BBC Ouch have interviewed their regular writer and presenter on her upcoming role in BBC drama Silent Witness.
Disabled actress and comedian Liz Carr is to become a regular fixture on our TV screens in the popular BBC One science-based crime drama. Damon Rose caught up with her to find out more about the new character she’ll be playing.
Regular visitors to these pages will know her as presenter of Ouch’s podcast, others may have seen her in her one woman show It Hasn’t Happened Yet or doing a comedy set somewhere round the UK. From early in the new year, however, Liz Carr will be playing forensic lab scientist Clarissa Mullery in Silent Witness, the long-running BBC One crime series.
So, who is this new, disabled, scientist on the block?
Liz says: “Clarissa is a clever no nonsense sarcastic woman who has incredible confidence and, despite having a sharp tongue, is very likeable. She’s really funny – that’s what attracted me to the role. She’s also smart and perceptive.
“If I’m going to put a disability slant on it, she’s someone who doesn’t bang on about being disabled but, equally, has no problem with who she is.”
Clarissa (pictured above) is the assistant of another new character, Jack Hodgson, played by David Caves. Jack insists that she joins him at the Lyell Centre after he gets the post. He is one of the youngest forensic scientists in the country and Clarissa has been crucial to his career progression in a very successful working relationship at his previous place of work.
The new stars, Caves and Carr, will join regulars Emilia Fox (Nikki) and William Gaminara (Leo). The duo bring their expertise to the Lyell Centre now that Harry, a pathologist played by Tom Ward, has departed. Silent Witness is in its 16th series.
and this is the first time they’ve added a fourth continuing character.
It’s widely appreciated that television still struggles with portraying disabled people in the mainstream so it grabs the attention when somebody Like Liz lands a significant role.
Her difference goes beyond just being a wheelchair user because she is smaller than average and has a non-standard appearance. She acknowledges this: “I don’t look like a normal person who’s just sitting down, I look like I’ve been ill, I’m frail, I’m little, I’ve got thin arms; they’re all the things that make me who I am. After the audition, I thought they wouldn’t be brave enough to cast a disabled person who looks like I do. I was wrong.”
In Silent Witness, the character Clarissa has a look which sets her apart from the curly-haired comedian we have come to know.
The forensic scientist is quite funky, Liz says, and dresses in a very contemporary way: “She doesn’t look like mutton dressed as lamb and also isn’t a dowdy disability stereotype with pleated skirts. They were originally thinking Girl with Dragon Tattoo in terms of styling.
“In the very rare shots where you see her feet, you’ll see her wearing killer high heels or platforms. This is being a bit playful because, when you’re sitting down all the time like me, you can wear high heels as you don’t have to try and walk in them if you’re a wheelchair user.” She adds: “There aren’t many forensic scientists wearing four inch heels round the lab.”
Liz is very pleased with the progression of the character and excited to be working on such a well-established prime time drama.
Though we might now be used to seeing disabled people running, skipping and jumping after this summer’s Paralympic Games, Clarissa Mullery is the very opposite of that active image. Perhaps due to the fact she can’t move too well, she is more cerebral and therefore in the mould of a Hawking rather than a Weir.
When looking at her theatre background, Liz Carr has focused on stories about disability, exploring the humour and minutiae of a disabled life. So, will we hear Clarissa talking about those differences in the way she lives and works? Her answer shows she’s very mindful of what her community might want from a prominent disabled character but says it could be that visibility, rather than words, may just be the most powerful message.
“I remember saying to one of the writers ‘shouldn’t we talk about disability?’, and he said the biggest thing we can do, the most political acct is just her being there. She’s a forensic scientist, she’s married, confident, self-assured, she’s got the measure of the other characters and all of that is what’s political about her.
“You don’t have to go on about whether she filled in an Access to Work form when she started at the Lyell Centre – who cares? Just her place in the show is important.”
• The new series of Silent Witness will be on BBC One early in the new year; watch the channel for further details.
• Liz Carr co-presents the 90th podcast from Ouch! available to download or stream at the end of this week.