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‘It isn’t right anymore’: My Left Foot director backs calls for actors to stop ‘cripping up’

  • June 20, 2021

The director of My Left Foot has said he would cast a disabled actor in the role that won Daniel Day-Lewis an Oscar if the film was being made today.

Jim Sheridan, a six-time Academy Award nominee, told Sky News he does “not think it’s right anymore” for “able-bodied” actors to play disabled characters.

Day-Lewis won the first of his three best actor Oscars for his 1989 portrayal of Christy Brown, the Irish artist with cerebral palsy who painted and wrote using his left foot.

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Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar for his performance in My Left Foot. Pic: AP

There has been criticism in recent years from leading figures in the TV and film industry of what is known as “cripping up”, which often involves non-disabled actors mimicking the physical characteristics of impairments to play disabled characters.

Actress and comedian Sally Phillips has said it is just as unacceptable as “blackface”.

Sheridan, who was nominated for a best director Oscar for his work on My Left Foot, told Sky News: “I don’t think you could make it today. I don’t think you could make it without trying to find somebody physically impaired (to play the lead role).

“I think it’s a different world and you’d be duty bound.”

On non-disabled actors playing disabled roles, Sheridan added: “I don’t think it’s right anymore. We’ve gone past that.

“In My Left Foot, we had disabled kids in the movie and I could understand why Daniel stayed in character and never broke out.

“He wanted to respect them so he stayed in character the entire time for 20 weeks and that’s as far as he could go as an able-bodied person playing a disabled person.”

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Daniel Day-Lewis as Christy Brown in My Left Foot. Pic: Moviestore/Shutterstock

Sheridan said casting an actor with cerebral palsy in the lead role of My Left Foot would be “great”, adding: “Who wouldn’t be up for that? Everyone should have access to their story being told.”

But the Irish filmmaker said preventing non-disabled actors from portraying disabled characters would raise questions for the film and TV industry.

“Do you have to have somebody who has a stutter to play I, Claudius?”, he said, referring to the Roman emperor who had a speech impediment.

Sheridan said he watched My Left Foot recently and still feels “very good” about the film.

“I think Daniel is amazing,” he said. “I think it did a lot for disabled people.”

Sheridan, who also directed Day-Lewis in In The Name Of The Father and The Boxer, said he regularly speaks to the star and he was “not really” surprised at his decision to retire from acting in 2017.

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Filmmaker Jim Sheridan. Pic: Sky Studios

“He’s like that Daniel, he gets fed up,” Sheridan said.

“I think he will come back some time.”

Asked if he could tempt Day-Lewis out of retirement, Sheridan replied: “First I would ask him if I’m going to annoy him by asking him.

“And if he said maybe not, then I would ask him.”

Sheridan’s latest work has seen him direct and present a new five-part series examining the brutal murder of French film producer Sophie Toscan du Plantier in West Cork, Ireland, in December 1996.

English journalist Ian Bailey – the first reporter on the scene – was found guilty in absentia by a French court in 2019 and sentenced to 25 years in prison but has successfully fought repeated extradition requests.

Bailey still resides in West Cork and maintains his innocence.

Murder At The Cottage: The Search For Justice For Sophie, a Sky Original documentary, airs today, with all episodes available to watch on Sky Crime and NOW TV.

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