“Being on ‘Special’ has spoiled me because I’ve had such control over the character and the writing,” reveals Ryan O’Connell, the creator, showrunner and star of the Netflix comedy that has just aired its second and final season. O’Connell stars as Ryan, a gay man with cerebral palsy navigating complicated relationships with others and with his own disability. The show’s first season earned O’Connell an Emmy nomination for Best Short Form Series Actor, and the show was nominated for Best Short Form Series. Check out our exclusive video chat above.
The second season of “Special” consisted of full 30 minute episodes as opposed to the first season. O’Connell admits that the shortened scope of the first season was a greater challenge, and that he was relieved to be writing a half-hour comedy. “[The first season] was like me trying to squeeze a half-hour show into 15 minutes and always feeling creatively blue balled,” he says. “So the idea of being able to luxuriate in 30 minutes, I felt like I was truly on vacation. Like I was obsessed and it was a really seamless transition.”
A consequence of expanding the show’s episode length required creating a writer’s room. O’Connell’s writing staff was made up of all queer writers, including several writers with disabilities. “I feel like everyone in the writer’s room just brought such a great perspective, and I think they widened the show,” he argues. “So I didn’t feel safe and myopic. It it was a dream.”
O’Connell felt it was important to separate his role as a writer and showrunner from his job as an actor, mostly to avoid thinking about the situations O’Connell the writer would create for O’Connell the actor. “I think if I actually thought about the things that I would have to do, it would really paralyze me,” he exclaims. However, O’Connell says that he’s become more comfortable in front of the camera since he made his acting debut in the show’s first season. “I felt more connected to this character. I can become more connected to his physicality, his way of being,” he explains. “I definitely felt a little more competent and I hope it shows in the performance.”
For O’Connell, the series has been an opportunity to do more than just tell a story about queerness and the disabled. It’s given the actor and writer a the universality of finding one’s tribe. O’Connell points a scene that takes place at what he calls a “crip prom,” which included a cast of almost all actors with disabilities. “I can’t even count how many times I’ve been in a room where it’s been like one other disabled person,’ he says. “That’s rare in itself. Let alone a set where it’s primarily disabled people. It was amazing. And it was also really sad that it took 34 years and creating my own Netflix show. But you know, they say you build it and they’ll come.”
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