INTERVIEW: Jamie Brewer, breaking down barriers

Actress and model Jamie Brewer is advocating for change, helping to fight negative perceptions around disability. Speaking to Lorne Gillies, Jamie reveals why disability shouldn’t hold you back.

At was in 1999 at College for Kids that Jamie’s passion and love of the arts flourished. Before long, the American actress and model was performing in dramas, musicals and comedy performances and Jamie’s talent started to get recognised.

Living with Down’s syndrome, Jamie knew that her disability wouldn’t be a hindrance to her career – and why should it be?

ON THE SCREEN

“I have a theatre background,” Jamie begins. “Going from theatre to the screen was a very easy transition for me. I was using my theatre skills to help me transition into media and the entertainment industry.” 

In 2011 a show that would explode onto television sets across the world aired on American channel FX: American Horror Story: Murder House featured celebrated actors including Jessica Lang, Connie Britton and Evan Peters alongside a storyline that engrossed millions. 

Each season of the show is a self-contained miniseries, but it was the first season of American Horror Story which propelled its cast to new heights. For Jamie, getting involved with the show was not only her first audition to work in television, but the start of her career as a professional actor. 

Jamie enthuses: “Going from a theatre background and coming right out the gate and getting introduced to the industry was American Horror Story – as Adelaide (Langdon) – was great.”

Since the first season of American Horror Story, Jamie has appeared in follow on series including Coven, Freak Show, Cult and Apocalypse. From creators Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk, the show has transcended across genres showing characters in a multitude of lights and situations. The most poignant aspect of American Horror Story is its dedication to having a inclusive cast.

REPRESENTATION

“Having [actors with a disability] brings diversity to the projects of directors and writers. It’s bringing even more diversity into their work,” Jamie continues.

“Disability doesn’t hold people back from doing a great job. People need to know that we can all learn and work in the media industry, or any media: theatre, music; everything.

“Giving actors with a disability the chance to show who they are and what they can do means being accepting and allowing growth.”

Since her big break, Jamie has worked on television shows including Love You More, and most recently, multiple short films. From Turnover, released in 2019, to Snow Moon Awakening, which is currently in pre-production, Jamie is proof that disability is no barrier to working in the media. Not to mention, becoming the first woman with Down’s syndrome to walk the runway during New York Fashion Week in 2015. 

Jamie as Gina in Turnover

And, there’s no denying that we’ve looked at our favourite actors and aspired to be like them one day – who wouldn’t love to spend a day working on an award-winning television set? For people looking at Jamie on the screen she enthuses: “Disabled people can do anything. It’s great to have a role model on the screen for children who do have disabilities, this can give them inspiration and encouragement to never be afraid.”

Alongside her work in film and television, Jamie is a powerful force in disability awareness and breaking barriers to negative attitudes.

THE R WORD

In 2018, Jamie was involved with a campaign to eradicate use of the words “retard” and “retarded” in society during an event called, Spread the Word to End the Word. Campaigning within her home state of Texas, Jamie also lobbied lawmakers to make official language of disability used more respectful and less derogatory.

After all, negative language can have a detrimental emotional impact. Jamie says passionately: “Positive language makes everyone feel happy and good within themselves, and it allows disabled people to have people around them who are always positive. Blocking out the negative and staying positive is a big key. 

“Being positive is also a form of encouragement for everyone, and especially people with a disability.” Through Jamie’s campaigning, and involvement with lawmakers, the R word has been removed and changed to Intellectual Developmental Disability in Texas legislation. 

Advocating for the rights of the disabled community on and off screen, Jamie is a powerhouse when it comes to ensuring everyone is treated equally and with language that is positive. It’s no surprise she was included in the top 50 Game Changers for the Special Olympics.

WDSD 2020

Successfully working in film and television as an actor with Down’s syndrome and advocating for the rights of others, Jamie’s living her dream. The next event Jamie is set to get involved with is World Down Syndrome Day on 21 March.

“That day brings a lot of positive awareness and it brings everyone together to show respect and support to the Down’s syndrome community,” Jamie enthuses. “Plus, it allows everyone during the event to be crazy and wear lots of crazy socks.” 

Disability is an aspect of your identitiy that is to be celebrated and not a reason to be held back or even believe you can’t reach all your goals. This is a message that Jamie promotes, she adds:

“Disability is not a barrier. In a lot of families, it is a blessing, and for my talents, specifically, it is being in the media that has showed that people with disabilities can learn to do the same things that other people in society can do. For example, we could swap and I could interview you,” Jamie laughs enthusiastically.

“I know I’ve said this quite a lot, but: be inspired, and be inspired every day. Always use your voice in everything you do,” advises Jamie Fervently. “Don’t let disability hold you back. Say yes you can instead of no you can’t, and never give up on your dreams no matter what your dreams are.” 

Series one to eight of American Horror Story are available on Netflix UK. You can keep up to date with Jamie on Twitter.