'Atypical' on Netflix: Cape Coral actor Tal Anderson lands role on season 3
Charles Runnells, Fort Myers News-PressPublished 2:37 p.m. ET Nov. 8, 2019 | Updated 3:01 p.m. ET Nov. 11, 2019
The Cape Academy graduate had tried out for another role on the critically acclaimed show, but nobody called her back. Then, a week later, her agent told her the good news.
“They loved my screen test so much that they created a character for me,” says Anderson, 22, who grew up in Cape Coral but moved to Los Angeles last year. “It was like a Hollywood fairytale story for me.”
Now Anderson has a small, recurring role on season 3 of the TV series, which was released Nov. 1 on Netflix. The heartfelt comedy-drama follows the teenager Sam, who’s on the autism spectrum, as he navigates the world, his family, his friends and romance.
Anderson plays Sidney, a student who works in the disability lounge at the college Sam attends. But it’s not just any role for Anderson. Like Sam, Anderson is also on the autism spectrum. She was diagnosed when she was 4.
“She kind of has this thing for Sam,” she says. “She knows he has a girlfriend, but obviously she doesn’t care.”
Anderson was a fan of the show long before auditioning for the role. Her mom loved it and recommended it to her. That’s why it was such a big deal to land the role of Sidney.
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“It was amazing to be on a show like ‘Atypical,’” Anderson says. “I love being a part of a show that shines a light on autism awareness and also inclusion and acceptance and the importance of family.”
Her mother, Vickie Anderson, says it’s been great watching such a well-rounded character on TV, for a change. The character Sam, played by Keir Gilchrist, was like nothing she’d seen before on TV shows and movies.
“They tend to take these thousands of characteristics, all of them, and they pile them all into one character,” Vickie Anderson says. “It’s not really realistic. And sometimes it’s a little overwhelming.
"Yes, you’re happy to see the representation, but it’s not really like that.”
Tal Anderson shot all her scenes from April through June on a Los Angeles sound stage, and then she attended the wrap party with the rest of the cast and later the season premiere at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles.
She says Gilchrist is nothing like the character Sam and had punky rock-star hair off the set. “I almost didn’t recognize him. … Keir’s such a talented and serious actor, and he is so different from Sam.”
Sidney is Anderson’s biggest role since moving to L.A. in August 2018, after graduating from Full Sail University with a bachelor of science degree in film. She’d previously acted in independent short films and in two children’s theater productions at Florida Repertory Theatre in Fort Myers.
“She’s an actor,” her mom says. “That’s what she’s always wanted to do. … We didn’t think it was possible, but she always knew. She always knew.”
Vickie Anderson lives in Los Angeles with her daughter and works as her manager, so she’s seen firsthand all the work Tal has put into her new career.
“It didn’t just happen by circumstance,” Vickie Anderson says about her daughter getting the role on “Atypical.” “She works with a whole team of people. She has several coaches.
“And on top of that, she’s still taking classes. She’s taking production classes. … She works very, very hard at it.”
Tal Anderson admits there are both pluses and minuses to being an actor with autism.
“Sometimes my autism has challenges,” she says. “For instance, I struggle with eye contact and diction, and my communication skills aren’t the best.
“But my autism can be a superpower. For example, I have a good memory, and I don’t get discouraged by rejection because I let things go. … It really helps.”
The 2016 Cape Academy graduate still returns to Cape Coral regularly, where her father and brothers live, and she’ll be back again for Thanksgiving. She was born in New Orleans and moved to Cape Coral when she was 1 year old.
She isn’t sure if she’ll return for season 4 of “Atypical.” The show hasn’t been renewed yet, and she says that might not be announced until the end of the year.
Meantime, she’s enjoying being a part of such a groundbreaking series — one that treats its main character as more than just someone on the autism spectrum.
“I appreciate how Sam takes on the world,” she says. “He is a son, a brother, a friend first, not just a person with a disability.” Her mom agrees. “Yes, he has that disability,” Vickie Anderson says. “But the show isn’t really about autism. The show is about a family.
“All families go through these struggles and all these things happen, but they all love each other. … That’s the message. That’s what’s important.”
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