In October, Sophie Stone appeared on screens all over the UK as Cass in a Doctor Who story. It was a pivotal moment for deaf actors and much praised by the BDA Chair Dr Terry Riley OBE saying: “What was most heartening was that the Deafness of Sophie’s character, Cass, is incidental to the plot. She is an integral member of the group and was no different in any way, other than that she is deaf and uses BSL.” With her upcoming appearance in Small World later in December, Sophie took a moment out of her busy schedule to chat to us.
Doctor Who is the Holy Grail for lots of actors. How did it feel to take part in such an iconic show?
It’s been incredibly surreal. I know how privileged I am. I remember watching the show as a very young child when everything was probably made out of cardboard and the fear factor was solely based on laser effects and people’s expressions as there were no subtitles then. But this was like something out of Hollywood and the cast and crew were so grounded and nurturing it became the most natural environment to be in. I was incredibly excited to play the role, as Toby (Whithouse) had written Cass so brilliantly there was no hesitation but a big responsibility to get the portrayal of her right (which I hope I’ve done).
Tell us about acting with big names such as Peter Capaldi and Jenna Coleman.
Peter was incredibly warm, funny and professional and Jenna was completely dedicated and kind. There was a real sense of protectiveness and loyalty to each other and having Jean St Clair (who was the BSL creative consultant) on set too with no interpreter – it created an electricity that can’t be put into words.
What were the challenges?
Working without an interpreter and spending huge amounts of time on translating a script proved incredibly exhausting but completely rewarding. We all worked together and worked hard and fast in team terms. I made the choice not to use an interpreter but this wouldn’t work for everyone so I strongly support the need for ATW, and hope people realise the vital role it plays in providing support for those in the workplace. My biggest challenge was making the sign translation work with the English written structure for voicing, and to time it with the pace of the scene so there were no lapses in time, slowing down the speed of events. We – myself, Jean and Zaqi Ismail who played Cass’ interpreter Lunn – had to find alternative shorthand versions on set if it proved to be too long on the day.
What do you feel you brought to the production as a deaf actress?
Generally, maybe more awareness and hopefully reassurance of working with a deaf person. Technically, truth: in being an actor who happens to have the disability required for the role. And as an actor and the character Cass, inspiring a generation of young people to feel they too could lead and achieve in a challenging environment. Everyone has obstacles, but they also have opportunities. Some people just have to work a bit harder to discover them.
People, both deaf and hearing, have really embraced and celebrated Cass and Lunn, and there’s even a suggestion of a petition to have Cass as the Doctor’s companion! Dedicated Whovians are a specialist audience who support and love the show beyond measure and it’s been a real honour to be accepted into that world. I’m hoping more programmes will pick up where Toby left off and create exciting, relevant, inclusive and yet “unremarkable” storylines and characters, where deaf people can lead and just are! There’s still a lot to prove.
What does your daughter think – are you now the coolest mother ever?
My daughter was very fortunate to be able to watch how some of the scenes were created, and as an aspiring filmmaker herself, she learned a few exciting tips and Peter very kindly taught her how to use the TARDIS! Her generation are pure social media butterflies so having her feeding back to me the response to the episodes has kept me well informed of the very positive buzz surrounding having a deaf character on the show.
You will be appearing again in Small World – a completely different kind of production. Tell us how you got involved in Small World.
Brian Duffy is a friend of mine and we spoke about several projects involving acting, producing and writing and he mentioned he was putting forward an idea for BSLBT and asked if I would consider acting in it if it was accepted. I hadn’t met Ace Mahbaz until we started the devising stage, but we instantly clicked. It was lovely to work with Louis Neethling again too, we’ve done a couple of projects together previously and he gave me my first deaf on-screen job straight out of drama school.
Brian has written about how you all improvised and used video scripts rather than paper ones. What did you think of the method?
It’s not too far removed from devising a show from scratch. We became the writers together, with Brian and Ace leading the characters, structure, storyline and development, so the process is the Writers Room, Read Through, Rehearsal and Performance all rolled together through improvisation and editing in the room. We all engage in each other’s scenes and feedback or guide to find the best choices. This process is a great way to fully develop our characters and elaborate on the relationships with each other so
there’s a natural dynamic, and that’s where the humour is.
Is it easier working on a Deaf production than a mainstream one?
No, I wouldn’t say it was easier, both have their own unique challenges. Communication is key and when communication has to travel through more hoops the more likely
information is lost. And that’s true for any environment. The cast and crew on Small World worked very hard to create the show and deserve praise for being so open to the challenge together, it was exhausting but (hopefully) the results will prove worth it. We are proud of
how far we’ve come and how much has gone into realising the dream Brian and Ace had, showing that anything that’s worth doing well is worth doing with a bit of hard graft. Just like in the mainstream, a professional attitude, an open mind and adaptability can go a long way to creating the right work ethic and environment.
Any illuminating moments on the Small World set?
It was illuminating being fully immersed into the world of BSL and having in-depth conversations on culture, mannerisms, humour and relationships of the Deaf community. I felt very accepted and celebrated instead of having to always be aware of the negative connotations associated with not being a hearing person. It was a very free and comforting time, I love my Small World family!