Silent Witness star Liz Carr says she has left the programme on a high after her “best series ever” – and is set to appear in her first Hollywood film.
The actress, who has played forensic examiner Clarissa Mullery since 2012, bowed out this week at the end of the 23rd season of the hit BBC crime drama.
She revealed on the BBC Ouch podcast that she will be seen in her first major movie – the sci-fi drama Infinite – later this year, alongside Mark Wahlberg.
Carr who uses a wheelchair, says she is proud of how Silent Witness improved the representation of disabled people on screen, although it had not always been easy.
She says the BBC seemed “terrified” about what to do with a disabled actor in primetime drama when she first started, but she made sure her voice was heard.
“I think over the eight years I’ve kind of policed the show quite a lot and worked to make sure it was better and refused to say certain lines that I thought were problematic.
“I was asked recently if I was proud of what we achieved in terms of representation in Silent Witness – Oh, my goodness, of course I am.”
Prior to Silent Witness, Carr was probably best known as a comedian, disabled rights activist and presenter of the BBC Ouch podcast.
But her continuing role as Clarissa has made her one of the most high-profile disabled actors in Britain.
Carr says she first indicated she wanted to leave Silent Witness back in October 2018.
“It must seem like a ridiculous decision”, she says. “But I was just doing the same thing [in terms of storyline] and, as an actor, that just wasn’t that interesting.”
She says the “irony” was that having made the decision to leave, a new producer was brought in who promised her “the most challenging series that you’ve ever had” and “he’s delivered,” she said.
In the latest series, Carr was at the centre of a storyline in which her character, Clarissa, had to make heart-breaking decisions about the care of her mother who had dementia and terminal cancer.
Carr praised writer Lena Rae, whose two-parter called Hope was her Silent Witness debut.
“There’s a lot of stuff there that we’ve not seen before. I think about that relationship of an aging parent with a disabled child. But equally, seeing a disabled woman as the carer,” Carr says.
“It was everything about disability and it was nothing about disability. And it connected us in a way that said: ‘We all experience this’. We’re all going to lose parents or somebody that we love.”
Carr says she was especially touched by the audience reaction to her portrayal of the storyline with many saying they could “relate” to Clarissa’s predicament.
The actress’ own father died last year, shortly before she filmed her final episodes, and her performance in Hope drew heavily on that experience.
“I’m not sure that I was acting,” she says. “I think I was almost re-enacting and reliving being at my dad’s bedside when he died. He died in hospital. He had Parkinson’s and vascular dementia.”
Like her onscreen character, who has just resigned as a forensic examiner, so Carr felt the need for a change in her own life – “I just want to go out there and take a leap of faith”.
That leap has landed her in Hollywood blockbuster, Infinite, alongside A-listers Wahlberg and Chiwetel Ejiofor.
The summer release has been directed by Antoine Fuqua whose other films include Training Day and the Equalizer movies.
“It’s a great role. I’m ecstatic,” Carr says after admitting she was surprised to get the part.
“I thought, I bet they’re just going to audition wheelchair-users and then they’re going to give the role to Tom Cruise.”
However, heady dreams that she would have to relocate to Hollywood were somewhat thwarted when she discovered filming would take place in west London.
But she is certain playing a major character in a successful BBC drama convinced the casting team she had the requisite experience for the, currently secret, role.
“I’ve gone and had the most incredible opportunity to develop and get better and learn and learn and learn. And there are very few disabled actors internationally who have that experience.”
She says she hopes her success will encourage TV and film makers to give other disabled actors “a break”.
“Unless you can show how good you are, people aren’t going to see what amazing talent is out there.”
In December, the BBC announced a string of new shows with the aim of producing a more “authentic and distinctive” representation of disabled people on screen.
Carr herself will perform one of a series of “challenging” monologues, curated by fellow, former BBC Ouch presenter Mat Fraser as part of that.
She’s also set to return to our screens in an upcoming episode of Who Do You Think You Are? the BBC One show which delves into family history.
Carr says this really took her out of her comfort zone.
“I don’t really like surprises,” she says. “So it’s a difficult show to do. But actually there are things that happened that stunned me. And I loved it.”