Melissa Johns hopes new Corrie role will ‘break ground’ for disabled actors
The star said it was important for viewers to see disabled actors given stronger characters.
Coronation Street’s latest star Melissa Johns has said she hopes her role as flirtatious newcomer Imogen will “break new ground” for actors with disabilities.
The 27-year-old actress and campaigner makes her debut on the ITV soap on Sunday, catching the eye of Kate Connor (Faye Brookes) while on a night out with Rana.
For Johns, the job is a long-time dream come true and she hopes it will open TV viewers’ minds to seeing more disabled actors on screens.
The star, who does not have a lower right arm, told the Press Association: “Imogen is pretty flirty, she’s got attitude, and she can be quite feisty and sarcastic, which I love.
“Way too often actors with disabilities, when we do eventually get cast in stuff, we’re not always given that much personality; it’s almost as if people think the disability is enough.
“So having this feisty, sexual character is just brilliant, and it’s exactly what’s needed (to promote) the equality of actors with disabilities and break through this mould of getting our representation on screens and stages.”
Describing how she used to assume that her disability would hold her back from securing roles, she added: “Now I see that I am an actor with a purpose and to be able to do something that I love and at the same time be breaking new ground is an absolute honour.”
Citing the recent casting of Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor Who, Johns said we still have a way to go to shift TV viewers’ expectations.
“Yes, it’s amazing, but is it a breakthrough? I’m not too sure,” she said.
“For me a breakthrough would have been a female black actress with a disability.
“Nobody is specifically to blame, it’s everybody’s responsibility … The conversation we need to be having is not ‘why should we cast an actor with a disability?’ it needs to be ‘why shouldn’t we?'”
But commenting on the difficulties she has faced throughout her own career, Johns said she had often been treated by producers as a means to fill a diversity quota.
She said: “I have been to so many auditions where I know I’m a tick-box, I know that I have gone there and they have genuinely had no plan to cast an actor with a disability.
“Sometimes it has to start like that just for people to realise that there are talented actors out there that just so happen to have disabilities … but it should always be that the best person is cast for the job.”
But Johns was never given that impression by the creators at Corrie, who she kept in touch with after meeting at an actor’s workshop more than two years ago.
On slotting into the family of long-running cast, she applied her usual approach of talking about her disability and having a joke about it.
“Disabled or not, a lot of actors think things will come to them and they just don’t, if you’ve got that way of thinking you’ll never succeed in this industry,” she continued.
“You have to spend every moment of every day going out to grab it with both hands – or in my case just the one.”
Johns makes her Coronation Street debut at 7pm on Sunday on ITV.