Seven-year-old Nell Sutton – who stars in a Guide Dogs’ Make Every Day Count campaign – has won her first major acting role.
Nell, who was born with congenital glaucoma, was picked by Stranger Things director Shawn Levy for a key role in a four-part Netflix series based on the book All The Light We Cannot See.
This month, Nell and mum Rachel will fly to Budapest in Hungry to film with a cast including Avengers actor Mark Ruffalo and comic Hugh Laurie.
In the drama, based on Anthony Doerr’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, Nell is a young version of lead character Marie-Laure – a vision impaired girl, who, along with a young Germany soldier, tries to survive in occupied France during WWII.
Rachel, Nell’s mother, got in touch with the casting agents after spotting an online appear for a vision impaired child to play the young Marie-Laure.
“Nell did the Guide Dogs television advert and found it such a positive experience that she wanted to go on acting. She took part in several rounds of online auditions during last summer’s lockdown, learning snippets from the script while I had to be the other character in the scene. When she finally auditioned in front of the director, I forgot my cue because I was so nervous!
“We didn't tell her it was an audition, just that some people had seen the television advert and wanted to see her do a bit of acting. Straight after the final audition, they gave her 15 minutes to learn a different script, but she managed. She did a completely fresh audition and had to show different emotions, doing the scene as if angry or upset.”
The family went for a walk on the beach after school and filmed the moment they told Nell she had the role. “She was excited and bubbly - typical Nell - then she began working out what it meant,” said Rachel. “She couldn’t wait to run off and tell her grandparents, and she's very excited about going on a plane and meeting the director, Shawn Levy. She has already spoken a bit of Welsh to him, sung him a Welsh song and offered to teach him a little bit of the language when they meet up.”
Nell has already got to know Aria Mia Loberti, the actress playing the older Marie-Laure. Rachel said: “Aria is also vision impaired and new to acting. When the director saw Nell’s audition, he knew he wanted to try and cast two vision-impaired females for authenticity. It sends a powerful message when we see people in the media from different backgrounds and races, and this is a fabulous opportunity to highlight and celebrate people with a vision impairment.”
Rachel said: “Aria will be there at the same time Nell is there, so it will be fabulous to meet her in person. Aria had quite a few struggles, and Nell has also gone through quite a bit in her seven years. They’ve been comparing canes and other vision aids as well as fashion and clothes, so she has a role model, someone to ask questions of. Aria’s eye colour is different so they will change Nell’s using CGI.
“Winning this role sends a positive message to young people with sight loss that you can do what you want to do. Nell has been very lucky in a way, but she has worked for it. This proves that being visually impaired does not have to get in her way and does not define her.”
Shawn Levy, the director of All The Light We Cannot See, said: “Nell was one of the very first people I cast in All The Light We Cannot See. It was important to me that the heroine of this magnificent story be played by a girl who shared the character's experience of being blind. Nell will be representing this character with an innate understanding and authenticity that only lived experience can provide. Nell also has an effervescence and joyous presence that is infectious, both onscreen and off. I cannot wait for the world to meet her and Marie-Laure in All The Light We Cannot See.”