“I’d only genuinely seen disability represented on television or in the media supremely negatively. It’s an ‘Afterschool Special’ topic, it’s doom and gloom,” says Minnie Driver about what attracted her to the ABC comedy series “Speechless.” “Here was a show that was beautifully extolling the virtues of being a human being, whether you use a wheelchair or not … It was so funny and irreverent and dealt with the issues that challenge families with special needs in such a funny, robust way. I wanted in on that.” Watch our exclusive video interview with Driver above.
Driver stars in “Speechless” as Maya DiMeo, a fiercely protective mother of three children. One of those children, JJ (Micah Fowler), has cerebral palsy and is nonverbal, so he communicates with a laser pointer and a word board. But while Maya is loyal and resilient, she isn’t sanctified — far from it. And that was also part of the appeal for Driver. “She’s great and she’s awful, like loads of people,” she explains. “What’s interesting, and what I want to see on television, are these faulted, conflicted characters. I don’t want to see somebody perfect.”
And it’s particularly gratifying to see women depicted as flawed and dimensional. “Donna Reed, ‘Leave it to Beaver,’ the whole June Cleaver thing is gone,” Driver says. “We’re into the real world of people who are messy and broken and messed up, and that’s funny and engaging — they grab our hearts, but it’s a bit trickier … Women have always been that way — wacky and dimensional — but often need to be perceived in a much tidier box, usually as the addendum to some dude.”
And it’s not just on “Speechless” where female characters have become more fully developed. Driver notes other shows like “Big Little Lies,” “Catastrophe” and “Insecure.” “These women are like fireworks,” says Driver of the current selection of female roles on TV. “I haven’t seen that before on television. Carmela Soprano was all we were allowed for a really long time, someone who was bursting at the seams with rage and humanity. I love it. There’s never been a better time to be a woman on telly.”
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