Interview: Disability in real life with Rhiannon Clements

Going behind the lens of disability representation, Hollyoaks actor Rhiannon Clements speaks to Lorne Gillies about taking part in Channel 4’s new spin off documentary, Hollyoaks: IRL helping to show society what disabled people can do, not what they can’t.

Hollyoaks: In Real Life is a fantastic series, why was it important for you to get involved with the Disability and Representation episode?

When I was growing up I didn’t have any role models to see that I could do something in the industry I am in. I knew what I wanted to do, but I didn’t know how to get into the industry and didn’t see anything that made me feel like I could do it. With the opportunity to participate in the In Real Life episodes, I thought it was a brilliant way to put something back out there.

Having the chat with Monique (Jarett) in a different field under the same umbrella, it shows that people can do this. We both had the chance to discuss the experiences that have prevented us, and how we broke through the barriers to ensure people don’t face the same hurdles.

It was great to also speak with a disabled person – it’s not often that you have those shared experiences, for example in your friendship group or in family.

To have that space to chat with Monique, it is two people having a frank chat about how their disability has shaped part of their lives.

What do you hope people learn about disability after watching the episode?

It is OK to ask questions. As a species, we are intrigued by what is different and that is completely normal, so just ask questions. Be polite and respectful, but learn that we are all the same, we just have different life experiences based on our characteristics.

Disability, in my experience, is something that is put on me as a task I cannot complete. It is not about me being unable to do something, it is needing society to give me the space to find a different way to do it. We need to focus on what people can do, not what they cannot do.

You’ve got a great following on social media, how does it feel to use your platform to represent people with upper limb differences?

My favourite part is when I get messages from people who have seen me on Hollyoaks and they have an upper limb difference or a member in their family does and seeing me has made them more confident. Even showing the representation has been important.

What is brilliant about being in Hollyoaks and playing Summer, she is a villain and that is part of the character and she’s not someone to look after. Just because of your physical attributes, that doesn’t dictate the type of person you are.

Actually, this character is a nasty piece of work and it has nothing to do with her physical attributes. Also, to have a following that I’ve been given from Hollyoaks, it is great to be able to work with Superhero Series and give back and show that we’re all in this together and we’re battling against the lack of representation and everything that is wrong with disability representation.

Hollyoaks is shining a light on a lot of different issues that people experience on a daily basis. How do you think more productions can follow in Hollyoaks’ ethos?

Ultimately, there needs to be sparks for discussions and a safe space where people can get it wrong and not feel vilified and said something wrong if their intentions are true, kind and genuine. There needs to be a safe space to learn from each other. This is the first hurdle of working together: understanding.

It is alright to get things wrong as long as you’re willing to learn the correct way. I am very open to the discussions, and it is important to have the view of someone with a lived experience. These are real things we need to talk about .

Congratulations on your NTA nomination. How does it feel to be nominated in the newcomer category? 

I was thrilled to be long-listed, but now, it’s a bid mad to be honest! It still doesn’t feel real. I didn’t think this would be a thing and it is absolutely bloody lovely that it is. 

What do you have to say to people looking to get into acting?

The only person that can make it happen is yourself. There is a need to understand that there is not enough support to let you know that you can do it. Just be true to yourself, you have what you have, you work with what you’ve got.

You are powerful with your own uniqueness, nobody else can be you and you cannot be anyone else.

There is a lot of brilliant people out there who will help you and champion you.

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