Matthew Duckett in ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ Demonstrates Importance of Authentic Casting in Disability-Specific Roles
Staying true to the D.H. Lawrence classic, theater actor Matthew Duckett, who has cerebral palsy, made his feature film debut with “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” — the first disabled actor to play the part of Clifford on a Netflix production. The film started to stream Dec. 2 on the platform.
“I’ve been in a great many productions where I’ve been allowed to live in my disability, which has been incredibly freeing as an actor,” Duckett said, describing the differing approaches to how productions address the accessibility needs of their actors. “But something I was really grateful to see happen was to have someone on-set dedicated to my needs as a disabled artist and to the honesty of the production of a disabled character.”
Netflix enlisted help of C Talent, a talent management company led by and catered to the disability community, specifically hiring lead disability and access consultant Dan Edge to advocate for Duckett’s on-set needs from pre- through post-production. At the early stages of the feature, Edge primarily scanned through the script with director Laure de Clermont-Tonnerre to ensure accurate portrayals of the disability community. But throughout the remainder of the production, Edge worked closely with movement directors to nail down Duckett’s physicality as he navigated around in an antique wheelchair.
The benefits of this counseling was not limited in scope to Duckett — Edge even collaborated with director of photography Benoît Delhomme to block scenes in a way that was wheelchair accessible and to highlight effective camera angles.
For scenes in which co-star Emma Corrin was tasked with lifting Duckett out of his chair, intimacy coordinator Ita O’Brien worked with the two actors to “strike a brilliant balance between intimacy and access coordination,” Edge said.
“What Netflix and what C Talent did so well is ensuring the accuracy of both the historical telling of the story but also the best disability representation and accessibility that there could possibly be,” said founder and CEO of C Talent Keely Cat-Wells.
Banned in the U.K. back in the 1960s for its depictions of sex, that seem tame now, “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” is a scandalous love story between an aristocrat (Corrin) and a modest gamekeeper named Oliver Mellors (Jack O’Connell), whom she meets at her husband’s country estate. The two engage in an affair as Lady Chatterley copes with the dissatisfaction of her current marriage to World War I veteran Clifford Chatterley (Duckett).
The saucy period piece begins with Lady Chatterley, formerly known as Connie Reid, being courted by Clifford — a honeymoon phase that is short-lived. Soon after their union, Clifford decides to resume his military service, and is paralyzed from the waist-down on the frontlines.
“Period pieces always have the potential to be tricky in terms of both outdated opinions and actions around the Deaf, disabled and neurodivergent community,” said Edge, who worked closely on-set with Duckett as a disability and access consultant. “Especially when you’re dealing with a character who is new to his impairments and being part of the disabled community as a whole, like Clifford is in this piece. It could have been quite easy to take the character solely down a stereotypical character arc of being a victim because of his newfound impairment.”
If there’s any precedent to be set from “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” Cat-Wells said, it’s that disability and access consultants should be a given on film and television productions — regardless of whether or not there is a known actor with disabilities on set — and further, the need for ethical and inclusive casting in order to achieve authentic portrayals of the disability community.
“Disabled people have to play the disabled roles; there is no more room for non-authentic portrayals,” Cat-Wells said. “But at the same time, we want to also show that disabled people are lawyers, doctors, mothers, fathers, and we are not this monolith. We are not here to just fill those disability-specific roles, and I’m excited for the day where we do see the doctors, the lawyers written specifically for disabled characters.”