Hollyoaks airs a special episode focusing on diversity, living with disability and additional needs on E4 on Monday 4 February.
Against the backdrop of a disability awareness day in the village organised by Nancy Osborne (Jessica Fox), and featuring her deaf son Oscar performing in a children’s choir, Mandy Morgan (Sarah Jayne Dunn) must decide whether to have surgery on her unborn baby to minimise the symptoms of neurological condition spina bifida.
During the course of the day Mandy crosses paths with many residents who live with disability, including teenager Brooke Hathaway (Talia Vanessa Grant) who is upset after classmate Juliet Quinn (Niamh Blackshaw) bullies her over her autism.
Joining Hollyoaks last year as the first actor with autism to play a regular character in a UK soap with the same condition, it’s only right that Grant plays an integral role in the groundbreaking episode that celebrates diversity, but doesn’t shy away from the challenging aspects of the subject. RadioTimes.com spoke to Grant about her experiences with autism on and off camera.
What does Hollyoaks hope to achieve with the diversity episode? Raising awareness about diversity is really important to Hollyoaks and as disability awareness in society can be very lacking, especially for those with invisible disability, this is a great move.
Juliet bullies Brooke about her autism being a ‘curse’, how does she cope with that? Brooke is sensitive and holds things in a lot. She is still trying to work out her identity and feels like an alien a lot of the time so Juliet’s bullying is really unhelpful and she will make her lose confidence.
Has Brooke been teased before about having autism? She mentioned it early on – she talked about being in foster care and never fitting in, but this is the first bullying instance that we’ve seen her experience in Hollyoaks.
How does Brooke manage to help Oscar when he’s nervous about his choir performance? She empathises. She encourages him and in order to do this, she signs her responses, so she relates to him in every way.
Do you feel a responsibility to represent people with autism on television? There is a saying that goes, “If you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person,” and to a certain extent this is true. I can represent but sadly I can never absolutely get it right for everyone.
Do you have a lot of input into how Brooke’s condition is portrayed? Yes, we have meetings and emails go back and forth talking about her storylines and potential responses. Hollyoaks also has an autistic writer on the team and I think that helps.
Do you bring a lot of personal experience to the character? Yes, 100%. So much of what Brooke has faced, especially being bullied, I can relate to in one way or another. A lot of autistic people feel anxious and overwhelmed, and feeling like you’ve said or done the wrong thing is also familiar. I also relate to her empathy.
What do you enjoy the most about playing Brooke? I love her insight. She doubts herself but so often she actually assesses things correctly, and she is wise and feisty.
Did you enjoy filming the big scenes with Mandy (Sarah Jayne Dunn) as she discusses her baby having spina bifida? Sarah was, and is always, so great to work with. My highlight of the episode was definitely hearing the children in the choir sing, that was really moving.
What’s coming up for Brooke? More bullying unfortunately and Brooke solving mysteries, not necessarily correctly. And, and of course, love and romance!
Hollyoaks diversity episodes airs on E4 at 7pm on Monday 4 February, and on Channel 4 at 6.30pm on Tuesday 5 February.
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