7NEWS Real Life Podcast: Actor Alex Barone on building an acting career with a disability
With his long hair and big smile, Alex Barone has the movie star look you might imagine in a blockbuster movie.
But look a little closer and you’ll notice something a little different about this Los Angeles-based actor.
Most notably, he has only six fingers, three on each hand, which he jokingly compares to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
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Over the past decade, Alex has pursued his love of acting, and while it hasn’t been easy, he says it’s finally getting easier for actors with disabilities to get roles.
Born and raised in the American city of Baltimore, it was immediately clear that Alex was a little different.
“I was born with a condition called fibular hemimelia, so I was born with three fingers on both hands like a ninja turtle, and I was also born without the fibula bone in my right leg,” he explains. .
The condition causes the affected leg to become shortened, often resulting in amputation to prepare for a prosthesis. “
“Instead of amputation when I was a kid, which they wanted to do, I ended up doing something called limb lengthening, where they stretched my right leg and made it equal in length to my left,” says Alex.
“I had a total of 43 surgeries between the ages of 6 and 18.
“My parents never allowed me to believe that I was disabled in any way. So they really kept pushing me and telling me that I could do whatever I wanted,” adds Alex.
Acceptance and action
Alex admits for years he tried to hide his hands by keeping them in his pockets.
But after years of surgeries, he decided to challenge himself when he returned to high school.
“I had just completed my 30th or so surgery…I came back to school and needed to sign up for an elective course,” he recalls.
“I signed up for theater to put myself forward and face my fears and get on stage and that kind of stuff.
“I’ve found acting to be a great way for me to escape my insecurities and step into someone else’s shoes, which I think has ultimately helped build my confidence and my love for it.”
Years Later Would Be a Hollywood Eli Roth, the Writer and Director Behind Horror Hits cabin fever and Hostelthat would give him his big break.
“I walked up to him, tapped him on the shoulder and said, ‘Hey Mr. Roth, I’m Alex Barone, I’ve got these awesome hands’ which I pushed in his face.
“And I was like, ‘Knowing that you do horror, feel free to use me for anything, I’m a huge fan’, he thought that was awesome, and then this took off from there,'” he says.
Alex says that while it can be difficult to get acting roles when you have a physical difference, the tide is starting to turn.
“I think things, even over the past seven years, are changing for the better for people with disabilities, actors with disabilities.
“When I first started acting it seemed like I only go out for handicap roles, which are one in a thousand.
“Now the casting directors, directors and producers bring in actors for all the roles and they change the role to fit the structure of the actor.
“So whether they’re disabled or not, they’re able to change the writing and work with that person and make it unique based on the game, not their physique or their difference, which is really cool. ”
“I noticed a really positive change with people recruiting me for all the roles, not just the disability (roles),” he says.
One of his biggest roles to date was a bit in the Hulu/Disney+ miniseries Drug alongside Michael Keaton.
It was a small but important role for Alex.
“Drug was amazing – it’s such a good story, (but) a sad story about the opioid pandemic and how it started and its rise in the United States.
“During the audition, they asked why I was connecting to this content, and I told them how my biological father died of opioids and I really connected to that.
“That’s how it went, just being vulnerable and sharing my story.”
“And this role in particular, they were looking for someone with a limb difference, specifically missing fingers, so that was perfect for me.
“It was wonderful working with Michael Keaton and (creator) Danny Strong, and (executive producer) Barry Levinson, and the cast and crew were all amazing – it’s a great show.”
It’s not just Alex who is successful on the small screen.
His friend and fellow disabled actor Zyra Gorecki recently landed a lead role in the NBC drama La Breawhich filmed mainly in Melbourne.
After losing her leg in a car accident at the age of 13, Zyra became the first amputee actress to land a central role in a television series.
“I think it’s huge for Zara to get a steady lead in this series, and what I felt was great about La Brea When they met her, they thought she was an awesome actress, and then they put her on the show and adapted the story around her leg.
“What was unique about this La Brea and NBC did was he CGId (computer generated) his leg amputated into a real leg, which I thought was really cool.
“Usually it’s the other way around, where they’ll take a valid actor and CGI a member difference. instead of taking a member difference in the CGI to look “normal”.
“I thought it was awesome – it was huge and hopefully we’ll see a lot more of it on TV.”
Not a witch
Alex is also a disability advocate, who came to prominence after the release of The witches in 2020.
In the film, Anne Hathaway plays the Great Witch, who in her true witch form has only three fingers on each hand.
The performance provoked outrage from the members’ difference community, which saw it as further alienation for people with physical disabilities.
“The whole thing in a nutshell is that they made an able-bodied person look disabled, and they kind of made it a scary thing, a scary trait, or a quality about that person. …that someone with a limb difference would be portrayed as a witch or something evil or disgusting.
“People with limb differences don’t want it to be portrayed as a disgusting thing, especially in a movie like this, which is supposed to be a kid’s movie.
“How are kids supposed to react to a movie like this? Having nothing to admire that isn’t bad makes it look cool or awesome, or having three fingers on both hands is a superhero type quality, not a witch type quality.
Actress Anne Hathaway and the studio behind the Warner Bros. Pictures later apologized for the performance.
Accept your difference
Despite many years of trying to hide their differences, Alex’s advice to anyone with a difference is to embrace it.
“I was very unsure about it for a while, I didn’t want to talk about it, I kept my hands in my pockets, etc.
“Over time it became like an icebreaker – something unique, something cool about me.
“My hands made me, so everyone knew me as Alex, the ninja turtle guy, eventually it became a matter of trust.”
What about people staring at him and asking questions when he’s out in public?
“The way I see it is if people are watching, it’s almost like you’re going anywhere and you’re near someone with super shiny, spiky, mohawk, pink hair, you’re going to look at that person because they’re different.
“I find it’s the same if people look at my hands and wonder, because that’s not a common thing, especially when I was growing up, so of course they’ll look at me.
“It’s another thing if they’re whispering or pointing or laughing and making fun of me or someone with a disability.
“But watching, I don’t mind. I love educating people – I think that’s huge.
“It also empowers you and builds your confidence to talk to them and just give them a quick rundown of your story and then move on.”
The last word
“I would say put yourself front and center. Face your fear, whatever it is, and do it.
“Whether you want to be an actor or a dancer, singer, creative and you have a disability, don’t do what I did growing up and hide behind your inner wall and be so afraid to face it.
“Just confront that you are different, accept it, acknowledge it, and use it to your advantage.”
“Showing yourself off – that’s what makes you unique and special and different from everyone else.
“You don’t want to blend in, do you?” You want to stand out!