Penny agreed. “Usually I have to act in addition to acting,” she said. “I have to pretend to be a normal person; I have to watch my manners; I have to hold my face a certain way. Being on a set where I didn’t have to hide my autism was heavenly.”
With three actors on the spectrum playing characters on the spectrum, there were definitely times when the lines between real life and the fictional world of the show blurred. There were scenes where Pien’s character, Violet, collapsed, and Rutecki would want to break the character to come over and calm her down, Pien said. Another time, in between takes, Rutecki covered his ears with his hands to shut out the loud noises on set; Pien came up to her and put her own hands over her ears, out of solidarity.
“I had so many great experiences on set,” Rutecki said.
For some scenes, Glassman used his own triggers — such as his aversion to loud chewing noises — to gain character.
“My dad chews loudly and it drives me crazy,” he said. “So I asked the director if we could have the person next to me chew hard, because I’d be really hectic in the scene, and I knew I was going to go crazy listening to this guy chew.”
Katims initially wondered what challenges having many cast and crew members on the spectrum would bring. For example, would production have to run for several hours or create countless new protocols on set? “We didn’t,” he said. “And these three leads came so prepared. There are a lot of actors I’ve worked with on other shows and I wonder if they could be that well prepared.”
Katims is already starting to think about new stories for a hoped-for second season, while the cast is hopeful that their performances will pave the way for more neurodiverse actors to make their way into movies and series.
“I don’t want to stand on this hill and say that only people with autism should play people with autism,” Glassman said. “But I do think the pendulum needs to swing a bit, and TV shows like this shed light on the idea that, oh look, they can do this.”