Imagine the impossible! For Sam Humphrey it was starring on the big screen alongside his personal hero, Hugh Jackman. Because Sam has an unusual disability.
In the musical blockbuster The Greatest Showman, Jackman plays P. T. Barnum, an entrepreneur who made his name with a circus featuring a number of unusual people. It’s a story about embracing our differences and accepting who we are. This message is neatly summed up in one of the film’s biggest songs: ‘I’m not scared to be seen. I make no apologies. This is me.’
Sam Humphrey plays Charles Stratton, one of Barnum’s first employees, who transforms with Barnum’s help into General Tom Thumb. It’s a big break for the Auckland-born actor, who came directly from a small part in Neighbours to debut in one of this year’s summer hits.
Talking to Vision’s Matt and Alex, Sam admitted that, as a teenager, he was scared to be seen. He struggled with his self-image and his on-going health issues. But he went through his own transformation which changed everything.
Sam is 127 centimetres tall, the height of an average eight-year-old. He suffers from a rare genetic condition called acrodysplasia. ‘In simple terms,’ he said, ‘it means that my bones don’t grow to the rate of a normal person, if you want to call it normal.’
On screen as General Tom Thumb, Sam may appear even shorter than he is. ‘They did CGI my legs in the film,’ he explained. ‘I was actually on my knees for the entire shoot.’
The 23-year-old actor is the only cast member who shares his character’s disability. ‘I think everyone has something different and unique about them. But that was all make-up, and prosthetics, and things like that. I was the only one who had some sort of disability, that I know of, in the film.’
Sam said it was amazing to work alongside superstars like Zac Efron and Zendaya. ‘I had a personal connection with Hugh, because Hugh has been my personal inspiration and hero since I was eight years old. And he’s the one who actually started my acting, and inspired me to pursue acting, as a hobby and a career.’
Jackman has often spoken publicly about his faith. Though they didn’t have too many chances to talk about it, Sam is aware of the huge impact it has on his life and work. ‘In one article, he mentioned that he gives thanks to God, every take or every shoot, before he goes on set.’
Sam says this role has given him a lot more opportunities to talk about his own faith. Many people felt a connection to his character’s journey, because as he points out, everyone is suffering their own personal struggle. I think this film tends to bring a lot of acceptance to people and helps them to accept who they are.’
I didn’t care who saw me. The only thing that mattered to me was God.
Interestingly, when he was auditioning for the role, Sam didn’t see a connection between himself and the character he was playing. It was only while performing that striking transition, between the uncomfortable Charles Stratton and the confident General Tom Thumb, that he saw a reflection of his own experience.
‘Growing up, as myself, I’ve been very shy, and I’ve had self-confidence issues, and I’ve had self-esteem issues, and I really didn’t like who I was, mainly because of my height, and a lot of the health issues and things I grew up with.’
Sam had been raised in the church, but it wasn’t until his teenage years that he made his own decision to reach out to God. ‘I was a Christian, but I didn’t feel like I was really living that. I was kind of scared about being open about my faith, and I was kind of scared about what people would think of me.’
But when Sam asked for help, God answered with the miraculous. He said it was like a lightbulb snapping on in his head. To him, it felt as instant and life-changing as the moment in The Greatest Showman when P. T. Barnum remakes Charles Stratton, by teaching him to accept himself.
‘It was such a transformation moment for me. I didn’t care what anyone felt about me. I didn’t care who saw me. The only thing that mattered to me was God. It was what He thought about me. It was how He saw me. It was from that point then that I gained my confidence, and a lot of my self-esteem issues went away.’
When Matt asked Sam what the Gospel was to him, he described it as a personal relationship with God. His troubles and fears didn’t disappear, but his perspective changed.
‘I still worry about a lot of the things I used to worry about, but I can go through it knowing that God’s with me, and that I will make it through it, no matter what. None of that stuff really matters, when you have God with you.’