The A Word’s Sarah Gordy “We’re as complex and individual as the next person”

Actress Sarah Gordy MBE, who has added BBC1's The A Word to her glittering CV, explains why the show's diverse cast and positive stories are so important

Sarah Gordy has appeared in Call The Midwife and Upstairs Downstairs, starred in Jellyfish at the National Theatre and Crocodiles at the Royal Exchange in Manchester, modelled for Vogue Italia, danced at The Royal Opera House, been selected for Elle magazine’s GameChangers 2019 list, read a Bedtime Story on CBeebies and is a Celebrity Ambassador for Mencap.

When Gordy was awarded an MBE at Buckingham Palace by Prince William in 2018, she became the first woman with Down’s syndrome to be given the honour.  

For her next trick, Gordy, 43, has joined the cast of The A Word the BBC1 series written by Peter Bowker, which continues to find a joy in people, delight in difference and provide inclusive stories focusing on the community around young Joe (Max Ventu), a boy living with autism.

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Sarah Gordy (left) with The A Word co-stars Christopher Eccleston, Leon Harrop and Pooky Quesnel

Gordy plays Katie Thorne, who plans to marry boyfriend Ralph (played by former Big Issue cover star Leon Harrop).  

Currently on lockdown at home in Lewes, East Sussex, Gordy joined The Big Issue via Google Hangout, accompanied by her mother (and acting coach) Jane, to tell us more… 

The Big Issue: How are you faring during the lockdown? 

Sarah Gordy: I am lucky as I have woods next to where I live so I can walk safely every day. At the moment I am enjoying the bluebells. I video chat a lot with my friends and family. Last night I watched Jane Eyre, which The National Theatre put on YouTube. Before [Covid-19] it looked as if wonderful things were about to happen for me, with a couple of dream jobs. Fingers crossed they still happen.   

How did you feel when you heard this part in The A Word was being created for you? 

Peter Bowker saw me doing the play Jellyfish at the Bush Theatre [in West London]. He told the producers they have to get me in the show so they all came when it went to the National Theatre. I love the way Peter works. His imagination goes wild. We talked about what the character likes and dislikes, and he would sit with us during lunch breaks. Peter is interested in people and what it is that is curious or different. He absorbs it all. In a card Peter thanked me for my “fierce concentration”.  

Do you think The A Word is an important show? 

Yes it is important. We are all different. We all have different stories to tell. And the story for Katie and Ralph is really positive. The characters are all very real, what happens to them feels real. We are all as complex and individual as the next person 

I enjoyed filming in the Lake District. There was a lovely view but I didn’t get to see it very often because it was always raining

It is a very diverse cast… 

Yes. That is what life is really like.  

Katie and Ralph make very independent choices – what does she like about him? 

Katie can make Ralph laugh. She likes to see him smile. Katie knows she can always trust Ralph to be honest and kind. They decide to get married and live in their own home. Then they have to persuade everybody that they are capable of living an independent life. 

You get a lot of great lines – do you enjoy bringing her humour out? 

I love bringing Katie’s humour out. It is a big part of my character. She can be really funny and she is very independent and strong. She loves clothes. I like her a lot. And when I met Leon I told a joke and it made him smile, so we got on like a house on fire. It felt like I had known him all my life

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Sarah Gordy and Leon Harrop filming The A Word's big wedding scene

Did you enjoy filming the wedding? 

I liked the vows in the wedding. Katie promises to always laugh at Ralph’s jokes! And the dancing was fun because I like dancing myself. My sister Catherine was with me. She has a cameo on the wedding day, sitting next to Christopher Eccleston. I enjoyed filming in the Lake District. There was a lovely view. But I didn’t get to see it very often because it was always raining! 

What do you do to prepare for a new role? 

When I get another job, I always look at what life was like in disability history. When I did Upstairs Downstairs, I found out there were institutions for people like me back then. My character was hidden away. So I do research as well as getting to know the character. When I did Call The Midwife, I found that they didn’t like the idea of people with a disability loving each other then. 

So does Katie’s story in The A Word show we have made progress? 

It is better now. We see people like me on screen, in movies, on stage. Everyone has got a right to be an actor. It is more inclusive now. That is what everybody wants, to be included in stories. We are all individuals. We have stories to tell. The A Word sends a positive message.  

How do you feel when you first watch yourself in a show? 

The first time I watched myself was on Peak Practice. I said to myself, ‘Did I really do that? Is it really me?’ But I have got used to it. I watch myself now and think, ‘Yeah, I’m pretty good!’ 

Gordy’s co-star Christopher Eccleston told The Big Issue: “Sarah has a natural sense of mischief and is such a gifted actor. It is daunting for anyone to come into a show on the third series. Sarah had a big responsibility but rose to the challenge beautifully and within five minutes it felt like she had always been there. We had an instant rapport.  

“Sarah is naturally funny. Like Leon [Harrop], she has natural comic timing. I noticed a twinkle in her eye whenever the script called for them to make an absolute fool of my character again.” 

  • The A Word airs on Tuesdays on BBC One and is available on iPlayer

Images: BBC/Fifty Fathoms/James Stack