Ryan O’Connell is the star, writer and creator of Netflix‘s series, Special. It’s his own story; a gay man with cerebral palsy, as Wow’s Stephen Rutledge posted about.
His 2015 memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves, caught the attention of Jim Parsons and led to his big TV break.
O’Connell began his TV writing career on MTV’s Awkward and worked on Will & Grace.
O’Connell wrote the entire debut season: the lead character, also named Ryan, is a 20-something gay, disabled man struggling with his sexuality and independence. The show is hilarious. (I know, it doesn’t sound like it should or would be, but it IS.) Each episode is only about 15-minutes long and features Jessica Hecht (who plays Ryan’s mom), Marla Mindelle (his boss, Olivia), and Punam Patel (who plays his hilarious work BFF, Kim).
“When we went out with the pitch, I wasn’t attached to star because I’ve had no desire to act ever. I was hanging outside the Beverly Center with a net for anyone with a limp and a complicated relationship with their dad. But basically, when we sold it to Stage 13, we couldn’t afford to hire anyone. It was so bare bones, honey.
I want to bring gay sex to the forefront in a very accurate, human way. And so I knew with this sex scene, there wasn’t gonna be no panning away to the fuckin’ moon! We were gonna see how gay sex is done. I wanted it to feel real. In season two, ideally, I wanna show a lot more gay sex.
I was closeted until I was 17. I came out because I really liked this boy who I knew was gay, and I knew that in order to pursue him, I needed to be out of the closet. And also, I was just tired of it. I came from a very gay family. My grandfather was a closeted homosexual who died of AIDS. My uncle’s gay. My sister’s bi.
We live in this culture where, on Instagram, it seems like everyone’s fucking millionaires on vacation, but the reality is everyone’s just in credit debt up to their asshole. I made very little money on Special. There’s going to be a billboard of my face, but I have, like, no money. [Laughs.] People will comment, ‘Oh, he got that Netflix money,’ and I’m like, ‘Where? I don’t have it.’
… there’s nowhere I’d rather be. They don’t care about the sex stuff. They don’t care about the cursing. There’s just no Netflix brand. The brand of Netflix is they do everything, so you’re not trying to make your show more like a Netflix show, ‘cause what does that even mean? From a creative standpoint, I’m in fucking heaven. I truly can’t work for anyone else. I’m so spoiled.
The trolls really only come from being disabled. I’ve been so trolled. I’ve had people pull over being like, ‘Do you need a ride to the hospital?’
I did a column called The Disability Diaries at Vice, where I basically wrote down every time someone made a comment about my disability or my disability impacted me in some way. I had to stop doing it because it was too much. I had an anxiety attack, I swear to God. I’m really glad I stopped doing that, but those things still take my breath away. My boyfriend and I took an Uber recently where the driver turned around and just goes, ‘What’s wrong with you?’ My boyfriend had never seen that happen before and he was just shocked, but it’s happened to me so many times. He was like, ‘That was fucked up!’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah, I guess you’re right, that is fucked up.’
I really don’t think it’s out of malice. There is such ignorance surrounding disability ‘cause there’s no dialogue, and, in part, that’s because there’s no disability representation on TV. Think about many amazing things Transparent did for the trans community in terms of starting the conversation about transgender issues. No one’s really having the conversation for disability. I also feel it’s really important that a show with a disability comes from someone who’s disabled. I want disabled people to be able to tell their own stories and be in charge of it.
I hope that Special is a success so other stories can be fucking told. Disabled people need to be empowered. Growing up disabled and gay, I didn’t think, ‘I’m going to be an actor. I could be starring in my own show.’ Are you fucking crazy? I was just thinking, ‘God, I hope I get off my leg braces by the age of 12.’ I didn’t think that was meant for me. There was no seat at the table for me. I had to wedge myself in between and insert my own fucking self.”
Special is on Netflix now. You’ll fall in love.
(Photo, YouTube, screen grab; via Vulture)