Nik Sanchez broke new ground when he became the first actor who is autistic to play another autistic character in a Hallmark Channel original movie.
The new thriller Safe Room, which will air on Lifetime and stars a young woman who is only 17 years old, will revolve around widow Lila Jackson and her autistic son Ian, who is 14 years old (played by Sanchez).
After Ian sees a murder, Lila finds herself embroiled in a battle to protect her son by hiding in the panic room that belonged to her late husband. There, she and her son must outsmart their attackers and prevent them from obtaining the record of the crime.
The Rise of Nik Sanchez
Sanchez made his television debut in an episode of ABC’s The Rookie. Since the year 2020, he has been a recurrent cast member on the show in the role of Silas March.
As a result of his role in the Hallmark Christmas movie Our Christmas Journey, he is now recognized as the first actor who is autistic to play a character who has the same affliction.
Marcus, a young man 18 years old who struggles to fit in due to the fact that he is on the autistic spectrum, was portrayed on screen by Sanchez. Marcus lives with his mother.
His father found a spot for him in a program that assists adults who suffer from cognitive problems, such as Marcus, in becoming independent adults by teaching them how to live on their own for the first time.
His mother is having a panic attack, concerned about whether or not he is prepared to live away from her in spite of the fact that Marcus is interested in the program.
While Marcus is participating in the program, his family makes the trip upstate to visit him, and during this time, his mother is forced to confront her guilt over the fact that she is the one who cannot bear to be separated from her son.
On Being An Autistic Actor
Sanchez emphasizes the need to allow autistic performers to portray characters similar to themselves in an interview with Monsters Critics.
Sanchez reflected on his time spent acting and expressed the following about it:
Since I was a little girl, I have always been passionate about making up characters and acting out different roles. When I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in acting courses; however, my ADHD was already in full effect at that point, and I had difficulty sitting still. My teacher warned me that I wouldn’t perform well since I had the attention span of a gnat during our first class together. I suppose you could say that I never stopped role-playing, but up until about two years ago, I only did it with my family and some close friends.
Sanchez, who was not one to give up easily, had the support of his family and friends as he attempted acting for the first time.
Nik Sanchez’s goal was to disprove the notion that autism was an insurmountable obstacle for artists who, like himself, aspired to achieve success in the entertainment industry in Hollywood.
Holly Robinson Peete, who appeared in the film Our Christmas Journey as Sanchez’s mother, highlighted the significance of including an autistic actor in the cast by stating the following:
“It was extremely vital for us to cast an actor who struggles with autism. The depiction is essential in this case. When we found Nik, it was like a jackpot.”
Why Neurotypical Actors Need To Step Back
Actors such as Dustin Hoffman, Freddie Highmore, and Dakota Fanning have all received acclaim for their work in films portraying autistic people. These performances have garnered a lot of attention.
Autistic performers like Sanchez have voiced the need to stop hiring neurotypical actors in these parts, even though many believe neurotypical actors have done the roles justice.
Unfortunately, creatives in Hollywood tend to ignore anyone who does not conform to the standard, with the belief that autistic actors are challenging to collaborate with.
Many emerging autistic performers have not been given the opportunity they deserve, even though autistic luminaries such as Sir Anthony Hopkins, Daryl Hannah, and Dan Aykroyd have demonstrated their worth both on and off the screen.
Nik Sanchez will get the opportunity to demonstrate that he can perform any role in the upcoming film Safe Space. The tension and suspense that define a thriller are essential components, and telling the tale from the point of view of an autistic youngster provides the ideal platform to investigate the psychological aspects of criminal behavior.
Although he is only 17 years old (his birthday was on Thanksgiving), Nik Sanchez, born and raised in Orange County, already has an incredible list of credits to his name. Over the previous two years, he has played the role of Silas March on the ABC series The Rookie. He recently wrapped up production on the feature film Safe Space, directed by Boris Kodjoe, and featured Mackenzie Astin, Nicole Ari Parker, and Drea De Matteo as his co-stars.
This coming weekend, he will make history by being the first actor diagnosed with autism to play a character in a Hallmark movie who also has autism.
Marcus is a young guy on the autistic spectrum who is 18 years old and lives with his mother, who is portrayed in the film by Holly Robinson Peete. Sanchez plays the role of Marcus in the movie. When his father discovers that there is still availability in a program that teaches persons with cognitive problems how to live independently, he shows eager interest in the opportunity.
However, his mother has some reservations. She has doubts that he is prepared to live in such a remote location or without her assistance. When the family goes to visit the facility in the state’s capital, Robinson Peete’s character is put in the position of having to face the possibility that she may be the one who is unable to survive without her kid, rather than the other way around.
Not only did Robinson Peete have a starring role in the film, but she also served as an executive producer.
During an interview with Monsters & Critics, she stated: “I feel that the concept of embracing neurodiversity is something that we ought to get behind.” “… The more we do that, I believe that the more understanding and compassion we will have for persons who have attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADD), autism, or any other unique needs.
Since their son, RJ, was first diagnosed with autism as a young kid, Robinson Peete and her husband, Rodney Peete, a former player in the National Football League, have been outspoken advocates for those within the autistic community. Holyrood Foundation is a charitable organization that they established in 1993. Its mission is to educate the public about autism and Parkinson’s disease and offer support and services to families with a member diagnosed with one of these conditions.
“Having habits that you can’t control and then getting put down for them, or getting talked about, or not having a friendship because of it, or your mom nagging at you because of it,” Peete said, “was really irritating.”
Sanchez has referred to his own autism spectrum disorder as “awesomely autistic.” He also suffers from ADHD. When he was a kid, he was always “role-playing,” which is another name for putting on different characters and acting them out. He began training as an actor when he was a child, but he didn’t become serious about the craft until his sister moved to Hollywood to pursue a career there. Soon after securing representation, he was offered a role in the film The Rookie.
On the spectrum, he is not the only performer who has achieved success. A number of celebrities, like Anthony Hopkins, Dan Aykroyd, and Daryl Hannah, have been transparent about their autism.
In the movie “Our Christmas Journey,” he plays a character who has autism, but he is not the first autistic person to be shown in a movie or on television. Actors from the neurotypical population who have played characters on the autism spectrum include Dustin Hoffman, Dakota Fanning, and Freddie Highmore, among others.
However, Sanchez is a member of a tiny but growing group of performers who are on the spectrum and portray characters who are also on the spectrum.
He talked about his passion for performing, the struggles he has experienced, and what he wants people to understand about what it means to be “awesomely autistic” in an interview conducted exclusively with Monsters & Critics.
What inspired you to pursue a career in acting, Monsters & Critics?
Nik Sanchez: Well, since I was a kid, I’ve always had a lot of fun acting out different roles and making up personas for them. When I was five years old, my mother enrolled me in acting courses; however, my ADHD was already in full effect, and I had difficulty sitting still.
My teacher warned me that I wouldn’t perform well since I had the attention span of a gnat during our first class together. I suppose you could say that I never stopped role-playing, but up until about two years ago, I only did it with my family and some close friends.
M&C: Describe the excitement you felt when offered your first job.
Nik Sanchez: At first, I wasn’t entirely clear on the significance of everything going on. When I first heard about the opportunity, I thought it would be a fun way to make some money for the future, and when I finally got to work on the set, everyone acted like I was a significant person. It seemed unusual initially, but it turned out to be incredibly tasty.
M&C: Did the filming of the movie or the series bring any unexpected experiences?
Nik Sanchez: When I started my first job, I focused mainly on remembering my lines. I had every intention of squandering this opportunity. However, I wasn’t aware that the angles and camera changes would require us to perform the scenarios multiple times because they kept changing. I have a much deeper appreciation and respect for the actors now.
M&C: Can you tell us about your experience working with Holly Robinson Peete?
It was such a pleasure to work with Holly. The experience of working with her was perhaps the closest I’ll ever get to co-directing a film with my mother. Things were evident to her. Being in her company seemed quite normal and comfortable right from the start.
M&C: Were you able to speak with her son RJ while you were there?
Nik Sanchez: Yes, we got together about a week ago.
M&C: Actor Lyriq Bent plays your father in the movie. How would you describe your experience working with him?
Nik Sanchez: Working with Lyriq was an incredible experience. He had the same effect on me as Holly; he made me feel secure and at ease. One example of this was when we had a scene in which his character, Rick, showed my character, Marcus, how to shave, and he made it so much better. Marcus learned how to shave from Rick.
I usually don’t enjoy it when people touch me, especially on my face, and that scene was also shot on one of the first handful of days we were on set, but Lyriq was so calm, patient, and friendly to me. I was able to get through it because of her. He made a concerted effort to check on me between takes and at all other times. It felt like a genuine moment of father-and-son bonding all at the same time.
M&C: What parts of Our Christmas Journey did you like the most?
Nik Sanchez: The fact that the movie was so true to life was one of the things about Our Christmas Journey that I enjoyed the most. Everyone in a true autistic family is affected by the disorder. This movie does a great job of illustrating how everyone has a part to play.
M&C: There are a lot of false beliefs circulating regarding autistic people. What do you wish more people understood about what it means to be autistic and how amazing it is?
Nik Sanchez: Now, the first and most essential thing to understand about autistic people is that everyone is different and one of a kind. Autism is not a sign of personal failure. You will see that we can do amazing things if you can be nice to us and have a little patience with us.
I consider being autistic one of my greatest strengths, which is why I like to brag that I’m “awesomely autistic.” Because of my autism, I can have a unique perspective on the world.