Shardlake star Arthur Hughes on the duel ‘burden’ and ‘superpower’ of disability

Shardlake star Arthur Hughes on the duel ‘burden’ and ‘superpower’ of disability
  • PublishedMay 1, 2024

British actor Arthur Hughes made history becoming the first disabled actor to play Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company. Now, he leads new Tudor detective series Shardlake along with Sean Bean and Masters of the Air’s Anthony Boyle.

British actor Arthur Hughes says it’s a great step forward to have a disabled character leading the cast in a show that isn’t about disability.

The 32-year-old plays the titular detective in new drama, Shardlake, about a lawyer who solves crimes while navigating the religious reforms and political intrigue of Tudor England.

Hughes told Sky News: “The show isn’t about disability, it’s a Tudor piece… And it’s not about Shardlake being disabled… It’s an important asset…

“It can be a burden. It can be his superpower. It’s the thing he can hide behind, so you might think he’s weak. He’s actually strong. You might think he’s less. He can actually be more.”

Hughes, whose breakout TV role was in 2018 supernatural series The Innocents on Netflix, was born with radial dysplasia, a rare condition which affects his right arm.

He made history in 2022 when he became the first disabled actor to play Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company.

Hughes says that as with himself, Shardlake’s disability is “the least interesting thing about him”.

He explains: “My life is many, many other things [than my disability], and I think especially with Shardlake, it’s what people would judge him on first.

“But those who get to know him and work with him and see the quality of him, that’s where the real interesting part of him lies.”

Identifying as “limb different”, Hughes says it’s heartening to see on-screen representation of disabled performers improving.

“Every time I see a disabled actor in a in a leading role, any one of my peers, it’s brilliant.

“To see yourself represented, and to think of the future generations of disabled actors in those roles, because there’s been so few of them, every time that happens, it’s a huge celebration.

“[Shardlake] is just such a perfect story to do with, and a perfect character. It’s a great privilege to be in Shardlake.”

The murder-mystery is based on novels by best-selling author CJ Sansom, who died at the age of 71-earlier this week, just days before the series was due to premiere.

Sean Bean on yet another gruesome ending

Set in 16th century England, it follows lawyer Matthew Shardlake who is instructed by Thomas Cromwell to investigate a murder at a monastery in the fictional town of Scarnsea, on the south coast of England.

The four-part series also stars Sean Bean as Cromwell, Henry VIII’s right-hand man, and Masters of the Air’s Anthony Boyle as Jack Barak.

Historically, Cromwell was known to have a gruesome death. He was imprisoned in the Tower of London before being executed in 1540.

Pic: Disney+ UK
Image:Sean Bean. Pic: Disney+ UK

Bean, a Yorkshire-born actor with a record of over 20 on-screen deaths, says the looming idea of portraying another one did not faze him.

“I’m not bothered anymore. I just don’t care if I live or die. I mean, you can start saying things like I don’t want to die anymore to people and they’ll think you’re crazy.”

Bean adds: “If it’s a good part, I don’t really care whether it gets knocked off at the end or the beginning or whatever. If it’s worth playing, then, it doesn’t really make any difference. And I can’t really get rid of that kind of tag now anyway.”


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