As an actor with an amputated leg, Eddie McGee often struggles to find complex and interesting roles to audition for. Here, McGee discusses his unconventional circumstances, his fight against onscreen stereotype, and his experience co-starring in upcoming thriller, The Human Race.
I wanted to be an actor ever since I was five years old. But when I was diagnosed with cancer in my left leg at 11, all I wanted to do was live. I spent my youth going through chemo, hair loss, and ultimately, the amputation of my leg. Still, I dreamt of becoming an actor.
Trying to make it in the industry with an amputated leg wasn’t easy. An aspiring black actor could look up to Halle Berry or Denzel Washington, and the gay and Latino communities have a handful of visible role models in the media. But for me, this inspiration was nonexistent. I felt alone. I once heard someone put it like this: “What would an artist prefer to draw with? A box of crayons with 64 different colors or a box of eight?” For the longest time, I thought I only had a box of eight.
I went to college at the University of Texas at Arlington, majoring in broadcasting and minoring in theater. I was cast in a few shorts, with minimal success. People told me I had the “body for radio,” which made me angry and even more determined to pursue my goal.
In 2000, I put myself out there and joined the first season of CBS’ Big Brother. To my surprise, I was the last remaining “HouseGuest” – I won. The show gave me exposure and I began receiving fan mail from people with disabilities who saw me as an inspiration. I realized I was making a difference.
After Big Brother, I took on supporting acting roles in independent films such as Drop Dead Roses and The Angel. My career had gained traction, but I found myself pigeonholed. Casting directors were too scared to suggest me for “two-legged roles” and only sent me out for disabled war vets.
However, my life dramatically changed when I met Paul Hough, the director of The Human Race. He was a filmmaker who shared my ideals, and wanted to make a film that portrayed disabled characters as three-dimensional human beings. Working on The Human Race (about a literal race to the death) I nicknamed him the equal opportunity killer, murdering his characters without discrimination. What I meant was that he was a transformative thinker and a brilliant writer.
The Human Race portrays complex characters you’d be hard-pressed to find in most genre movies. It’s daring, exciting and progressive, violently stating that no matter who you are, you have to fight to survive. Shit happens, but everyone has the chance to live.
This is what I strive for in life: equality with other actors. I don’t want to just audition for the war vet role. I want to be the best friend, the husband, the action hero, the antagonist. I hope The Human Race helps agents, casting directors, and society look beyond stereotypes that surround people with disabilities. I hope, when given the opportunity, people with disabilities can rise to the occasion.
Today, I strive to be the voice I didn’t have – the inspiration that was nonexistent in my youth. I hope others can find comfort in my experiences and believe that anything is possible. MM
The Human Race is currently in theaters and on VOD.
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