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British actress Ruth Madeley has just been named a “breakout star” by The Times of London, cementing a recent career rise sparked by her deeply moving performance in Years and Years, the acclaimed 2019 miniseries created by former Doctor Who show runner Russell T Davies. With another high-profile role coming up in BBC America’s eagerly anticipated fantasy series The Watch, here’s a guide to the actress who’s changing the way disabled characters are portrayed on screen.

1. She originally intended to be a screenwriter.

She studied scriptwriting at Edge Hill University, Lancashire, before segueing into acting almost by accident. Recalling her route into performing, Madeley told Refinery29 last year: “A producer I worked with a few years ago needed a wheelchair user for a program. I thought, ‘I might as well go and see what it’s about.’ I completely got the bug. I did a bit of work in between jobs just to fill in. Then I got my first lead four years ago. It went on to do so well. I knew this is what I was meant to do.”

2. She already has a BAFTA TV Award nomination.

Madeley was nominated for Best Actress in 2016 for her incredible performance in Don’t Take My Baby. Written by Jack Thorne (National Treasure, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child), this BBC TV movie honed in on the heartbreaking process that a disabled couple goes through when the authorities deliberate over whether they’re capable of keeping their child.

Don't Take My Baby

How would you cope if you had to prove you were capable of looking after your own baby? Don't Take My Baby, an unmissable drama based on real cases of disabled parents, tonight 9pm

Posted by BBC Three on Monday, July 20, 2015

3. In 2018, she made her stage debut at London’s Old Vic theater, performing one of a series of monologues marking 70 years of the U.K.’s National Health Service.

Titled “Choice & Control,” Madeley’s monologue is directed by Hustle actor Adrian Lester and available to watch in full on YouTube.

4. Following her role in Years and Years, Madeley says she now gets recognized in the street in both the U.K. and U.S.

In Russell T Davies’ dystopian drama, Madeley takes a main role as Rosie Lyons, the youngest sibling in a close-knit family followed for over 15 years as a fictional version of the U.K. is rocked by seismic political and technological developments. Like Madeley, Lyons has spina bifida, but the character’s disability isn’t allowed to define her. “We had a lot of conversations about how much of Rosie’s disability we would include and how much we’d leave out,” Madeley told The Times of London. “I knew it was going to be really special.”

5. She’s also proud of portraying a disabled character with an active sex life.

“I had a lot of conversations with Russell about including the sex scene and we both agreed it was a really important thing for everyone to see,” Madeley told Glamour last year. “I have had quite a lot of response on social media with people saying, ‘I have never seen a disabled woman on screen with an active sex life or to even go on a date!’ That was something I was really thrilled to have included.”

6. She’s a patron of Whizz-Kidz, a British charity which provides vital equipment and support for disabled kids.

Madeley has been raising money for the charity which helped her as a youngster for several years. She said when she was made a patron in 2019: “They have been a major part of my life since I was five years-old when they gave me my first lightweight and Barbie-pink wheelchair. It feels like I have been on a real journey with Whizz-Kidz and me now being able to represent them as a Patron, feels like I have come full circle. That wheelchair I received changed my life. For the first time I was able to push myself around and not have to rely on others. The confidence and independence Whizz-Kidz gave me throughout my childhood has without a doubt shaped me into the person I am today. I am excited to be able to give something back by spreading the word as a Patron.”

7. She guest starred in an episode of Fresh Meat, the cult British sitcom starring Zawe Ashton and Jack Whitehall.

Madeley appears as a character who refuses to let herself be patronized by Whitehall’s snobbish, cocky university student, Jonathan “J.P.” Pembersley.

8. She posed for Vogue Italia last year.

And the shoot is as super-stylish as you’d expect – check out one of the photos below.

9. Her dream role would be in a superhero movie like The Avengers.

“To have a Marvel character who uses a wheelchair who is a superhero? That would be groundbreaking for every single kid out there who feels like they’re not represented, and who feels like they don’t have those superpowers,” she told Refinery29. “If kids with disabilities can’t even be represented in a fantasy world, then what the hell?”

10. She recently shared her career story in a warm, funny, and thoughtful interview with Doctor Who alum Noel Clarke.

Enjoy!

Are you looking forward to seeing more of Ruth Madeley?

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Filed Under: Ruth Madeley
By Nick Levine