James Martin is a young actor who turned 27 in March 2019. That was a very special month for him and not simply because of his birthday.
It was also when ‘Ups & Downs’, a new piece of original drama by Eoin Cleland, was screened by the BBC.
James managed to land the lead role in this production and thoroughly enjoyed the demands, excitement and new challenges that brought.
But then challenges are nothing new to James who was born with Downs Syndrome.
His parents were told when he was around 18 months old and babbling away merrily in toddler’s gibberish that they would “just have to accept that James will most probably never speak”.
Happily that prediction from a medical practitioner with the bedside manner of Attila the Hun proved incorrect and within a year James was speaking in fully formed sentences – and according to his family hasn’t shut up since!
Indeed he has addressed the European Parliament and the Northern Ireland Assembly about the realities of growing up with a learning difficulty.
At 8 years old he joined a drama group for people with learning difficulties called Bobosh under the tutelage of Breige Hawkins.
In his early years he was part of the chorus in the bi-annual productions but by the time he was 11 years old he had moved on to playing parts in sketches.
He then graduated to getting bigger parts in plays and pantomimes and by his mid teens had landed firstly the part of Michael Jackson and later Elvis Presley in two separate productions of ‘The Waxworks’.
He was also in ‘School For Scandal’ and then bagged the lead role in ‘The Oriental Tale’ in The Mac in Belfast’s booming Cathedral Quarter.
Other decent parts followed with a personal favourite coming in a production of ‘The Story of the Titanic’ in 2013/14.
This piece of drama, which debuted at the Belvoir Players Studio has also been seen at a number of theatres in Northern Ireland and was also the centrepiece of the closing banquet in Belfast’s City Hall at an international transport conference.
James also featured in a Lyric Theatre production to mark the centenary of the start of the first World War called ‘Pack Up Your Troubles’ in 2014.
When Big Fish Films decided to make the television drama ‘Ups & Downs’ they were looking for an actor with Downs Syndrome for the role of Conal.
After an exhaustive search James was chosen and the play was filmed in November 2018.
James thoroughly enjoyed the process particularly having the opportunity to work with leading actors like Susan Lynch who has appeared in everything from ‘Killing Eve’ to ‘Waking Ned’, ‘Dr.Who’ and ‘New Tricks’ to ‘Happy Valley’ and the recently released ‘Downton Abbey’ film.
“ Working with Susan was a brilliant experience” says James “ she taught me so much”.
“ When you are working with Susan Lynch you need to bring your A game”.
“ When I first shot a scene with her I realised she was something special and when she said she enjoyed working with me I was blown away”.
James is now in rehearsals for a new Bobosh production of ‘The Orchestra’ and has just completed filming the new series of ‘Marcella’.
This gave him the opportunity of working with BAFTA Award winning actress Anna Friel and will be shown by ITV and Netflix early inn 2020.