MORE than 10m people watched Mat Fraser in the hit television series American Horror Story: Freak, and the disabled actor says fans on both sides of the Atlantic still stop him in the street to ask for his autograph.
But he describes appearing in Northern Broadsides’ 25th anniversary production of Shakespeare’s Richard III (coming to Calderdale on Tuesday, May 30) as the ‘pinnacle’ of his career to date.
Born with Thalidomide-induced phocomelia, a birth defect caused when his mother took the ‘morning sickness’ drug during pregnancy, Mat says he is ‘thrilled’ to have been chosen to play the challenging title character and believes he brings something ‘visceral’ to the role of a king known for having a disability.
He added: “Of all the characters his is the one who talks the most and we only had a 16-day rehearsal period. But I had a few weeks run-up to it and had started learning my lines. It did scare me at first, but now I’m enjoying it immensely.”
While starring in an American television series was both high profile and well paid, Mat insists he is honoured to be appearing on Northern stages with such an iconic company.
“The money for stage work is terrible compared to TV,” he said.
“Less than £500 a week compared to the minimum for a bit part player in an American television series of £3,000 a week. But this is the pinnacle of my career.”
Mat has long been a champion of disabled performers, who he believes should be able to play any roles. He explained: “The way you look shouldn’t matter. It’s your skills that matter. But in the real world we know that’s not how it is. However, things are changing slowly.
“I never imagined a time when I’d be on stage outside the disability arts bracket. Regional theatre is the place where the risks are being taken.”
The actor began his showbusiness career as a drummer and was invited to appear with Coldplay at the closing ceremony of the 2012 Paraylmpics. He’s a patron of Europe’s leading disabled theatre company Graeae; has produced a Channel 4 documentary on Thalidomide; written a musical Thalidomide! and stars in a show, Beauty and the Beast, with his American wife Julie Atlas Muz, a burlesque performer. The couple split their time between homes in London and New York.
The Broadside’s production is a collaboration with Hull Truck Theatre and it arrives at Broadsides’ home, The Viaduct Theatre, Dean Clough, Halifax, on Tuesday, May 30, and will run to Saturday, June 3.
It was chosen for the 25th anniversary because the play was the first produced by the company in 1992. Tickets are £18 and £20 from northern-broadsides.co.uk