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As a kid, Lauren “Lolo” Spencer dreamed of being a reporter, but life led her in a different direction. After an ALS diagnosis at age 14, she eventually became a disability style influencer on YouTube. For The Hollywood Reporter’s Awards Chatter podcast, Spencer spoke about her breakout acting role in Give Me Liberty.
Your life changed in a major way when you were 14. What happened?
I was in the kitchen, and my mom told my siblings and I to make our plates for dinner. I reached up in the top cupboard, and my entire arm dropped to the counter, and it was very strange because I didn’t drop the plate — I still had a grip on the plate — but my arm had just dropped out of nowhere. I didn’t know what to make of it, and my next memory after that moment was starting to go from doctor to doctor, over and over again, trying to figure out what happened. By that time, my right arm was pretty much 100 percent limp. The facility at UCSF diagnosed me with ALS.
You are now a very specific type of influencer as a disability lifestyle influencer. You got a big following pretty quickly. You had no plans of an acting career, and what happened?
Because of the buzz that I was getting on my YouTube channel, I had a good friend who I deem as my mentor, she’s also my stylist. Her name is Miss Stephanie Thomas. She’s been a disability fashion styling expert for over 20 years. She recommended that I get an agent because she was seeing what was happening on my YouTube and how people were responding to me on social media. So I got hooked up with an agency, and after a few months, my agent called me and told me, “Hey, there are these filmmakers who are specifically looking for a young, black woman in a wheelchair to be in their film. Would you want to audition?”
I imagine it wouldn’t have gone over well if a non-disabled person had been cast, though.
Not at all. It would have been all bad news. The thing is, when it comes to wanting to be an actor in Hollywood, when you’re making a script and you’re creating characters, essentially it starts off with your imagination unless it’s some type of autobiography or some biopic situation. But let’s say a majority of the films start from scratch from somebody’s imagination. It is so incredibly rare that a character with a disability is even imagined in a story. So it’s like you’re not casting us in the roles in general, then when you are calling for a character with a disability, you still don’t cast us. Where do they get the opportunity to live out their dream equally as anybody else?
Was there something about this film that particularly made you want to be a part of it?
Absolutely. It was because of the representation that I knew this film would have. That was one of the main reasons why I signed on — because Tracy’s character is not about her disability, she just so happens to be a wheelchair user. Everything else about her, all dialogue, all of that stuff, was nothing that was directly pointed to, or within reference to the fact that she had a disability. It was just a part of who she was. Whether it made it to theaters or not or whether it got finished or not, I knew that once people saw it and they at least saw this much, that it would be a game-changer in some way.
Interview edited for length and clarity.
This story first appeared in a January stand-alone issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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