When a show hits your funny bone and heart equally, it’s usually a winner. ABC’s Speechless hits those marks, and if you aren’t watching, you are missing out.
Starring Minnie Driver as Maya DiMeo, a mom on a mission who will do anything for her husband, Jimmy, and kids Ray, Dylan, and J.J., her eldest son with cerebral palsy. As Maya fights injustices both real and imagined, the family works to make a new home for themselves, and thankfully found just the right person in Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough) to help give J.J. his “voice.”
Here are some fun photos from the set of Speechless.
I had the opportunity during the Moana press trip to sit down with Director Scott Silveri to chat about why Speechless was so important to him to make.
How did your family react knowing you were writing a show based on your experience?
They were very supportive about it. I made it clear to them from the beginning that it is not their story. I feel like you can take whatever challenge is thrown your way and wallow in it or turn to something. You can curse the heavens, or you can band together and make it work. And that’s what my mom did. That’s what my dad did. And I wanted to celebrate that at every turn. I know they don’t have a lot, and they’re loud sometimes, but this is intended to be a love letter to my mom and my dad.
They’re broadly drawn characters and this is not a documentary about my childhood, but it really is meant to be a loving depiction of the choices that we celebrate. The great thing was they had wonderful responses when they first read it. I did ask permission. I did not wanna get in trouble for this. Like this would make for a lotta bad Thanksgivings and Christmases.
What did they think of Speechless?
The great thing that I got back from them when I first showed them was not flattery or vanity. Like, oh, you know, there’s gonna be a famous actress playing a version of me or it was a just relief. Oh, it’s gonna be a family like ours on TV, and that’s fantastic, because so much of the experience of families like ours which was just feeling invisible, not being heard. And I don’t think that’s specific to or unique to disability, but it’s certainly the experience of a family with somebody with a disability. It’s like people either stare or ignore, and they found it refreshing to have a story like ours told.
The network being very supportive of Speechless and open to whatever you pitched, what were you aiming for taking a story from your real life and turning that into your TV family.
I just thought in a world where you have six characters in a family; you want a lot more give and take between them. And it also was important to me to get it right. One challenge when I was thinking of doing a version that was closer to my own experience, I never wanted that character to seem like a prop. I wanted him to be active, and this made it easier to be active.
When I was thinking about the JJ character, the criterion that I kept coming back to is, is this a character that would exist on TV independent of a disability, independent of the wheelchair? That was the litmus test. Once he has an attitude, and he has agents, and he has things that he wants, that’s somebody that’s worth writing for. But if it was simply defined by a wheelchair, that’s telling a story I didn’t wanna tell.
When did you know that Micah Fowler was the perfect actor for this?
The second we saw the tape. We took tapes in from all over the world but knew it was him. He’s so funny. So expressive. Like he doesn’t have the benefit of words, and that’s what I do. I write words. He doesn’t have that to deal with that. It’s a challenge for us thinking for the best way for him to express himself without them. It’s a challenge for him making this stuff work, being present in the scene without lines. But he did it from, from Day 1.
It was the first time I wanted to do a show like this. I’ve been wanting to do a show like this for 20 years, as long as I’ve been doing this, but he was the one that allowed me to do it. It was pretty instant. It was pretty easy. Micah is great!
Can you talk about how that relationship came to be between the actors?
Cedric was the first one to sign up for the show. God bless him. I don’t know why he did. There was nobody else, and it was late in the process. We didn’t know that we’d find a family. But he signed up for the show, and I had him meet Eva, and it just felt right from the beginning. He and Micah just had a fast friendship. They just clicked, and they make each other laugh. They sure make me laugh.”
The show is highly embraced, and so many families can relate.
I was really surprised, frankly, that people gave it a shot and embraced it. And then those who early said this is getting it right. I am wholly, deeply grateful to the people who gave it a shot and didn’t write it off before it aired.
We’re talking with people. We’re talking with parents’ moms of kids like this. We’re talking to kids like this. We’re talking to families. We have a partner in the Cerebral Palsy Foundation where we run ideas by them. We are doing our homework. I can tell you our hearts are in the right place. We wanna be respectful to the situation, and we’re trying to make it funny, too. So, I was hoping that the people would give us the benefit of the doubt because we’re trying and we’re working. I’m just so relieved how supportive everyone is.
I didn’t get into this for any feel the burden of responsibility for people who are watching. I’m glad we’re not disappointing them in large numbers and the majority seem to think we got it right for I take that very seriously.
Speechless delivers a really great balance of comedy and seriousness.
Like the best dramas are really funny. The Sopranos are really funny. Breaking Bad is really fun in moments. We, the little network comedy, we got bitten at and little, little bites taken out of our territory. So I thought like maybe we can take some back from these other ones. Maybe we can put a little sincerity in the story. Maybe we can go a page without a joke. I’m enjoying writing it.
Speechless Wednesday nights 8:30 PM EST on ABC!
*ABC TV invited us to the set of Speechless to share our experience with you. All opinions are my own.