I first connected with Ryan O’Connell in December of 2016. I had been working on a Queerty story–appropriately titled “Is Hollywood Finally Ready To Portray Disabled Gay Characters?–when I decided to reach out.
At the time, O’Connell had just finished writing a show about a gay and disabled character, based on his own life. He was excited about the idea of people seeing the show, but was struggling to find a home for it. After all, O’Connell pitched the show to six different networks, and they all passed.
“Here’s the thing: Putting a gay disabled character on television is very hard,” O’Connell said at the time. “Hell, putting a gay character as the lead of a TV show is hard. We’ve come a long way in the past few years, but the reality is that Hollywood is still living la vida Kevin James.”
When asked why he thought this was, O’Connell did not hold back. “I think Hollywood is largely not interested in disabled people because they don’t view us as ‘sexy’ or ‘cool.’ To [Hollywood], we are just sad and something to be pitied.”
Fortunately for him (and me, a gay and disabled fellow myself), the TV gods saw something sexy and cool about O’Connell. Nearly two and a half years after our initial conversation, it was announced that Netflix would air what is today known as Special.
And with season one of the show finally out for the world to see, many are thirsty for more. Queerty (okay, it was me) recently reconnected with O’Connell to get the scoop on what a second season of Special would look like (as of press time, no renewal has been announced), whether fame has gotten to his head, and why O’Connell is eager to take the next flight to Brazil, stat.
Wow, trampled at The Grove. Is there anything chicer? (Actually, yes. Plenty of things.) I’m not gonna lie, life has been psycho. A few weeks ago I was getting hair and makeup done for some event, when my groomer just started performing energy work on me. It was then, in a full face of makeup while my forehead was being poked in an attempt to center my chakras, that I realized ‘Hmm. Maybe my life has changed a little.’
Are you asking if I am a disabled diva dictator now? [Laughs] No. I think having cerebral palsy is like being served the biggest slice of humble pie every single day. The second you start feeling yourself, you accidentally drool on a stranger and you are brought right back down to earth.
I’m getting a surplus of DM’s from hot gay men in Brazil. Apparently everyone in Brazil is gorgeous and wears a speedo to their office – which is the beach – so I would love to visit there soon. And my boyfriend Jonathan is a total sweetie angel as per f*cking usual. He’s sort of like my stage mom. He’s always encouraging me to go after the things I want, even if those things are sexy men from Brazil, and seize the moment. I feel very lucky.
It’s been crazy positive. The response from the disabled community was the most important and meaningful for me. Whenever you’re one of the first people to tell a story about a large portion of the population that’s been ignored, there is pressure to get it right. And I had a lot of anxiety, because I knew that I could only speak from my experience. But everyone has just been so supportive.
I’ve only encountered a little bit of that. Sometimes people will tweet at me things like, ‘Are there going to be disabled POC or trans characters next season?’ and I get overwhelmed because I have no idea what next season’s going to look like storytelling wise. Really, my hope is that the success of Special forces Hollywood to pay attention and greenlight other shows from disabled creators. It’s ridiculous that 1 in 4 people identify as disabled and there are only two shows (me and This Close) on the air from disabled people.
Absolutely. And it’s not like ‘Oh, we have Special, yay, disabled people are accounted for, we’re good now!’ This is just the tip of the iceberg.
Sure. I mean, I just always tried to write from a place of truth. I wasn’t sitting there trying to hit certain marks or thinking ‘I need to show this and that.’ You write the story you want to tell, and from there, you include the things you need to serve that story.
I did have a vision for that sex scene and thank god I had [co-star] Brian Jordan Alvarez, my director Anna Dokoza, and my director of photography, Phillip Roy, to help me bring it all to fruition. I just wanted to create a scene that felt real, that felt like the sex I’d been having for the past 14 years. Representation of gay sex is mostly nonexistent, and if it is included, the camera pans away or it’s some porny journey. I wanted to just be authentic and showcase the awkwardness and humor and tenderness that is getting f*cked in the ass.
F*ck no. I love sex workers and think they’re totally under appreciated. A lot of that scene is borrowed from my IRL experiences with them.
Yas! Although I also like being on top, I’m a power bottom bitch who loves being in control.
If you want a Season 2, tell Netflix.
It’ll be gayer and gimpier.