"A disability does not define who you are" - Donna Lavin discusses the new series of The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles
You can hear Donna Lavin, starring as Darleen Fyles, in Series 4 of 15 Minute Drama: The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles from Monday 11 February.
Can you remember that first audition when you met Pauline (Producer) and Esther (Writer)?
It was 5 years ago. I was fairly new to the world of acting and didn't really know what to expect. We had workshop meetings about the possibility of forming a story featuring a woman with learning disabilities for a Radio 4 Drama.
It involved a lot of thinking about my life and how society perceived me. We shared opinions and thoughts about disability.
Pauline and Esther were very curious about me and slowly but surely, the character Darleen Fyles was born. They offered me the job on the spot (in the acting world directors hardly ever do this!!!). It was the single-most proudest moment of my life and over the years we have become great friends.
Listen to a clip of The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles
What are your thoughts about disabilities in the media?
I think it's good that there are more disabled people in the workplace. I'm proud of the lady who plays Izzy in Coronation Street [Cherylee Houston]. We need one in EastEnders now. I think everyone has a right to get whatever job they want, in any profession. A disability does not define who you are. Your profession defines who you are. You only get one life, you should be able to do what you want with it. I followed my dreams. You can too.
How much of you is Darleen Fyles now having played her for four series?
I can definitely understand and appreciate why she does what she does. Her mother has always fobbed her off or made her feel as if Darleen is a constant burden. I can relate to that as I've had various issues regarding my family and childhood. I do feel sorry for parents in a way, there's no perfect way to bring up children problem free - you're always going to make mistakes in the eyes of a child!
Darleen has gone from single girl to married woman. Has she changed since the first series?
Time and experience has made her mature and stronger. She knows Jamie adores her and would walk across lava bare-foot for her. This is what she has been waiting for. Feeling happy, content and secure. And because of that, she loves him back. She is a better person when Jamie is around. She's not alone anymore.
What do you think about this current series – and Darleen’s quest to have a baby – and how do you personally relate to the story?
I'll be honest, I wasn't looking forward to this storyline! Having children does put a lot of pressure on a relationship regardless of how long a couple have been together.
I think if I could give her advice, I'd say she needs to take a step backwards and evaluate her life and all the things she has to be grateful for: a mum who when push comes to shove is always there for her, a loving man and a nice flat. She needs to find a way to be happy with her lot in life.
What's the best thing about being part of this project?
This is the biggest role I've ever had. My acting experience has grown a lot and I love the fact I can insert the odd phrase in the middle of a speech to make it feel more genuine which is what acting is all about - using words from the script and giving them life - and obviously I can ad lib forever!
When there are hard hitting stories like the attempted rape scenes (in the first series), as an actor you sometimes have to go to dark places. For me, the key to acting is remembering emotions. You have to get them spot on or they will be unrealistic. All emotions have several levels. You start with level one and build up. And it can be quite tricky to allow yourself to do that. There will always be a blockage naturally, a part of you that doesn't want to feel that level of absolute terror, which I of course had to do. And I can look back now and be proud I did the work justice. But drama is drama. If there were no scenes like that and everything was rosy, it would be dull.
I feel honoured to be a part of bringing disability awareness to the BBC. Plus, meeting all kinds of talented actors and bouncing off them. But the best thing is working with Miss Pauline Harris and Mrs Esther Wilson. They took a chance on a young, inexperienced naive 25 year old and gave her an agent and the job of her dreams. And the words 'thank you' don't even cover it.
Listen to the 15 Minute Drama: The Pursuits of Darleen Fyles from Monday 11 February.
Visit the BBC Disability blog - Ouch!
Read an interview with Donna Lavin on the Ouch! blog