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Anger over casting of Stranger Things star Charlie Heaton as Elephant Man



A disability charity has criticised the decision to cast able-bodied Stranger Things actor Charlie Heaton in a BBC adaptation of The Elephant Man.

The British star will play Joseph Merrick, the severely disfigured 19th Century figure in the programme, which is due to be screened next year.

Scope’s head of communications Phil Talbot said: “It’s disappointing that a disabled actor has not been cast in the remake of The Elephant Man, as it’s one of the most recognisable films to portray a disabled character.

“This is a missed opportunity but sadly, a lack of diversity in the industry is nothing new.

Sir John Hurt was knighted by the Queen in 2015
Sir John Hurt also played Joseph Merrick

“Disabled actors still often face huge barriers to break in to the business, not only are the roles few and far between, but castings and locations are often not accessible.

“There is a massive pool of disabled talent being overlooked.

“The creative industries should be embracing and celebrating difference and diversity, not ignoring it.”

When his casting was announced earlier this month, Heaton, 24, said he was “extremely excited and honoured” to be given the role which he described as “a challenge for any actor”.

David Lynch directed Sir John Hurt in the 1980 film
David Lynch directed Hurt as Merrick in the 1980 film

A spokesman for the BBC programme said: “The Elephant Man is an iconic drama that has had an important role to play in highlighting changing attitudes to disability and we are currently in the process of casting disabled actors in a variety of key roles.

“Charlie Heaton, who plays the part of Joseph Merrick, will portray his journey from a young man to his death at the age of 27.”

Born in 1862, Merrick began to develop physical deformities to his skin, face, arms and feet at five years old.

Seeking to escape a workhouse several years later, he found his way into a human oddities show in London where he was exhibited as The Elephant Man.

Dr Frederick Treves saw Merrick being exhibited in a shop and took him to the London Hospital where he lived until his death in 1890.

Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola
Bradley Cooper, Patricia Clarkson and Alessandro Nivola on Broadway in 2015

His story has been screened many times, most famously in the 1980 film starring Sir John Hurt.

Singer David Bowie and Star Wars actor Mark Hamill have also previously played Merrick.

Bradley Cooper took on the part when he made his West End theatre debut in 2015.

Charlie Heaton, from Bridlington, Yorkshire, plays the role of Jonathan Byers in hit Netflix show Stranger Things, which was in the list of the top 10 most-streamed programmes on UK TV.

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