Shardlake star Arthur Hughes: ‘It’s really important a disabled actor played Shardlake’

Virgin Radio

25 Apr 2024, 15:14

Arthur Hughes, Arthur with Anthony Boyle in Disney+ series Shardlake

Credit: Virgin Radio / Disney

Shardlake star Arthur Hughes has opened up about being cast in the lead role of Disney+’s latest period drama. 

Based on the Shardlake series of historical mystery novels by C.J Sansom, the four-part series is a murder mystery set during the Tudor era and centres around Matthew Shardlake (Hughes) – accompanied by his cocky assistant, Jack Barak (Anthony Boyle) – tasked with investigating a murder at the instruction of Thomas Cromwell (Sean Bean).

Shardlake is known in the books as a “hunchback” - an outdated term for someone living with scoliosis, or other conditions that can cause a curvature of the spine. 

While chatting to Ryan Tubridy on his mid-morning show on Virgin Radio UK yesterday (24th April), Arthur, who has radial dysplasia affecting his right arm, opened up about what he did to ensure Shardlake’s disability was portrayed properly.

“I think it was really important for a disabled actor to play Shardlake, a disabled man,” the theatre actor explained. “For me, I don't have scoliosis. It’s not the way my body works, but I wanted to find some truth in how I look, how I move and how Shardlake moves. I wanted that to be something with him. I didn't want to affect something completely, I wanted it to be kind of based in truth with me.”

“I worked with a movement director, and did research into how people would fix that condition in the day so we came up with the way, because, I think often, these portrayals of people with hunchbacks, to use that archaic term. It's often too much. I want something to be real, something that we kind of see day-to-day and I do think we've got that.”

Arthur added: “It's the least interesting thing about Shardlake, and like most disabled people, it's the least interesting thing about them. This isn't a show about disability, but the lead character is a disabled man and it's about how good a detective he is.”

The rising screen star came into to prominence as the first disabled actor to portray Richard III for the Royal Shakespeare Company, and Arthur revealed how much of a dream role that was for him at the early stages of his career. 

He elaborate: “I wanted to play Richard since I probably knew who Shakespeare was while I was at school. I'd have played him anywhere. I was 30 when I was doing it, and it was incredible.”

Arthur’s new Disney+ series is set to be packed full of mystery and intrigue, as the official Shardlake synopsis reads: “The year is 1536. Matthew Shardlake, a brilliant lawyer with an acute sense of justice, finds his life turned upside down when Thomas Cromwell, Henry Vlll’s right-hand man, sends him to the remote monastery of Scarnsea to investigate a murder, and to ultimately claim its wealth for the King. 

“Accompanied by the arrogant and ambitious Jack Barak, it becomes clear that the death they are investigating is not the first. Facing hostility and suspicion at every turn and unsure of Barak’s true intentions, Shardlake is drawn into a web of lies, deceit and corruption that threatens not only his integrity but his life.”

Keep an eye on for more interviews with the cast of Shardlake!

Shardlake is out on Disney+ from 1st May.

Tune in to Ryan Tubridy's mid-morning show on Virgin Radio UK weekdays from 10am-1pm.