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Director defends casting Bryan Cranston to play disabled character

Neil Burger defended getting able-bodied Breaking Bad star to play a quadriplegic character in The Upside.


Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

Bryan Cranston

The director of Bryan Cranston’s latest film has defended casting the able-bodied actor to play a disabled character.

The actor, known for starring as Breaking Bad’s Walter White, portrays a quadriplegic millionaire who befriends a convict hired to care for him in The Upside, a remake of the 2011 French global success The Intouchables.

The Ruderman Family Foundation, a US organisation that advocates for disabled people, criticised the decision as “discrimination”, while similar moves has been compared to blackface.

At the movie’s world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival on Friday, director Neil Burger said they had tried to make the film as sensitively as possible.

He told the Press Association: “It is a really interesting question, does an able-bodied actor have the right to play a person with a disability? And there’s arguments on both sides of it.

“All I know is that we did an incredible amount of research and went at it with as much respect and honesty that we could – and certainly Bryan Cranston did – and our goal is to shed light and be compassionate and be respectful to those communities.”

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The foundation, which recently condemned the casting of Alec Baldwin to play a visually-impaired man in Blind, said it is “imperative” to cast disabled actors for disabled characters.

Its president, Jay Ruderman, said: “While we don’t know the auditioning history of The Upside, casting a non-disabled actor to play a character with a disability is highly problematic and deprives performers with disabilities the chance to work and gain exposure.

“Non-disabled actors are routinely cast to play characters with disabilities, while actors with disabilities are rarely even auditioned for minor parts. This practice amounts to discrimination and we are working with Hollywood advocates to change that.”

The Intouchables made nearly £370 million world-wide and starred Omar Sy, who is replaced by comedian Kevin Hart, and Francois Cluzet, who is also able-bodied.

Burger said he twice turned down the chance to remake the movie, having first asked “why would I remake this internationally-beloved movie?”.

But, he said, the writer showed him a different take which is particularly important to tell with the political climate in the US.

Burger said: “The movie that I think we’ve made is very much about how do you bridge this divide?”

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