Ryan O’Connell: “I was born in a capable hell”

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Ryan O’Connell: “I was born in a capable hell”


TThe outspoken and bubbly comedy Special, which just landed on Netflix, is the story of two Ryans. There’s Ryan Hayes, the main character, a gay intern with cerebral palsy who lives in Los Angeles with his mother mollycoddling. Then there’s Ryan O’Connell, the star and creator of the show, who is also a gay Angelino with cerebral palsy. But there the similarities end. Moments from O’Connell’s life resurface onscreen, like the moment he was hit by a car and then pretended to his new college friends that his limp was the result of the crash. (Season one ends with Ryan coming out as disabled.) But while Ryan is left and apologizes, his 34-year-old creator is almost intimidating and sassy.

Speaking of Zoom from his home, O’Connell speaks at the speed and style of Twitter. Anyone reading the revealing blogs he wrote in his twenties, or his memoir I’m Special: And Other Lies We Tell Ourselves (from which Special is adapted), will recognize the exuberant voice. Song lyrics and invisible exclamation marks litter her conversation, while acronyms and punctuation are verbalized: “LOL”, “Dot-dot-dot”. He is like the Internet personified, but without any hard feelings.

“Ryan still lives with his mom, doesn’t have any friends or boyfriends,” says O’Connell. “He’s got Norman-Bates-from-Psycho vibes. And it was do not my experience. I had a parcel friends. I moved to go to college when I was 18. I had sex when I was 17. to boast! Despite these disavowals, he concedes a certain kinship. “Like Ryan, I struggled to feel enough… We were both born in capable hell, but he’s worse done than I’ve ever been.” I never felt I had the luxury of being socially awkward. My role was to disarm everyone I met because they were going to be so confused by… ”He gestures to himself. ” This presentation. It had become my job to put them at ease. Ryan worries if the people around him are comfortable never asking: is comfortable?’ It is a revelation that I had.

Special provides a lot of information about the daily fights distributed by the valid world, like the gym bunny who congratulates Ryan simply on his exercise. “Oh my God, the gym is a nightmare,” O’Connell gasps. “I’m like a celebrity there. ‘Go yourself! Look at you, get it! I’m like, ‘Oh-Kaaay. Elsewhere, Ryan ends up with an able-bodied partner who has a disability fetish. “I was not personally fetishized,” says O’Connell. Then, with a poker face, “I’m always looking for the right one. ”

“Oh my God, the gym is a nightmare! … Punam Patel as Kim Laghari with Ryan O’Connell as Ryan Hayes on Special. Photographie: Beth Dubber / Netflix

Upgraded to half-hour episodes from the 15-minute nibbles of the first season, the new series is dramatically much richer. There is now space not only for Ryan to meet his needs, but also for his friend Kim (Punam Patel), a plus size woman of color, and his shy mother Karen (Jessica Hecht), to find their fulfillment. . “These are the three of them who say, ‘I want to be the girl with the most cakes’.” He is also proud to have kept his promise that Special would become “more cheerful and more elegant”. Ryan previously rejected a deaf suitor on a blind date, but now he embraces the disabled and neuro-diverse community.

It’s refreshing to see an authentic cast in Special, especially after the controversy over hiring a neuro-typical actor to play someone with autism in his movie Music. “The aptitude is so systemic and embedded in our culture, ”says O’Connell. “I don’t think Hollywood is like Mr. Burns sneering behind a desk, saying, ‘Keep these disabled people away! It’s more than nobody considers disabled people in general, which is very dark and very sad. We’re usually only here for “inspirational porn” or to serve the personal growth of a valid character. “

How can this change? “No more disabled creators. We need to stop putting characters with disabilities in the hands of able-bodied people, because that doesn’t give us money or opportunities, and they don’t fully understand what it is.

He is no less militant for LGBT casting. “People panic when you talk about authenticity,” he says, then slips into a parody of high-pitched clicks: “It’s called acting! It is literally their job!’This is followed by a slight wave of the hand, as if to soothe an irritable child. “’Honey, baby, honey, I understand what theater is. I’m an Emmy nominee! But the reality is, if you’re a straight actor, you already have more opportunities than a gay actor. Why should I take another role from them and give it to someone directly? Not only are the gay characters in Special played by gay actors, several straight guys are as well. “Can you believe it? It’s possible! “

Get off and get dirty… Special. Photographie: Beth Dubber / Netflix

An explicit approach to gay sex has been a deciding factor from the time O’Connell started launching Special. Backed by its executive producer, Big Bang Theory star Jim Parsons, the show has never shied away from what gay men are doing in bed, and the new show gets even more depressed and dirty. One sex scene in particular serves a radical function: Ryan behaves cruelly towards his partner and is seen as the shamer rather than the shameful. “I never wanted him to be this incredible virtuous figure. As marginalized people, we are allowed to exist in very narrow niches, and I always like to challenge that. I set about making the viewer feel pissed off at this gay dude with cerebral palsy. It doesn’t have to be perfect to make you feel good about yourself. He doesn’t have to be your inspiration, honey. It can be a source of your anger.

Despite all his elation about Special, he admits to feeling “disappointed” when Netflix told him that the second season would be his last, but he feels ready to give it up. “This show has given me a lot, but it has never been easy. He always limped his way, clinging to Wilson Phillips for one more day. O’Connell, on the other hand, is moving forward. HBO Max is reflecting on Accessible, a pilot he wrote at a boarding school for the disabled, while his first novel, Just By Looking At Him, is released next year. “The principal is a disabled gay television writer,” he says with a disarming smile. ” Whaaat? Who is this?«

If able-bodied people are allowed to plow the same furrow, why can’t he? “Sofia Coppola has a rich cornered malaise. Sally Rooney writes the same book – they’re good but I’m sorry! – and no one is like, ‘This again?’ As soon as the characters are marginalized people, they can only exist thiim a lot. Maybe there will come a time when he doesn’t write about cerebral palsy. “But as a writer, I’m naturally drawn to things that aren’t discussed or understood, or that are stigmatized. Unfortunately, the handicap ticks all three boxes. It’s a giant well of interesting stories we’ve never seen before. Another big smile. “Why would I throw this out of bed?”

Season Two is now on Netflix.

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