Ups and Downs: Belfast actor James Martin on TV role

By Tara Mills

media captionBelfast actor with Down's syndrome lands first TV role

A Belfast actor with Down's syndrome has landed his first TV role in a new BBC NI drama.

James Martin, 26, has been acting since he was a teenager and won his part after auditioning for the role of Conal in the film Ups and Downs.

His character goes on a road trip with his sister Rosie to the frustration of his very protective mum.

James says his character wants to live a free life.

"He wants to have his own independence in life and he wants to get his voice to be heard," he told BBC News NI.

"It makes him more open and honest with his family and that's good too."

'What you have inside'

So what's it been like to grow up in Northern Ireland with Down's syndrome?

"To be honest it doesn't really hold me back," said James.

"It's more about what you have inside you but not outside of you.

"It doesn't hold me back when it comes to activities like drama, tag rugby and swimming.

"I have friends with Down's syndrome and I'm at home with them."

image captionThe actress Susan Lynch plays Conal's mum, fresh from her role in the acclaimed drama Killing Eve

James has been acting with the Belfast drama group, Babosh, for many years.

He said it was important for people with Down's syndrome to feel included in society.

"They want to be equal, they want to be more visible and I think this is a good thing," he said.

'Less reverential'

The film's writer and director Eoin Cleland has a sister with Down's syndrome and said Ups and Downs was an important story to tell. "The stuff you see on TV about special needs is either very serious and sad or that people with Downs are angels who exist just to give hugs.

"But my experience with my sister and her friends is that they're like everyone else they have good days and bad days and I wanted to see something a bit less reverential."

James is grateful to Cleland for his big break.

"He went all over Bangor, Newry, Cookstown and Belfast and looking for characters and then I had an audition," he said.

"If it wasn't for Eoin, I wouldn't be here on set today."

The actress Susan Lynch plays Conal's mum, fresh from her role in the acclaimed drama Killing Eve.

"James is just fantastic: I just adore him on so many levels," she said.

"He's so passionate about everything and it's been an absolute pleasure to be on set with him."

'Great craic'

The feeling is mutual for James.

"Susan and I have a lot in common," he said. "She started in theatre. She is a great person to act with and she makes things more open."

"Acting the scenes with her have been my favourite part because she makes things happen. She owns the room. It's amazing to have that. It's been great fun and great craic."

The film is part of the BBC New Perspectives initiative aimed at finding and developing new drama writing, production and acting talent.

Its executive producer is Amanda Verlaque, had nothing but praise for James.

"James has had theatre experience before but not on film," she said. "Theatre is big and playing to the crowd; film is smaller and James has been a pro."

Up and Downs will be screened on BBC Northern Ireland in 2019.

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