An interview with Tal Anderson, Autistic Actress on Atypical

Tal Anderson

Tal Anderson plays the character Sid on the Netflix original series Atypical.

By Ron Sandison

My favorite Netflix original series is Atypical. I love watching Keir Gilchrist portray Sam Gardner, a young adult with Asperger’s. I was excited to interview Tal Anderson, a young adult actress with autism who is the co-star of season three of Atypical.

Tal plays the character Sidney, a college student with autism. I was amazed and inspired by Tal’s journey with autism and following her dreams to be an actress and model.

1. What is your hometown?

I was born in New Orleans but I was raised in Cape Coral, which is in Southwest Florida on the gulf coast. I lived there most of my life, and left after high school to go to college in Orlando at Full Sail University. After graduating from Film School, I moved to Los Angeles where I currently live and work.

2. How did autism effect you as a child and at what age were you diagnosed with autism?

I was diagnosed with a developmental disability at a year old, but wasn’t diagnosed with autism until preschool. However, I did not know I was autistic until I was 15 years old when my parents told me. As a child, I went to small, private schools and I learned in small classroom settings. I worked with a lot of therapists, but when I was young, I didn’t think this was unusual, because I thought it was just part of school.

I was very happy as a child but I had verbal processing issues and therefore did not interact and engage with other kids easily. So, I did not have a lot of friends. I was introverted, and used my imagination creatively. I read a lot, and was fascinated with electronics, learning to use computers, audio recorders, cameras, and video cameras at a very young age. My family is very supportive and I was fortunate to have a lot of resources, love, and education available to me.

3. How did your parents support and foster your unique abilities?

When I was in elementary school I spent a lot of time working with teachers, and therapists, and my parents and two other families, started a school because they felt I wasn’t getting what I needed in public school.

I was fascinated with movies from a very young age, and they supported that by encouraging my interests. As a young child, I loved Disney films but not just the stories. I knew every actor and singing voice of every character as well as who the animator was for each character. My fascination with the entertainment industry just grew from there and as my interests and abilities changed and grew—my parents were there to support me.

4. As a child what were your favorite movies and television shows?

As a young child I loved Disney movies and would act them out with my brothers, and sometimes I would write my own scripts that included my favorite characters from different movies. I also watched the Disney Channel and still have a special place in my heart for some of those shows like “Kim Possible”, “the Proud Family,” and “American Dragon Jake Long.” From there I became fascinated with classic films and silent films and still have a love of 1980’s era movies like “The Princess Bride,” “The Goonies,” “Dead Poets Society,” and all of the John Hughes movies (“the Breakfast Club, “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off,” “Sixteen Candles,” etc.)

As I got a little older I became obsessed with horror movies, and am a huge fan of the Nightmare on Elmstreet Franchise. Although I really enjoy current horror and psychological thrillers like “Get Out,” “the Quiet Place,” and “Us,” I still am a big fan of the cult classics like Rob Zombie’s Firefly trilogy,” Halloween,” and “Child’s Play” franchises.

5. What sparked your interest in acting and film making?

I have always been a storyteller, creating ways to express myself, writing scripts and making videos to tell stories. When I was young, though I didn’t necessarily dream about being an actor, so my love of acting didn’t come until I was about to enter high school. My parents wanted me to work on socialization more, I think, because they realized that high school meant that I would be an adult soon. My mom hired an acting coach to come to the house to work on improvising everyday teen situations I had never experienced, and in the process, I learned how to actually DO those things. After a few months, I felt a lot more confident and started to take more social risks. Then I started studying acting technique, and taking classes, and I fell in love with acting, and the process of analyzing characters and scenes.

6. Who were some of your mentors in high school and college? And what lessons did they teach you?

My parents have always been my mentors, and they have always supported me 100% with encouragement and helping me to find the resources that I needed to help me overcome challenges. I think the most important lessons I learned from my parents were to always be kind, to never say never, and that hard work at whatever it is you want in life will get you the furthest.

I also had teachers in high school who were very encouraging and who always wanted me to push myself to do my best. I went to a very small private school for high school and the principal was my Math teacher. I have difficulty with math, but she was such a great teacher, and was able to find ways to help me understand everything. So much that I did well in my classes, and got a great score on my College boards. Without this I would not have been able to apply to colleges. They even encouraged me to dual-enroll in college in subjects that I was strong in, so I was able to take college classes early, which was unexpected.

I realize now how important it was for teachers to go beyond what it is expected to find ways for kids with differences to learn, and I really appreciate it. The lessons I learned from them were to be persistent, take the time to check my work (which has been very important to me in my work as an editor), and that if you take the easy way you may finish, but you might not learn anything.

I attended Full Sail University in Winter Park, FL, and in general, all of my Film professors were working industry people and very hands-on, so I found them all very encouraging and helpful. For sure the most important lesson I learned from them was that in life and work in this industry, you will get back whatever you put in. I have seen that in order to move ahead in this business, it is the hardest workers and the ones willing to create and go above and beyond that become successful.

7. How have your parents encouraged your career in acting? What advice did they give you on being an actress?

My parents are the ones who originally hired my first acting coach so they are definitely responsible for exposing me to acting in the first place. They also were very encouraging to me once I became interested in acting.

After high school, I wanted to go straight to LA to pursue my acting career, but they convinced me to go to college first. I’m so glad I did, because I left film school with the skills to freelance as a film editor while I pursue my acting career.

As far as advice, my mom is my manager, and her background is marketing, so she has been very important in helping guide me and decide on what paths to take. I am so grateful and lucky to have her, and my dad is my biggest fan. They have both told me to work hard and keep moving forward and learning because being successful as an actor is something that also depends on timing and could take a long time. The best advice from them is to just have fun and enjoy what I am doing and success will come.

8. How can acting empower children with autism to improve social skills?

Acting was really important for me in this area, and I think it is such a good way for kids to improve their skills. For me, I did not do well with situations I was unfamiliar with, so acting out situations in life was kind of like practice, and helped me prepare for it when I eventually came across it. Also, I learned to identify “characters” in my life like “social Tal” and “school Tal” and “Just Tal”.

I looked at a situation like school and broke down the character of “school Tal” into skills and behaviors that she needed to be successful in that role.

So “school Tal” was hard working, and asked questions when she needed help, and was always early to class, and took notes. And when I went to school, in my mind, I was in that role. Over time, I learned all of those skills and behaviors and built kind of like a catalogue of things I needed to be successful in new situations. It has really helped me in my life, and also as an actor. The goal of becoming a good actor is to learn to be present in your role, and I think that’s why it helps me in life, because sometimes I have to do things that make me feel out of place.

9. What steps did you take to become an actress? What were some challenges you experienced in becoming a professional actress?

I started learning improvisational acting, and then started taking other classes like stage acting, stage combat, and character analysis. I did a few plays while I was still in high school, and then I worked as background on a couple of independent films. This is when I really knew that I wanted to work towards a film and TV career versus a stage career.

In college, I studied film and became familiar with being on set, and equipment, lighting, and blocking, and I joined the cast of a television comedy variety show and did a couple of commercials. After graduation, I moved to Los Angeles and worked an internship as a video editor, and began to focus on starting my career in Hollywood.

I think the biggest challenge I faced is not knowing or understanding that acting and Hollywood is a business. I just wanted to act and be on television, but the reality is that it is very hard to do, and you have to do all of the right things. I am lucky because my mom, who is my manager, is very good at these kinds of things, and she takes care of all of the business stuff. Most actors who come to Hollywood aren’t so lucky. I just have to worry about studying and training, and auditioning, and all of the business things are taken care of by my manager, and together we have made a really good team.

10. How has autism helped you as an actress?

I am an actor and I am autistic. Both of these things as well as others are just a part of who I am, but my autism, I believe, does give me some advantages in my acting.

The biggest one is that I tend to be hyper focused, and very persistent.

Once I am given a role to work on, I continue to work on it until I feel I understand the character. Also, I am not emotionally attached to opportunities, and I do think this has something to do with my autism. I have auditioned for many exciting roles and have not booked them. They were fun and challenging auditions to prepare for, and I enjoyed doing them, but once I audition I tend to move on to the next audition and do not dwell on the fact that I didn’t book the role. If I did, I think I might get discouraged, because there is a lot of rejection in this business. Instead, I just enjoy the process and keep learning and moving forward.

Tal Anderson

11. What was your greatest challenges in transitioning into adulthood? And how did you overcome them?

Well honestly, I am still transitioning into adulthood and independence, and I have no idea if I will ever be comfortable with it. Things will always be challenging for me, but the confidence I have built with my careers in acting and editing have been the biggest help.

I struggle with anxiety, and still have difficulty at times with doing new things, but I continue to work on these things and try to find ways that can help me. For instance, I am paranoid in the kitchen because I’m worried about burning myself or breaking glass and injuring myself. It’s hard because I am also super concerned about eating healthy. I have had to find ways to deal with all of this and still stay healthy. Other things like financial stuff, I struggle with as well because of my math disability, but little by little I work out and learn ways to overcome the challenges using apps, and auto payments, etc…

12. What are some similarities between you and your character Sid?

Besides gender, age, college and autism, Sid and I share a strong work ethic, and determination. Sid has the college thing under control and is successfully fitting in. I was a little more uncomfortable at school, and definitely less sociable. I think another thing we have in common is that we are both very no-nonsense, and although both Sid and I speak our minds, I think Sid is way, more, sassy than I am. I worry a lot about offending people, and Sid just tells it like it is. This is why she is so fun to play.

13. How has Atypical opened opportunities for you as an autism advocate?

As I’ve gotten older and more comfortable with who I am and my role in the world, I have gained confidence and more of an ability to be myself and speak my mind. The opportunity I was given at Atypical has made me more visible than I have been in my whole life.

I mean, I don’t have a million fans, and I don’t get asked for autographs on the street, but for the first time in my life people other than my family have been interested in what I have to say, and I think that is because of my role on Atypical. I am grateful for that because I have been able to advocate for inclusion and representation just by doing my job, but also when asked, I am able to tell people how important I think it is. Not that I’m an expert or anything, but because I can speak for myself and for others who don’t yet have the voice I have. So, I’m very grateful to Atypical for giving me the opportunity to represent others in the autism community as Sid.

14. What was it like working with Keir Gilchrist on the cast of Atypical?

Keir is the best. He is very kind, and is a serious, hard-working actor. It’s so great having the chance to work with him, and I really appreciate how supportive and encouraging he has been to me. I also appreciate his amazing performance as Sam. He puts so much work into authentically portraying Sam, and he is so respectful of him. Actually, everyone on the show is so talented, and so great to work with. They welcomed me and treated me like family.

15. What advice would you give to young adults with autism who desire a career in acting?

A career in acting is not something that happens quickly and I have learned that there is constant work involved to be successful. If someone really wanted to be an actor I would advise them to start training and learning first, because by working on technique you will be able to decide if you really want to do it. I would also advise them to find something else they enjoy doing for work while they are working on their acting career.

In film school, I learned and fell in love with film and video editing, and I do freelance editing on independent films and web series. I love editing as well as acting, and this keeps me in the industry and busy so that I don’t get discouraged when times or auditions are slow.

16. How can the film industry advocate for people with disabilities?

I think awareness is very important and being authentic in casting is also important. I just really think that the film and television industries need to make it a priority to produce and cast stories so that all kinds of people can watch and be able to see someone on screen that they can identify with, not just people with disabilities. It’s important to show on screen what the world really looks like.

17. Please, share a humorous story from your life.

I’ve had cats all my life, and they have been as close to me as family. My first cat, Snobell, used to play with me by running after me standing on her hind legs and chasing me around the house until I would fall down on the couch laughing. She would only do this with me. I have a cat here in Los Angeles named Winifred, and she’s the coolest cat ever. She will fetch her toys like a dog and bring them to me and drop them into my hand. Honestly right now, Winifred is my best friend and is keeping me sane, entertained, and happy during the pandemic.

18. What are somethings you hope to accomplish in the future?

I definitely have goals as an actor. I really hope to be a series regular on a television show, and I can’t wait to have a role in a major motion picture. But, I also hope someday to be able to help others learn to boost their confidence and love who they are through acting. I don’t know if that is through teaching or some other way, but I really think it would great to be able to share everything that acting has done for me with others.

19. What would be your dream film to act in? And why?

This is a really hard question because I have loved every role I’ve played. But, I am a huge horror fan, and a giant Marvel fan, so I guess maybe being in a Jordan Peele horror movie, or working on a Marvel film or television series would be amazing!



Tal Anderson’s Biography

Tal Anderson is an accomplished Los Angeles-based Film and Television actor, currently recurring on the Netflix original series, Atypical, as “Sidney,” and seen in Times Square as part of a 2019 campaign and PSA for Delivering Jobs, directed by Jason Zada. Ms. Anderson is also a working and award-winning film editor, certified in AVID Media Composer, and experienced in the use of Adobe Premiere Pro and Davinci Resolve systems.

Tal received her B.S. in Film from Full Sail University, has experience editing a variety of short and feature-length content, and has written, directed, and edited several of her own films. Her first film, Joy, was selected for 6 film festivals including a nomination for Best Super Short Film, and a win for Direction of an Experimental Short Film. Tal can be contacted through her agent at KMR & Associates in Los Angeles, or by visiting www.instagram.com/theTalAnderson or her website www.theTALanderson.com.

Ron Sandison

Ron Sandison works full time in the medical field and is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry. He is an advisory board member of Autism Society Faith Initiative of Autism Society of America. Sandison has a Master of Divinity from Oral Roberts University and is the author of A Parent’s Guide to Autism: Practical Advice. Biblical Wisdom published by Charisma House and Thought, Choice, Action. He has memorized over 10,000 Scriptures including 22 complete books of the New Testament and over 5,000 quotes.

He frequently guest speaks at colleges, conferences, autism centers, and churches. Ron and his wife, Kristen, reside in Rochester Hills, MI, with a baby daughter, Makayla Marie born on March 20, 2016. You can contact Ron at his website www.spectruminclusion.com or email him at sandison456@hotmail.com.

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