Photo by Jenny Anderson
Former Glee star Ali Stroker talks about her two upcoming Netflix roles, her notable career, and the moment that motivates her work.
Ali Stroker is no stranger to making history. After a childhood car accident left the actor and author without the use of her legs, Stroker appeared in the hit show Glee before playing Anna in Deaf West Theatre’s 2015 revival of Spring Awakening, for which she became the first actor in a wheelchair to ever appear on a Broadway stage. Following a 2019 run in Oklahoma!, Stroker made history once again, as the first wheelchair user to win a Tony Award. In fact, even the pandemic could not stop the Faking It star from breaking boundaries.
In December 2020, Stroker became the first disabled actor to star in a Lifetime movie, with Christmas Ever After. According to Stroker, the shoot was actually somewhat of a respite. “I hadn’t worked in person for many months, and I had to measure the risk, because we weren’t vaccinated yet,” recalls Stroker. “We were shooting up in Canada and were getting tested all the time, so all the protocols made it feel like it was safe to do the movie. And I’m so glad that I did.
“Shooting a Christmas movie during the summer is so funny,” adds Stroker, “because you’re in sweaters and coats, and it’s about 90 degrees outside. They do all the fake snow and all the Christmas decorations, and you feel like you’re being transported to the holidays. But, I’ll be honest: After the few months that we’ve all had, I was like, ‘I need a little Christmas cheer!’”
More recently, the 34-year-old graduate of NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts began shooting the upcoming Netflix psychological thriller Echoes. She will star in the miniseries as an identical twin whose sister mysteriously goes missing. “I just started shooting yesterday on Echoes, and it was amazing. I am so excited about the show,” shares Stroker. “Brian Yorkey and Quinton Peeples are the showrunners, and they’re just brilliant. The writers are amazing, and our director is fantastic; I think it’s going to turn out really well.”
But Echoes isn’t Stroker’s only upcoming Netflix work. She also secured a recurring role in the fourth season of the red-hot, multi-Emmy-winning Ozark, starring Jason Bateman and Laura Linney. In addition, rumors also abound that Stroker is being eyed to play disability-rights activist Judy Heumann in the Apple TV+ adaptation of her memoir, Being Heumann. Stroker, who narrated the memoir’s audiobook, is staying mum on the topic.
“I played Judy on Drunk History three or four years ago, but as far as Being Heumann, you know as much as I know,” she says with a laugh. “Right now, I’m just really excited about Echoes and having this opportunity to work on a show for a few months, and what’s cool about being a regular on a show is that it’s sort of like being in a musical or play or theater production, because you really get to know the cast and the directors, and you just feel like a family. I’ve missed that community so much.”
Acting hasn’t been Stroker’s only creative output. She also penned a kid’s book with coauthor and friend Stacy Davidowitz, titled The Chance to Fly. “Every young person who is in their teenage years needs to know they’re going to make it; they’re going to be okay, and we have the power to do that through stories,” notes Stroker. “Nat Beacon, the book’s main character, is heavily inspired by my own life, but she has her own story. That was important to me, because as a storyteller and an actor, playing characters or creating characters is really exciting, and I didn’t feel as much pressure to get every detail right about my own life. Nat could have her own journey, and I’m so proud to have a story out there for young people with or without disabilities.”
“I’m paralyzed, so I’m very aware of my physical limitations, but my voice doesn’t have any, and that’s such a special and important feeling for me — to be able to feel free in expressing myself.”
The book still gently mirrors Stroker’s own life, which was changed forever after she and her friend staged a home production of Annie when Stroker was just 7 years old. “I remember I felt like I was able to find a new way to be seen in the world. Up to that point, being a little girl in a wheelchair, people stare… and that used to bother me,” she says. “But on that stage, I felt like I’d gotten my power back. And then I started to sing, and singing for me is like the ultimate form of expression and release because I don’t have any limitations when I sing. I’m paralyzed, so I’m very aware of my physical limitations, but my voice doesn’t have any, and that’s such a special and important feeling for me — to be able to feel free in expressing myself.”