Sam Humphrey, 22, Melbourne, Vic
I was on my way to work when my mobile rang.
‘What are you doing next Friday?’ my friend Olivia asked.
‘Nothing in the morning,’ I replied.
‘Well keep it free,’ she said. ‘I’ve just got you an audition for Neighbours!’
‘No way,’ I laughed, ecstatic.
Neighbours is one of the most iconic TV shows in the country. That day, as I worked as a waiter, it was all I could think about. Being in front of the camera, seeing myself on screen... cracking Hollywood! It would be my big break.
At 127cm tall, I might be small but I’ve got big dreams. You see, I’ve got skeletal dysplasia. It’s a very rare genetic condition, which means my bones don’t grow properly.
When I was 17, I was 97cm – no taller than a three-year-old.
‘Have you lost your mummy?’ people would ask me as I headed to the shops to meet my mates.
It was so annoying trying to explain my condition. Often they wouldn’t believe me until I’d shown them my ID. It made me feel like a circus freak.
A year later, I was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease and part of my small intestine was removed.
Back home, I woke up one morning with a strange feeling – that I was taller! Standing against the measuring chart on my bedroom wall, I couldn’t believe it. I’d grown 1.5cm!
Over the next few months, I shot up 30cm.
‘Maybe I’ll reach 150cm?’ I asked my doctor hopefully.
‘Anything’s possible,’ he said.
But just like that, my growth spurt stopped – leaving me with the body of an eight-year-old. At first I was a bit disappointed, but I quickly learnt to accept it.
My height makes me unique, I told myself.
Besides, I wasn’t going to let it hold me back. My parents, Sally, now 54, and David, 58, and my brother Josiah, 25, and sister Esther, 23, all knew about my dream to be an actor.
‘That will be me one day,’ I’d grin, as we watched TV together.
Although I hadn’t had any proper training, I’d studied drama at school and posted some videos on YouTube. I’d even been offered a few roles in short films, but I turned them down because there was lots of swearing in the script.
I wanted to be a positive role model and I didn’t feel they were right for me. But now I had an audition for one of Australia’s most popular shows!
It had all come about because Olivia was making a documentary series on people with disabilities achieving their dreams. I was featured in one of the episodes.
‘I asked if you could be an extra on Neighbours, but when the casting director saw your videos on YouTube, she wanted you to audition for a speaking role,’ she told me.
I was given a short script to learn. There were two characters, one of them demanding money from the other. On the day, I went to the studio and met with the casting director.
‘Which character would you like to play?’ she asked.
‘I’ve learnt all the lines, so I can read both if you like,’ I said.
I think she was impressed! The audition seemed to go very well.
Every day afterwards, I’d hold my breath as I checked my emails. Then one day something exciting appeared in my inbox. A job offer!
They wanted me to play a semi-regular character called James. He was a tough, 20-year-old entrepreneur, being groomed to inherit the family business from his stepfather.
Well-educated and witty, James expects everyone he works with to work hard as well, the email said.
In a way, he sounded a bit like me. I always wore suits so I didn’t look so much like a kid and I loved joking around. I even signed off all my emails Little Man.
The casting director asked for my number to discuss the role. It was so exciting! Once all the important bits were dealt with, I told Mum my news.
‘I knew you’d do it!’ she said. ‘This is just the beginning for you, Sam.’
This June, I went to the studio to film my debut scenes. First I had my hair and make-up done, then it was time for my big moment.
In the show, my character doesn’t have dysplasia, but the writers did address my height. I was filmed walking into the lift in a hotel I’m hoping to buy. The manager was on the phone, not realising what a big shot I was.
‘Are you looking for the kids play centre?’ she asked patronisingly.
‘Sure,’ I replied, not wanting to reveal my true identity yet.
She goes back to speaking into the receiver. ‘Sorry, I’m just helping a kid,’ she said.
It was so exciting seeing myself on the screen. I’m thrilled that I can show people that no matter how big or small you are, you can still be a success.
Neighbours airs weeknights at 6.30pm on Channel ELEVEN.
Little people doing BIG THINGS
• At 1.2m tall, actress Meredith Eaton became the first short-statured person to fill a regular role in an American prime-time series when she played an attorney on series Family Law.
• Verne Troyer paved the way for many actors when he played Mini-Me in the Austin Powers movie franchise. At just over 81cm tall, he continues to work in Hollywood.
• At 80cm, 15-year-old Georgia Rankin is believed to be Britain’s smallest teenager. But despite being born with a rare form of skeletal dysplasia, she inspired the world with her positive attitude when she appeared on morning television to spread awareness about acceptance.
This story originally appeared in that's life! Issue 29, July 21, 2016.