Interview: Shannon Murray (Class)

 Shannon Murray is an actress, writer and disability consultant.

She was most recently on our screen as April’s mum Jackie in BBC Doctor Who Spin-off ‘Class’. Previously she has appeared in shows including Casualty and Doctors.

She is well known as an advocate for disabled people in the media and has written and spoken in public about the subject in-depth.

“It was important for me to show brands, organisations and shoppers that you can merge disability and high street fashion”

What inspired you to become an actress/model?

I’ve wanted to be an actress for as long as I can remember, as a child I used to love re enacting stories from books I read, I wasn’t one of those kids who made the family sit down and watch a performance, I used to get really embarrassed if anyone watched! I then stared going to drama school when I was around 7, it was always what I wanted to do.

You portrayed the role of Jackie MacLean in the Doctor Who spinoff Class – how was this experience?

It was a truly wonderful experience, the cast and crew were a joy to work with, every day I couldn’t wait to get on set.

Patrick Ness created characters and stories that were always surprising you, I loved that. 

How aware were you of the Doctor Who universe prior to appearing on the show?

Very aware, I didn’t watch it regularly as a child but I’ve watched it quite a bit since the reboot. An old friend of mine from college, Noel Clarke, played Mickey, so I initially started watching to check him out but was subsequently pulled into the Who universe. 

You shared many scenes with your on-screen daughter April portrayed by Sophie Hopkins. How did you find portraying this mother-daughter relationship?

I enjoyed every minute, I loved that they were pretty close, Jackie obviously knows her daughter pretty well but isn’t prepared for what’s coming. There were a lot of laughs filming the scene after Jackie has found her in bed with Ram. Sophie is an exquisite actress, so talented.

We had a lot of fun and I think we found it easy to work with each other and create a bond that comes across well on screen. 

How did you find working with writer/show runner Patrick Ness?

I loved working with Patrick, he’s so intelligent, quick witted and a lot of fun. He’s also incredibly supportive of his actors and obviously I loved how he wrote Jackie, (spoiler!) the healing and then losing the use of her legs again.

It was funny seeing the reactions on Twitter, so many people were angry that she was cured, I knew it was temporary but couldn’t spoil it for viewers! Though it was very revealing how many wanted Jackie to remain disabled because they liked the character and her disability, that says a lot. Writers take note!

In 2010 you became the first disabled model to feature in a high street advertising campaign for a mainstream fashion store – how important was this to you?

It was important for me to show brands, organisations and shoppers that you can merge disability and high street fashion.

It was surreal to see myself in shop windows and posters. I hope one day it’s the norm, not a news story but a more inclusive approach to fashion. After all, we all have to wear clothes disabled or not! 

What is your view on how disabled individuals are portrayed in the media?

I think there is still a long way to go before the representation is accurate, it still very much disability from an able bodied person’s point of view. It’s frustrating to play characters that you know could have much more to them but disability is still seen as limiting the human experience which simply isn’t true.

For example, I’ve only once played a character who has a job, that’s quite a negative assumption about disabled people. 

What can you tell us about your work as a disability consultant?

It varies, sometimes I visit primary & secondary schools to talk to the students about disability, the media and representing minorities. I also go in to large organisations, speaking with board members about making their organisations more accessible for disabled employees, sometimes workshops involving role play so I get to utilise both my acting skills and my experiences in business. 

You have working on many projects over the years – which have been your personal highlights?

Definitely Class! 

What is your favourite movie of all time?

The Wizard of Oz

What is your favourite TV Show of all time?

Ooooh that’s a tough one, I have fond memories of Dallas as a child, Moonlighting as a teenager, I can’t resist a Law & Order marathon, Prime Suspect was brilliant, Black Mirror is twisted genius, love House of Cards, The Good Wife, E.R and many happy memories of Friends. Sorry!!

If you could play any role which would it be and why?

Oh there are so many I would love to play, I’d like the chance to play a bold and brilliant woman; someone who challenges the status quo. 

Do you have any other upcoming projects?

I’m currently writing my first short film and that’s keeping me pretty busy!

Check out Shannon’s website

Check out our interview with Paul Marc Davis (Who appeared in Sarah Jane Adventures, Torchwood, Doctor Who & Class!)


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