However this doesn’t mean there isn’t a long way to go to make the entertainment industry really reflect the reality of disabled people and this can only be done when disabled actors like Tommy Jessop are given the opportunity to shine in disabled roles, although Tommy did say that he feels supported as an actor particularly by BAFTA but also that “The industry should just believe in disabled talent and give them a chance to show what they really are capable of doing. We live in the world, we should be in the world of film and TV”.
I believe Tommy Jessop is paving the way for actors that have a range of disabilities to enter roles in prime time television dramas as well as film. His commitment and passion to his role as Terry Boyle really shines through on the screen. Terry as a character is a man of few words but a man of compelling body language and facial expression.
The incredible conviction from Tommy shows that disabled actors are just as worthy to be in prestigious roles as their able-bodied counterparts with Tommy adding “I’m just an actor like any other actor, and, like any other actor, I hope I can bring something extra to my roles because of who I am. People living with Down syndrome have an extra chromosome after all, so they really can bring something extra special to their work as well”.
Line of Duty continues on BBC One, Sunday at 9 PM.
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