Our friend, Travis Smith, made his acting debut in the second series of The A Word this month, taking on the role of Mark, who is on the autism spectrum.

Travis Smith

We held a Twitter Q&A session on Wednesday 15 November to give our supporters the opportunity to hear about his role and how he got in acting. Below are all of the questions and answers from the session.

Question: How old were you when you was diagnosed?

Answer: Luckily, my mum worked with autistic people and so recognised it early, when I was about three or four. I received a formal diagnosis at nine or ten, even though we knew for years. 

Question: Why do you think we still don’t see many autistic people on screen, even in shows about autistic characters? What do you think needs to change so that autistic actors have the same opportunities as others?

Answer: The unknown. Stereotypes may lead to casting directors ignoring talents of autistic people. I'm not defined by my autism and The A Word team weren't afraid to give me a chance. Better understanding of autism and the more open people are to giving autistic people a chance will lead to more autistic actors getting their opportunity. It will become the norm.

Question: Are there any characters from the series or incidents written in the script which you can relate to in your own real-life experiences?

Answer: Joe. Despite Mark being what I was like a few years ago, Joe resonates most. Listening to music, needing a schedule. And Max, who plays Joe is exceptional.

Question: How did you get the part of playing Mark in The A Word?

Answer: Again, my Mum saw a casting call online. She is part of lots of parent groups. I didn't think I would have a chance. I applied online and they called me to London for an audition. I was shortlisted a while after and got a call on a Saturday morning. I didn't believe my mum at first. 

Question: What is it like to become an autistic actor?

Answer: Unbelievable. It's all I've ever wanted to do. I never expected my autism to be the thing that brought me into acting. Before The A Word, I didn’t always see the positives to autism. The show really helped my dreams come true. 

Question: What does the word autism mean to you?

Answer: I've never really thought about it. It’s part of what makes me, me. I've learned to accept myself and I don't often think of the negatives I've experienced and focus on positives, like learning scripts quickly. I have a good memory!

Question: Are you proud to become an autistic actor?

Answer: I'm proud to be an actor in general. I'm proud of the courage I had to do it. If I had stayed in my shell, I would have never have had such a fantastic opportunity. I don't want opportunities to pass me by anymore. 

Question: Do you think acting is a good medium through which young people on the autism spectrum can develop their social skills?

Answer: Absolutely! It's not for everyone, but people on the autism spectrum who want to do it should have a go. I started doing amateur drama groups and found a second family. If I had allowed my anxiety to get the better of me I would have missed out hugely. Sometimes trying to fit in with society feels like an act so I found it quite easy to act professionally.

Question: Outside of The A Word, what are your interests?

Answer: Eating! Sleeping! I also work at Able Radio where I support people with disabilities to have an opportunity to get involved in radio. There's nothing better than helping people to do something that they have always wanted to do. I don't consider it work. 

Question: What was the process and how did you feel filming the meltdown scene?

Answer: It was difficult. I don't have many meltdowns anymore but I drew on my experiences from when I was younger. It was one of the most emotionally taxing things I’ve had to do. It was almost tougher to act it out than actually having a meltdown. I felt almost a bit guilty when I think about how I used to be. It was very hard.

Question: Have the cast on The A Word been supportive and eager to learn more about autism?

Answer: Outstandingly supportive. The cast were incredible. Ten minute chats with cast members turned into three hours. Lucy, who plays my on-screen Mum, was really keen to speak to my Mum too. I was star-struck at first, but they didn't treat me differently at all. 

Question: What three tips would you give an autistic person who wants to start a career in acting?

Answer:

1. Don't doubt yourself. Follow what you want to do and don't listen to voices that tell you that you can't do it.

2. Join a local drama group. You'll meet people who will support you and you'll learn loads.

3. Learn from the best. Ask for advice from people you admire. I really admire Brian Cranston and you can learn a lot from other actors.  

Question: What is your dream acting role?

Answer: I love musicals. Phantom from Phantom of the Opera. I met and sang with Peter Karrie who played him in the West End and he taught me so much. 

Question: Who inspires you as an actor?

Answer: Chris Pratt. I've learned a lot of humour and comedic timing from him. He has a great charisma that he brings to interviews and to his roles.

Question: Did you watch the first series of The A Word and who was your favourite character? Has this changed since working on the show?

Answer: I'd heard a lot about the show before watching it. I started once I got the role and thought I would watch an episode every night. I ended up watching every episode in one night, I loved it so much. Joe was my favourite character and after meeting Max, even more so.  

Question: What do you think of Pete Bowker's musical choices for The A Word? Do you share any of his musical tastes?

Answer: Yes definitely. I don't share a taste in music with many other people my age. I love Michael Jackson, Queen and older musicians. The music really adds to the show. 

Question: Where the children in Pear Tree School actors or was this filmed at a real school?

Answer: It's real school, but it's not called Pear Tree School. I think there was mixture of actors and real school kids. 

Question: Have you got any other projects lined up as well as The A Word and what do you see yourself doing after your time on it?

Answer: I'm loving being on The A Word and always looking for more opportunities to do what I love. I'm auditioning for other things at the moment and getting lots of support from fans of The A Word, which is amazing.   

A big thank you to Travis for taking part in the Twitter Q&A session.

Don’t miss out, watch The A Word on BBC iPlayer.