Twelve-year-old Cale Ferrin hasn’t grown up seeing many people who look like him in television shows or movies. But this Friday, May 8, Ferrin will help increase disability representation in the media with his breakout role in the movie “More Beautiful for Having Been Broken.”
Ferrin, who plays the role of Freddie, has Fanconi anemia, a rare, inherited blood disorder that eventually prevents bone marrow from making new blood cells. He had more than 27 surgeries before the age of 7 and more than 100 total hospital visits. None of this has gotten in his way of pursuing his dreams of acting and dancing.
“Special needs actors are just as good as abled actors, and I just want to take away love. Love is the biggest thing,” Ferrin said.
“More Beautiful for Having Been Broken,” directed by Nicole Conn, is a semi-autobiographical film inspired by Conn’s two kids, Gabrielle and Nicholas Baba-Conn. The movie takes place in Pine Mountain Club, one of the mountain communities of the Tejon Pass in California, where Freddie, the character inspired by Nicholas, is an extremely important teacher to the people around him.
Nicholas, 18, who is medically fragile, was born 100 days early, weighing only one pound, said Conn.
“One of the things that I wanted to try to do for years and years was to put a special needs character into one of my films, and everybody was always saying, ‘It’s too grim. Nobody wants to see that,’” Conn said. “But who my son is for me and for the people in his life, is an incredibly special child who’s just full of love and wisdom.”
Conn said that she also wanted to investigate the relationship of mothers and daughters because of the relationship she has with Gabrielle, whom she called her best friend.
Gabrielle Baba-Conn, 19, plays the role of Gabrielle, Freddie’s sister, in the movie. Although the movie is inspired by her family’s experiences, she said it was more about taking aspects from their lives and putting it into another world.
“There’s an FBI agent and undercover stuff. I live in LA and not a tiny little town,” Baba-Conn, a dance and education major at Wesleyan University, said of the differences. But she said having a disabled family member and having a lesbian mom was a part of it. “I definitely felt like I could tap into having love for somebody who has disabilities because of having my own brother.”
Ferrin was the only child on set while filming and was always dancing. It was what he called a “nonstop dance party.” Sometimes he even played Candyland and the jackpot was real candy. But playing Freddie wasn’t always an easy role. According to his mom, Britteny, Freddie showed the medical side of having a special needs child.
“There are some things in the movie that (Cale) doesn’t actually experience medically, so he didn’t know what to do,” she said. “Like one of the scenes is a seizure, and so that was kind of scary for him. It just brought back a lot of memories of being in the hospital and being hooked up to all this equipment.”
Another scene that was emotionally raw for Ferrin was the bullying scene, especially because he has had experiences with being bullied.
“I couldn’t even be on set when this was happening because he was full out crying,” Britteny Ferrin said. “The tears that you see on camera are real tears. That was really hard. I think everybody on set, the crew, Nicole, as the director, and Gabrielle was in that scene with him as well, I think they all had a really hard time with it.”
Conn, who is a self-taught movie director, said that the importance of this movie, as well as her other films, is to open up dialogue and make people want to understand more about disabilities. “I’m hoping that when people see this film, they’re going to go like, ‘Oh my gosh, this is the kid down the street or this is what my nephew has or this is how my nephew lives,’” Conn said. “With my son before COVID-19, if I took him out and went anywhere, people look at him and turn away, and it’s like, ‘Don’t do that. Don’t make our kids invisible.’”
Conn said there’s a trend towards inclusivity in films, but Ferrin is just one of the tiny fraction of disabled characters who are played by disabled actors.
“It just makes me feel amazing that I’m inspiring so many kids out there because I just want to prove to them that I get it. You’re scared, but just go out there,” Ferrin said.
Ferrin got into the television industry after competing in iPop, a child actor competition, in the summer of 2014. He got an agent and it skyrocketed from there, he said. “I got my first open casting role on a Nickelodeon show called ‘Nicky, Ricky, Dicky & Dawn.’ I went in and I auditioned, and the next day I started filming.”
Ferrin’s choice to pursue acting was not surprising to his parents, who always knew he had potential. “We knew that he was going to be on TV,” Britteny Ferrin said. “He just spreads so much happiness and joy to whoever he meets.”
“More Beautiful for Having Been Broken” was only Ferrin’s second ever audition, but getting the role and filming the movie was a great experience, he said. “I was mind-blown. We just had a great time.”
For aspiring actors, Ferrin believes determination is key. “Don’t let anybody tell you you can’t do something because if you put your mind to it, you can do anything,” Ferrin said. “And just make sure to study.”Find More Stories