Lee Ingleby  

Actor and National Autistic Society ambassador, Lee Ingleby, who plays Paul Hughes, in The A Word took part in a live Twitter Q&A session on Wednesday 6 December. This gave our supporters the opportunity to hear more about how he researched for the role, what he’s learnt about autism, and what tips he would give to an aspiring actor.

Below are all of the questions and answers from the session.

Question: Do you have a personal experience of autism?

Answer: I’ve got friends who have autistic relatives and I asked them about their experiences, but no direct connection, no.

Question: What did you know about autism before taking on this role?

Answer: I did a radio play about 10-12 years ago about a young man with Asperger’s and I met an autistic man of a similar age and ended up basing it on him. And with The A Word, lots of discussion with parents with kids on the spectrum who talked about the diagnosis process which was invaluable.

Question: Did you talk to any dads of autistic children before, during or after taking on the role of Paul?

Answer: I talked to quite a few dads for my portrayal of Paul, and listened to very different experiences, some that were very open and honest which helped significantly.

Question: Did you find you learnt more about autism as the script went on?

Answer: Definitely! With the first series it was about the diagnosis and the reactions to that and we didn’t want to do too much research because we wanted to discover it as the story progressed. With series two it was all about Paul’s fears for Joe’s future and with that you never stop learning really.

Question: What is it like filming in the Lake District?

Answer: I grew up in the shadow of the Lake District really and I’ve always loved it, particularly it’s ever changing weather. That’s what makes it lush, green and lovely. Which presents its own challenges particularly for a big production. The people there are extremely welcoming and very patient with us.

Question: Do you feel The A Word gave a true reflection of what it’s really like for parents wishing to transfer their child to specialist provision?

Answer: We were aware that the process takes so much longer in reality, but we had to use artistic licence in terms of the timescale. But we tried to express fears and anxieties about such an overwhelming change for the parents and the child.

Question: Do you think there’s enough provision for autistic children?

Answer: Setting this particular story in the Lakes we knew from talking to families there that there wasn’t much in the way of suitable provisions for autistic children. I heard subsequently that this is true across many places across the UK. I just hope that in a small way, this dramatisation highlights the need for specialist support to be available close to home.

Question: What has been the general reaction you've seen from the public watching The A Word?

Answer: The reaction has been amazing and overwhelming and we couldn’t be prouder.

Question: What made you decide to become an ambassador for the National Autistic Society?

Answer: Doing this programme really opened my eyes to difference and diversity and I just wanted to understand more and lend my support and voice in any way I could.

Question: If you could give one piece of life advice to anyone on the autistic spectrum, what would it be?

Answer: There’s a lovely quote that sums it up for me: ‘Don’t be afraid to tell your story because your voice is important and your story is unique’.

Question: How has working on The A Word helped with your work as an ambassador for the National Autistic Society?

Answer: Going along with The National Autistic Society to their Sybil Elgar School, where I met some performing arts students, was a fantastic experience and a lesson in how the arts can offer young people on the spectrum the opportunity to express themselves and grow as individuals. In fact one of the students I met, an amazing dancer called Paul, passed the audition to get into the National Youth Dance Company and performed at Sadler's Wells.

Question: Have you had people coming up to in the street asking questions about being in The A Word?

Answer: I’ve never worked on a job where I’ve been approached by so many people asking about portraying a parent with an autistic child and it’s always met with warmth and curiosity. Lots of people have also shared their own stories with me too, which is amazing. In fact, only this morning a couple of young musicians stopped me in the street to say how much they love the show.

Question: What tips would you give an aspiring actor?

Answer: Just go for it, don’t be afraid to follow your passion.

Question: What was it like working with BAFTA award-winning writer Peter Bowker?

Answer: There’s not many scripts that come along where the writing is so beautiful, warm, heart breaking and funny at the same time. It’s an absolute joy to work with him. I’m a fan.

Question: The recent season of The A Word has shown some of the struggles Joe and his parents have in getting the right education for him. The National Autistic Society’s #HeldBack campaign is trying to fix this. What are your thoughts on education and autism from working on the show?

Answer: Working on The A Word shows that this is just one story where getting the right education is so important to someone like Joe. But the fact is the recent report that launched #HeldBack – shows that a high proportion of children in England were not getting the right support and education at all. (You can still sign The National Autistic Society’s open letter.)

Question: Have you learnt new things about autism since working with autistic actor, Travis Smith?

Answer: Working with Travis was such a joy. This was his first acting role which he embraced wholeheartedly. To see how nervous he was on day one, to how he had developed in confidence as an actor on his last day, was really emotional. I couldn’t be more proud of him, I think he’s going to be a star.

Question: What is it like working with Joe?

Answer: Max is fab! He’s a little pro. The way he embraces Joe and his world is just amazing.

Question: What can we expect in the final episode in The A Word?

Answer: I’m not going to give anything away, you’re just going to have to watch! (Sorry)

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity and length.

A big thank you to everyone who sent their questions in, and to Lee for taking part in the Twitter Q&A session.

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