After making his feature film debut in director Stevie Cruz-Martin’s Pulse, Daniel Monks moved to London in 2018 because he figured the UK offered more career opportunities.
That proved to be a smart decision as the actor made his West End debut this year as the lead in Teenage Dick – and then went straight into rehearsals for a contemporary re-imagining of the classic Chekhov play The Seagull.
In the adaptation by Anya Reiss which premieres at Playhouse Theatre on March 11, he will play Konstantin, an aspiring playwright who is smitten with Nina (Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke).
Indira Varma, another GoT alum, will play his mother, the celebrated actress Arkadina, with Tom Rhys Harries as Trigorin, who steals Nina away from Konstantin.
Monks, whose right side has been paralysed since a spinal cord tumour was removed when he was 11, is thrilled to be playing an able-bodied character and alongside such a stellar cast.
“I’m passionate to be a part of telling disabled stories authentically because they haven’t been told, but I also want to be a part of telling all stories,” the 31-year-old tells IF via Skype from London. “To play a romantic lead who is not written as disabled on the West End is really, really exciting.”
The director/producer Jamie Lloyd cast him after he auditioned twice, before seeing US playwright Mike Lew’s Teenage Dick, a reboot of Shakespeare’s Richard III set in an American high school, at Donmar Warehouse.
He played Richard Gloucester, a disabled 17-year-old who connives against the school jock to become senior-year president – but, like his Shakespearean predecessor, his rise is followed by a a fall.
From a young age Daniel wanted to be an actor, not least because his mother is Annie Murtagh-Monks, a casting director and acting coach and former actress, but for years doubted that would happen due to his disability.
An AFTRS graduate, he was accepted in Screen NSW’s inaugural Screenability internship program as a screenwriter and he co-wrote several shorts.
Monks went to London in 2018 when Pulse, which he wrote and starred in as a young, gay disabled man in love with his straight best friend, was invited to screen at BFI Flare: London LGBTIQ+ Film Festival.
At that time he signed with leading agent Curtis Brown and he moved back to London a couple of months later. He explains: “Australian theatre was very generous and gave me a lot of opportunities but while film and TV in Australia are heading in that direction they still have a way to go.
“Because there were so few disabled actors there are physical and attitudinal barriers. I had to try to bash down doors and convince people how to cast me.”
There has been marked progress on that front, at least in the US. A new study commissioned by the Ruderman Family Foundation showed that 22 per cent of all characters with disabilities on network television and 20 per cent of such characters on streaming services are portrayed by an actor with the same disability.
That is a significant boost from the foundation’s 2016 study which found only 5 per cent of characters on TV were cast authentically.
Teenage Dick was his big breakthrough after guest roles in the TV series Silent Witness and The Split.
Daniel has written the first draft of a feature, a highly personal story which isn’t related to disability, which he wants Cruz-Martin to direct after collaborating with her on Pulse and several short films.
And he has agreed to serve as a creative consultant on Jeremy the Dud, writer-director Ryan Chamley’s comedy set in a a world where everyone has a disability and those that don’t are treated with the same prejudice, stigma and condescension.
Chamley and Princess Pictures’ Mike Cowap are developing the project with Screen Australia’s support. “I love Australia and am open to working wherever there are amazing and interesting jobs,” he concludes.