‘Life’ Fulfills Her Dream : Television: Andrea Friedman, who has Down’s syndrome, has parents who believe in her potential. She’ll appear in ABC’s ‘Life Goes On,’ playing a character with the disorder.


Andrea Friedman has Down’s syndrome. Some might think she lives in seclusion, hidden from normal people and normal dreams.

But Friedman, 21, has never adhered to labels and limitations. She drives a car, attends college and, on Sunday night, will perform before millions. She’ll appear as a character named Amanda on ABC’s “Life Goes On,” playing opposite Chris Burke, who, like her, has Down’s syndrome and portrays a character, Corky, who also has the genetic disorder that results in different degrees of mental retardation.

Sunday, Amanda and Corky date. Next year, if the show is renewed, they may get married.


“When we tested her, we were just hoping for her to get through it,” said Michael Nankin, the show’s supervising producer. “But she just blew us all away.”

That seems to be a talent Friedman has possessed almost since birth. She was supposed to be a vegetable; one pediatrician recommended she be placed in an institution. But her parents persevered, slowly assimilating her into an environment she could control.

It wasn’t always easy, and it still isn’t. Her parents respect her as an adult, but realize that, in many ways, she is still a child and always will be. Her mother, Marjorie Friedman, upon first discovering her baby’s affliction, spent an entire weekend in the opposite wing of their Brentwood home, trying to escape her daughter--and the truth. Then, the baby’s nurse accidentally bumped into her, and Friedman no longer wanted to run.

“I saw my cute little baby,” Marjorie Friedman recalled, “and I started laughing and it broke the whole evil spell. I reached out for Andrea.”

She and her husband, Hal, have been reaching out ever since. They sent Andrea to University Elementary School in Westwood, and began plotting her future. Friedman is currently studying child psychology at Santa Monica College, and will soon take data processing classes. But the master plan, thanks to Hollywood, might have to go on hold.

It started a few months ago when the call came from the studio. Friedman had already appeared as an extra in a 1991 episode of “Life Goes On” and now producers wanted her to audition as Corky’s girlfriend. Why not, the family figured. “We thought it would be one episode and it wouldn’t be more than a week,” Hal Friedman said.

From the beginning, the producers had other thoughts. Nankin said that Friedman, who will appear in the show’s final four episodes, was always the top candidate.

Everyone had come to know her during the periodic consultations held with Down’s syndrome youngsters to collect future story ideas. She was friendly and accessible, and more highly functioning than the rest. Her acting experience was limited to children’s theater and Santa Monica College, but that didn’t matter.

“We see great potential here,” said Michael Braverman, the show’s creator and executive producer. “She’s one of the few actors who can give Chris Burke a run for his money.”

Braverman said that the casting of a Down’s girl to be Corky’s love interest wasn’t intentional.

“We saw women with all sorts of disabilities,” Braverman said. “We weren’t just looking for someone with Down’s.”

However, he said, it reflects the show’s underlying philosophy that, by having a girlfriend, Corky, like anybody else, is “entitled to everything life has to offer.”

So far, Friedman has been extremely coachable. Kaley Hummel, her acting tutor on the set, said that, unlike other actors with Down’s, Friedman isn’t easily distracted.

“I’d go through what she is supposed to do once,” Hummel said, “and she could mimic exactly what I was doing. And she stays in character.”

Added Bill Smitrovich, who plays Corky’s father and has directed one of the episodes in which Friedman appears: “She is able to give very natural and honest portrayals. She is able to make adjustments with her character.”

Plus she doesn’t hesitate to defend Amanda. In her first episode, the script called for Friedman to say the word retarded when referring to a group of Down’s syndrome singers. She declined because she considered it demeaning. The producers took it out.

“It offended me. I got teased a lot in school and people said I was retarded,” Friedman said. “I can learn, just a little slower.”

Still, Friedman must constantly contend with others’ lowered expectations.

“I love it when people talk real slow to her,” Hummel said, “and I like to watch them as they realize they don’t have to.”

Even her mother confesses to the same offense.

“I was limiting her in the first three years,” Marjorie Friedman said. “I wasn’t expecting the same behavior I would from other 3-year-olds. But then I realized the only limitations on a child like Andrea are the limitations that we put on them.”

Her parents introduced her to culture--symphonies, opera, ballet. They put her into acting classes. They taught her how to drive.

“When I thought she could learn how to drive, people thought I was out of my mind,” Hal Friedman said.

Two years later, Friedman got her license. She only drives routes that are carefully charted and repeatedly taught to her by her parents.

The frustrations for her parents have been many, but so have the rewards. The latest came when Marjorie Friedman watched her daughter film a scene in which the Down’s syndrome group chanted “The Impossible Dream.” They shot the scene three times, and Marjorie Friedman cried during each take. The song told the story of her daughter’s life.

“I thought of all the hard work we had done,” she said, “and all the struggles. I realized that when we started out, this is never where we expected to be.”