Tobias Forrest, a C5 quadriplegic, is an up and coming musician and actor. In an original interview with AbleThrive, Tobias talks about his experiences as a person with a disability in the entertainment industry.
“I soon realized that I could affect more people through entertainment then I could in a support group.”
What made you want to go into the entertainment industry?
“I was always interested in art but did not start playing music until college. My friends were in a band and needed a singer, so I volunteered. I sang in bands until I graduated and then had my accident shortly after. I stopped singing but after two months on a respirator and five years in a wheelchair, music came back into my life and I began to sing again. Acting had also entered my life and I was slowly becoming an entertainer. I had received a Masters of Psychology with plans to help others but did not have a passion for the field. I soon realized that I could affect more people through entertainment then I could in a support group. I also discovered that it allows me to show kids with disabilities, someone, they can relate to you in the entertainment industry. Hopefully, this inspires a few of them to go into music or acting.”
How did your music career begin?
“After my injury, I stopped playing music because I didn't see anybody in a wheelchair doing it. Also, I had moved, so my community of musicians was no longer around. Plus, I had spent two months on a respirator just trying to breathe again, so I thought singing was no longer an option. After I moved to Los Angeles, I reconnected with my guitarist from college named Jeff Line, who lived in San Diego. About a year later he moved up to Los Angeles and we began hanging out and playing songs in my living room. I realized that maybe I could still sing and I could definitely still write songs. Jeff and I slowly started playing acoustic gigs but we both really wanted to be in a rock band. He was in school at Musicians Institute and enlisted a few friends so we could record a demo. Everyone clicked and we ended up forming a band that we named Cityzen. Soon we were playing progressive rock/funk shows all around Los Angeles and even got into a studio to record an album titled “Invisible Mental Tentacles”. Cityzen has performed at Hard Rock Cafe Las Vegas Strip, won first place at Universal Studios Hard Rock Rising's Battle of the Bands and have played at several venues and non-profit fundraisers. Our song "Invisible Man" is featured on the "Special Unit" soundtrack and I have been very fortunate to have additional Cityzen songs placed in other film and television projects.”
Have you ever faced rejection because of your disability? If so, how did you handle it?
“I have definitely faced rejection in all sorts of ways due to my disability but I often place the blame on mis-education. Although some people are legitimately jerks but even then, I tend to brush it off. Not long ago when I was on set, a security guard told me to move. When I told him I was part of the production, he slowly looked me up and down and then just said, “Nah!”. After a couple of minutes, I gave up trying to explain and just moved closer to the set. Soon, he walked up next to me, so I asked: “do you happen to know where the bathroom is?” To which he replied, “yes, but it's for production.” So I replied, “yes, I understand that I am one of the actors.” He then looked me up and down again, took a moment and then said… “Nah!” At that point, I gave up explaining and just went to work. At the end of the day, one of the producers brought the security guard next to me and said, “Hey, this is one of our actors and he's waiting for his ride, help him with whatever he needs.” I looked up the security guard and smiled. After a few awkward minutes, he apologized and said he was just trying to do his job. I told him I was just trying to do the same thing. But I really wish I would've just said… “Nah!””
“Stay persistent and positive regardless of any setbacks or disappointments.”
What advice do you have for those who are newly injured? (about following your dreams, etc.)
“Try to find or develop a disability community around you that can offer support as well as advice. A network of other like-minded people can help open more doors to opportunity, plus, they are usually people who want you to succeed. Also, several of the barriers that we face are more mental than physical so we can easily feel defeated. Stay persistent and positive regardless of any setbacks or disappointments.”
What’s one thing you wish you could go back and tell yourself when you were newly injured?
“Don't wait for things to come.”
What has been your favorite role to play thus far in your career?
“This year I have gotten to play a Princeton student with Cerebral Palsy in “Cost of Living” and a father in the film trailer for “Daruma”. I learned to transition from playing from one character in a film to playing a completely different one on stage in the same day. That was my favorite experience, however, my favorite role was playing an undercover cop named “Mac” in the action/comedy “Special Unit”.”
How can the entertainment industry be more inclusive?
“This industry should strive for equal opportunities by requiring diverse hiring percentages. This would ensure that every demographic is considered and included both in front of and behind the camera. It should also recognize projects like “Daruma” and “Special Unit” that are committed to hiring a diverse cast and crew.”
“My primary goal is to inspire young people with differences, difficulties or disabilities to know that they can live their dreams and accomplish their goals despite any obstacle.”
What are your future plans?
“I am about to film a movie in Serbia and I will be there for two weeks. It is my first international experience and definitely the biggest opportunity in my career so far.”
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