Samwell's stammer

Actor John Bradley onstage at Comic-con

BSA Communications Director Kate Dickson reflects on the recent news story about Game of Thrones actor John Bradley and his experience of stammering, and questions his decision to give his character a stammer.

There’s been a flurry of media coverage recently around actor John Bradley and his experience playing Samwell Tarly in the series Game of Thrones. John has been quoted discussing how inhabiting the character caused him to develop a stammer (see an article from Metro here). These news stories are from John’s recent appearance on the Blank Podcast. You can hear John’s interview here: (from about 18 minutes in but the whole podcast is worth a listen). 

In the interview, John describes how he used a stammer as a way to represent the highly-charged upbringing Samwell had, one in which he would have felt scared to speak in his family. John then goes on to describe how his constructed stammer stayed with him beyond playing Samwell and the anxiety that his speech caused him as he auditioned for other roles. 

John describes his stammer and the anxiety it caused him in a way that I think will resonate with many BSA members. He discusses reading scripts and thinking about how to best phrase his lines to avoid his stammer, the relief at successfully delivering a line and the awkwardness he felt when his colleagues reacted to his blocks by assuming he had forgotten what he was supposed to say. 

Perpetuating stereotypes

It’s an engaging listen and one that raises many interesting points about stammering. It has also encouraged the media (likely attracted by the click-magnet that is Game of Thrones) to cover stammering, which is a good thing. But unfortunately a few points made by John in his interview seem to perpetuate some common stereotypes around stammering and highlights the work that the BSA has to do to educate the general public on what it is to stammer. 

The stereotype of the nervous or ‘out of place’ character having a stammer is one common in popular culture and I’m personally a bit bored of it.

Everyone’s stammer is unique, manifesting in different ways and impacting each of our lives differently, and I wouldn’t want to discount or deny John’s experience in developing or performing the character of Samwell Tarly. However, the stereotype of the nervous or ‘out of place’ character having a stammer is one common in popular culture and I’m personally a bit bored of it. Using the shorthand of a stammer to suggest that someone has undergone trauma or is of a nervous personality is at best lazy and at worst very damaging. Research suggests that stammering is more often than not a neurological rather than a psychological condition. The all-too-regular portrayal of people who stammer as anxious or shy suggests that we stammer due to nerves rather than it being the unthoughtful reactions of others that make us nervous. 

If you have time and are interested, do give it a listen. I found hearing the experience of someone who usually doesn’t stammer really stimulating, as anxieties and strategies that I’ve considered normal or possibly just deeply ingrained were expressed as something new, as experienced by John.  

Although I may not agree with his reasons for adopting a stammer, I found his candid reflection on the impact his stammer had and has on him illuminating and I am very glad he shared his experience. 

Picture: John Bradley speaking at the 2016 San Diego Comic Con. Source: Gage Skidmore

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