‘Women Talking’ Star Talks About Acting With A Disability & Working With Sarah Polley (VIDEO)

"I think it was the most validating thing of my life."

Toronto Staff Writer

Women Talking has scored two Oscar nominations and is a leading example of what to do in the film industry.

Ontario-born actor Shayla Brown played Helena in the film and sat down with Narcity to talk about her experience with the audition process as a person who is visually impaired, and what it was like working with Canadian Director and writer, Sarah Polley.

19-year-old Brown may be young, but she's ready to make an impact on the industry, by challenging how disabled people are viewed in the casting process and in film.

Brown shared how landing Women Talking affirmed her talents and what other directors can learn from Polley when it comes to working with actors with disabilities.

What drew you to the Women Talking audition?

"Well, after I had done See, those casting directors reached out to me and said, 'We're looking for the teens in the film, would you like to audition?' And what really struck me was that for the first time in my life, I was being asked to audition for a character who wasn't explicitly written as blind," said Brown.

"At that time, that was, like, astonishing for me because I'm so used to my disability being the thing that defines me. The fact that someone was even asking to see me, primarily because I'm an actor, was very validating of what I was doing."

"I was just really thrilled to be auditioning and, like, finally talking about something else that wasn't being blind. I was just astonished to be auditioning for this very important story."

"I didn't hear anything for a few months. It was sad at first, but as an actor, you learn to let everything go. And then I think I was in class at school when I got an email saying, 'Hey, Sarah has written a character for you. Do you want to still do it?' And that blew my mind."

How did it feel to have Helena written for you by Sarah Polley?

"It still blows my mind. I've done the film, and I think it was the most validating thing of my life," said Brown.

"I was so used to being seen as blind first and an actor second, and Sarah saw me, and she saw my abilities as an actor, and she thought I was supposed to be a part of the story, and I was important."

What do you think other directors can kind of learn from Sarah?

"I think that other directors can learn to take the risk," said Brown.

"I think a lot of directors and, like, basically, a lot of people, in general, are just frightened of working with disabled people because they don't know what accommodations look like, and is it safe, and I think it is safe. You just need to ask, and we're always here to let you know what we need."

"It's not a big, ginormous risk that you're taking, and Sarah proved that."

What's the next role you really want to dig into?

"I would love to do a period drama, where I get to play the romantic lead because I think that, especially back in those times, disabled people were hidden away from society. I think it would be a brilliant way of kind of reclaiming that."

"Being the person that someone finds desirable and is witty and is clever. I just think that would be a really fun thing to turn on its head like what Bridgerton is doing with its casting."

'"I think we should start including disabled people in those kinds of things."

Women Talking has been nominated for Best Picture and for the Adapted Screenplay category, and you can watch it in theatres now.

This interview has been condensed and edited for clarity.

Brooke Houghton
Toronto Staff Writer
Brooke Houghton is a Staff Writer for Narcity Canada's Ontario Desk focused on celebrity news and is based in Toronto, Ontario.