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British actor Tommy Jessop is spearheading the fight for more Down Syndrome representation in TV and film: the 38-year-old star of BBC drama series Line of Duty has been to Hollywood to pitch his idea for a movie based on a superhero with Down Syndrome.

Tommy Jessop

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He has been called a “powerful voice” in the fight for greater recognition after his documentary, Tommy Jessop Goes To Hollywood, aired on the BBC. The actor felt there weren’t enough roles for him to play, so he decided to create his own film.

His trip to Hollywood as he attempted to attain his dream was filmed for a documentary described as “moving”. It was created in collaboration with his older brother, film maker Will Jessop, 40.


Who is Tommy Jessop?

The first actor with Down Syndrome to star in a primetime BBC drama series, Jessop has achieved many other firsts, including touring theatres as Hamlet and becoming a full voting member of BAFTA.

He has appeared in several short films and in feature films, such as Fighter, for which he won the Best Actor award at the Oska Bright Film Festival.

Starring opposite Nicholas Hoult in a feature-length BBC drama, Coming Down the Mountain, written by Mark Haddon, in 2007; Jessop’s performance was praised by the critics and the programme was nominated for a BAFTA award.

Making his TV debut in the drama series Holby City, he also appeared in Doctors, Casualty and Monroe.

It was Line of Duty that rocketed him to stardom. The BBC police drama, first broadcast in 2012, attracted an audience of 4.1 million viewers and was the broadcaster’s best performing drama in years. Jessop starred as Terry Boyle in the fifth series in 2019, reprising his role in the sixth series in 2021, playing a vulnerable young man who was exploited by criminals.

He is also a founding member of the award-winning Blue Apple Theatre company and appears in all their productions.

A voice for disabled actors, he says they need more opportunities to appear in roles, other than as an “object of pity” or a “victim”.


What difficulties does someone with Down Syndrome face?

People with Down Syndrome have an extra chromosome. A baby is usually born with 46 chromosomes, but a baby with Down Syndrome has an extra copy of chromosome 21. This impacts development, posing both physical and mental challenges.

Individuals can be impacted differently, but usually, someone with Down Syndrome speaks more slowly than their counterparts. They also commonly have poor muscle tone and loose joints and are shorter in height as both adults and children. Some may develop other health problems such as hearing loss, ear and eye infections and heart defects.

When sleeping, Down Syndrome can cause obstructive sleep apnoea, when breathing stops temporarily. It can cause snoring, coughing, choking, restlessness and unusual sleeping positions. There are also other sleeping problems, such as settling down at night and then staying asleep. Some people will require specialist sleeping solutions to aid a good night’s sleep and keep them safe.


New documentary

Jessop has never let his condition hold him back and believes more representation is needed for people with Down Syndrome.

There are a number of actors in the UK with Down Syndrome, including Anna Gray, of the learning disability live arts company, Mind the Gap; and Gareth Clark, of Hijinx Actors, who has studied acting for the screen and theatre.

However, Jessop believes there are too few roles for them and is hoping to increase their opportunities in the future. He says it is important to speak up for the rights of people with Down Syndrome to enable them to make their own choices in life.

His new documentary follows his efforts to achieve his dream of making a film starring a superhero with the condition. He explained, “I sometimes feel like the world is not made for me, so I want to change it.”

His idea for Roger the Superhero is a character who has the power to freeze time, as Jessop says he feels “the world moves too fast”.

During his visit to Hollywood, Jessop spent time on a stunt training course so he could film a trailer for his movie idea. He jetted off to Los Angeles to further promote his script, receiving support from Kit Harington, the star of Game of Thrones, whose cousin Laurent has Down Syndrome. He also met actors Neve Campbell and JJ Feild, who advised him to always “believe in yourself”.

When the documentary was screened by the BBC, viewers were moved by Jessop’s powerful presence. Afterwards, social media users took to Twitter to voice their growing support, saying, “Hoping we get to see Roger the Superhero soon!” Fans are still campaigning to have the movie filmed, describing Jessop as “an absolute inspiration” on social media.

The message from the star is clear: you can do anything you want to, no matter what challenges you face in life. If you believe, you can achieve.

For more information on Tommy Jessop: Fighting for Down Syndrome Representation talk to Kinderkey Healthcare Ltd

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