Freeform’s Everything’s Gonna Be Okay is a phenomenal series. It has a quirky, touching plot and endearing, funny characters. What it does best, though, is representation. Not only does the show feature multiple LGBTQIA+ characters and relationships, but it sets the bar for authentic casting, specifically casting autistic actors as autistic characters. Most movies and television shows, if they choose to feature autistic stories at all, cast neurotypical, or non-autistic, actors to play autistic characters, which often leads to stereotypical portrayals and autistic actors struggling to find roles. Everything’s Gonna Be Okay proves that there is no reason not to authentically cast to tell these stories. Their cast includes many autistic cast members, including creator and star Josh Thomas as Nicholas Moss, Kayla Cromer as Matilda Moss, and Lillian Carrier as Drea.
Lillian plays Drea, who started on the show as Matilda’s classmate and, by the end of Season 1, her committed girlfriend. After a rocky start and a breakup at the beginning of Season 2, Drea begins to understand her sexuality more clearly and announces that she identifies as homoromantic asexual. The two get back together midseason and prove that even if being autistic makes it difficult to be independent alone, they can be successfully independent together. By the finale, the two are not only engaged, but married and off to start their new lives.
Lillian brings a great sense of realism to Drea’s character. Along with playing the role of Drea, she is also the autism consultant for Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, and she has been instrumental in making the show the great representation it is. I spoke with Lillian about her character, her experience on the show, and her thoughts on autism representation throughout media.
Nerds and Beyond: So, what does your role as “autism consultant” on Everything’s Gonna Be Okay entail?
Lillian Carrier: I get sent questions via phone call or email by Josh Thomas and the rest of the writing team. I have been asked what swimming is like. Josh asked what the difference between a beach and pool would be for me. I told him that I don’t like the feeling of water, it feels slimy to me and sand is the worst feeling. We went into detail about that which led to the scene in the first two episodes of Season 2 where Drea’s mom lied about Drea being in the pool, but Drea hates swimming. Her parents also mentioned wanting to go to the beach, but Drea hates it so they only go once a year.
Then I see the script at the table read. I give notes on what is accurate or inaccurate. The writers make changes. I am happy that they actually listen because they don’t have to. With the costume department, I only talk about my own outfit because the other actors share their own needs.
The props department asks about sensory needs and tools and they might give me options to pick from. Such as in Season 1, I had three options for noise canceling headphones. They have asked me questions such as “what are popular sensory tools?” and I advise them on what props to buy.
Each director has their own style. Some just want me to explain language. Silas will ask for articles and videos. He really cares to know the insides and out on autism. He wants to do a good job portraying autism and I think it shows in his episodes.
Nerds and Beyond: How much of Drea’s interests or traits (using a service dog, being colorblind, hyposensitivity, being interested in chakra stones, etc.) is written, and how much comes from you or is based off of your suggestion?
Carrier: Drea is based off of me, but her personality and interests are vastly different from my own. Much of her autistic traits are based upon my own. I think what makes Josh’s writing real is he takes a lot of stories and traits from real people. Anything I tell him might end up in a script. Hyposensitivity is something I possess. I have Crohn’s disease and Drea and I both struggle with understanding white lies.
I wouldn’t say I suggest anything to Josh. He looks into actually autistic people’s lives and creates his characters based on his research of real people. I just happen to be who Drea is based off of. He takes anything that catches his interest and adds it to her.
Nerds and Beyond: In Episode 5 this season, Drea came out as asexual. What does this representation mean to you?
Carrier: My twin sister is asexual. It means a lot to her, so it means a lot to me. She has talked about how there is no representation of asexuality anywhere which made it so hard to figure out her sexuality. She is excited for an asexual autistic character to be on screen for maybe the first time. I am so grateful to be part of bringing Drea to life.
Nerds and Beyond: What has been your favorite scene or moment to film and/or to watch on EGBO?
Carrier: I loved doing the party scene with Carsen Warner who plays Jeremy. The two of us had a blast dancing and giggling. He is such a good actor to work with and a fun person to be on set with. He is actually autistic as well. I hope to see him return for more episodes.
Nerds and Beyond: Why do you think it’s important autistic characters are authentically cast?
Carrier: There are a number of reasons. One is that someone who is allistic (or happens to not be autistic) when they perform as an autistic character – especially when it is inaccurate, it can come across as mocking. There are reasons behind behaviors and when those nuances aren’t understood then you end up with an inauthentic and offensive portrayal. Second, actually autistic individuals are unemployed. Around 90% are unable to get jobs and not from the lack of trying. Casting authentically not only gives them the change to give someone employment, but also shows the world that someone such as myself is capable of work.
If you are telling a story involving autism, it’s important to remember what message you are sending along with the story. You could easily end up sending the opposite message of the script just by how you cast.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have any thoughts on what needs to happen in media so that autistic characters are cast more authentically?
Carrier: I am not a casting agent and am not an expert on the logistics of finding and picking the right actor. I don’t want to step in where I don’t need to be. We just need people in charge to keep an open mind about hiring the people who the story is about and taking care to do the communities involved in the story justice. In general, also looking outside the box and if an autistic person auditions for a role, maybe think about making the character autistic if you choose to hire them.
Nerds and Beyond: In the same area, what characteristics or tropes in autistic media are changing or would you like to see improved/shown more?
Carrier: I love that we see more minorities overlap. Being female myself and autistic, I love that we see more females on screen. We are starting to see more LGBTQ+ autistic individuals on screen as well, which is important because there is a huge population that identify as anything but straight who are diagnosed, or self-diagnosed as autistic. I would love to see other minorities represented more as well including people of color, comorbidities, and anything else I can’t think of at the moment.
An important story I want to see is what a savant really is. Often time, we see an autistic savant shown as being born with a skill. This isn’t true for anyone. This skill has been worked at since childhood, oftentimes as a coping mechanism due to not being invited to hang out with other kids. I would love to see that story told properly.
I would also love to see more nonverbal autistic representation. Someone who sometimes loses the ability to use verbal language or completely has no ability to speak and communicate in the same way most of the world does.
Nerds and Beyond: What are some of our favorite examples of good autism representation?
Carrier: There are a few that come to mind. I’ll explain a little bit about why I think they’re great.
JJ – Skins
JJ has this beautiful relationship with Cook. When you meet Cook at the beginning of the show, it’s hard to like him. He and JJ are incredibly close. Cook ditches JJ a lot and makes fun of him. As you get to meet these characters there is a reveal that JJ is autistic. He shares this vulnerable side of him with Cook. Cook has this understanding of JJ that is incredible. He is JJ’s friend without infantilizing him or feeling a need to protect him. He is just there when it counts.
Billy – Power Rangers
It’s so cool to have an autistic superhero. Power Rangers nailed autism with Billy. He was accepted as part of this group of friends without having to make a big deal that he is the “autistic friend.” He was just their friend. He was the glue in this group of very different individuals. He was not a burden in any way. He was an asset to the team of heroes. There wasn’t anything stereotypical about him.
Jane – Jane wants a boyfriend
Jane’s story is told from her perspective. It’s so rare to see a story told from the actual autistic perspective. Normally it is from a caretaker or a friend. Jane Wants a Boyfriend has these scenes where you get to see from her eyes.
Luke – Story of Luke
The Story of Luke is about independence without independence. He will always need help, but he explores being an adult and all the things he is capable of and builds a life for himself. Luke finds his independence in his own way.
Nerds and Beyond: Tell us about your costar Duke! Is he actually a service dog? Do you have fun on set together?
Carrier: Duke is played by my actual service dog, Luke. His first job on set is to support me, but he does love acting. He will say hi to everyone on set. He now knows everyone and gets excited to see his favorite people. But he isn’t a morning dog. He complains about the early call times, but he loves working. He actually gets post project depression and gets all mopey for a few days when we wrap.
Nerds and Beyond: Do you have any dream roles or projects?
Carrier: I would love to play someone far different from myself. I enjoy getting to do things that I normally would not get to do in real life.
Nerds and Beyond: Anything else you’d like to add that I didn’t cover?
Carrier: Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. I can’t believe people want to hear what I have to say!
Thank you so much, Lillian, for taking the time to speak with us! You can watch Lillian as Drea in Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, now streaming on Hulu.