Paving the way for people with disabilities to live out their dreams
By Rebeca RiofriO
On first meeting Samantha Renke I was mesmerised by her charm and positive attitude. Samantha has a brittle bone condition and is using her acting skills to engage the public in having a greater understanding of disabilities, on screen and through projects with the Scope charity. Samantha originates from Lancashire and currently resides in Shoreditch London.
Tell us about your background and how it leads to the work you do today?
I did not set out to pursue a career in acting, in fact I originally studied French, German and Sociology at the University of Lancaster. I then did my Post Graduate Certificate in secondary education and worked in a secondary school for two years after graduation. Alongside my teaching I became a trustee for the Brittle Bone Society, a charity very dear to my heart, as this is the condition I have.
I was volunteering as a trustee for six years, and really felt as though I wanted to explore the world of charity, in particular, fundraising on a permanent and non voluntary basis. I took the drastic decision to leave my rural home town in Lancashire, and move to the capital London. I volunteered at Action for Children for some time but found it difficult to find a permanent employment in the charity sector.
By chance I was invited to a house warming party and the host and many guests worked in the film industry. Max Barber (producer and director) approached me about a film concept that would have me as the lead protagonist. I’ve always loved acting at school but never thought I would get an opportunity to turn my acting into a career.
After collaborating with Max, we produced a feature film called Little Devil – at the time it was unknown to have a lead female actress with a disability in a feature film. Little Devil was a big success and won two awards, including best film in the arts for diversity, and I won best actress for my role of Alice. From our collaboration, myself and Max launched our own production company Born This Way Media – that sets out to represent minority groups, which are still monstrously underrepresented within media. Through the film, I was approached by my current agent Louise Dyson at Visable People to represent me, and the rest is history.
Charity is still very dear to my heart, which is why I have continued to work alongside the disability charity Scope on a number of their campaigns including ‘End The Awkward’. Recently I have become a lifestyle columnist for Pos’Ability magazine and have also started to write a number of articles for the Huffington Post. I am a huge fan of fashion and have been part of a number of modelling projects including the Nick Knight Masterclass, and the photographer Oggy Yordanov won first place for his photo of me. Fashion is an area I would really want to pursue, and maybe one day I will have my own petite clothing line.
Fashion is an area I would really want to pursue, and maybe one day I will have my own petite clothing line.
How would you describe your work to someone who hasn’t seen it before?
I have been told that my work is so successful as it comes from an authentic place. I draw from my own life experiences and I am very open and honest in this form of expression, more so than in my written work. Humour is very important to me and I love taking comedy roles. I have a very sassy and feisty personality so I do not shy away from extreme, thought provoking and cheeky characters.
What or who has been the biggest singular influence on your work?
Not to sound egotistical but I would have to say myself. Unfortunately people with disabilities only represent two percent on our television screens and in the media. I had no one with a disability to admire and aspire to when growing up. I hope that I am paving the way for more people like me to go out and live their dreams.
Which projects have you enjoyed working on the most so far?
Everything I do always leaves me thinking how lucky I am to be doing what I do. Recently I featured in a national commercial for the renowned Mars chocolate brand, Malteasers, which featured three disabled characters. In my eyes this was a revolutionary project and I am proud to have been part of it. Little Devil is my baby and launchpad so it will always have a special place in my heart.
The role that really tested my abilities was for Channel 4 TV, a recreation of the infamous When Harry Met Sally orgasm scene. My co-star was the very dashing and gorgeous Rick Edwards, a well-known television presenter. It was one of my first acting roles and I had to fake an orgasm in a room of forty or so cast and crew members! It was here that I realised that actors really have to push themselves and step out of their comfort zone.