Able-bodied actor Brian Tyree Henry is up for an Academy Award this weekend for playing an amputee in Causeway. If he should win (and the odds are against him), it would be a significant landmark for onscreen representation of limb difference. But it still wouldn’t end the long interval since Harold Russell became the only actual amputee to receive an acting Oscar. That happened 76 years ago, in 1947, when Russell won Best Supporting Actor for his role in the postwar classic The Best Years of Our Lives. We’re 99.99 pct certain that no amputee performer has earned so much as an Oscar nomination since then, much less an actual statuette.
The drought isn’t likely to end any time soon, even though amputee actors are getting better roles these days. But if we were going to take a shot at predicting the next limb-different performer to contend for an Oscar, we might settle on Australian up-and-comer Knox Gibson. Sure, he’s only 16 years old and almost completely unknown to US audiences. But he’s been modeling and acting since he was a kid. Americans will get introduced to Gibson in a big way when the next Hunger Games film hits cineplexes this fall. Appearing in his first feature film, he’ll play Bobbin, the tribute from District 8.
A below-elbow amputee since the age of three, Gibson got the Hunger Games gig largely on the strength of his head-turning performance in a Netflix short called Forgive Us Our Trespasses. That film debuted in January 2022; Gibson landed the Hunger Games part a few months later and was on set by last fall. With strong footage in his demo reel and representation by a big-league talent agency for performers with disabilities, he’s well-positioned to capitalize on the entertainment industry’s growing trend toward inclusion. If anything slows his rise in the movie business, it might be Gibson’s other talent: He’s an outstanding swimmer with a busy training schedule and aspirations to represent Australia in the 2028 Paralympics.
We connected with Gibson and his mom, Kate, a few weeks ago via Zoom. Our conversation is lightly edited for clarity and length. You can follow him on Instagram at @captain_knoxie.
Was it helpful to work with a limb-different director, Ashley Eakin, for your first role (in Forgive Us Our Trespasses)? What sort of coaching did she give you in terms of performing on camera?
She really helped me. I mean, it was my first role, and I had skipped nearly the whole Australian acting scene. I had taken a few acting lessons at the start, and then we flew over there (to Canada) to shoot the film, and she laid down what she wanted me to do in each scene. She was a really good teacher. Ashley was really great at communicating what she expected from each scene. And then we’d try to work it out together from there.
Were there any scenes that were harder than others to pull off?
I’d probably say the one where I was crawling under the bridge. It was hard emotionally, of course, but also physically at the same time. It was freezing cold, and we were sitting in a little river, and it had been snowing and that sort of thing. I’m not complaining about it, but it was definitely something different. I’d never been in any sort of film before, so I hadn’t really known how to show that kind of emotion.
How did you end up in consideration for the Hunger Games role? Did it just come to you, or did you have to chase after it?
It came to me. Trespass is how I got management in the US, and so the audition came through them. We didn’t know exactly what the project was, but we kind of knew it was big and we eventually did figure out that it was the new Hunger Games. But we just treated it like every other audition, went through the same process. We blocked out the scene we were given, we did a lesson with my acting coach, and then you just do your best and you wait for a while. And then we did a callback with Francis [Lawrence, the film’s director] and waited for another three weeks, and then we were told we got the role.
Are you a big fan of the Hunger Games franchise?
Yeah, huge. It was funny because our whole family, we’ve always kind of loved the movies. We had been quarantining [due to COVID], and we decided to watch the whole Hunger Games series. We had just finished watching, and then the audition came through. It was a sign, to be honest.
The character that you’re playing, Bobbin—is he an amputee in the original book that the movie is based on? Were the producers specifically looking for someone with a limb difference for that role?
No, he didn’t have a limb difference. I don’t think they were looking for anyone in particular, to be honest. They were just kind of seeing who might be able to fit into the part.
But the character is not portrayed as able-bodied, right? Like, you’re not wearing a prosthesis to mask your limb difference?
No, I don’t have a prosthetic or anything. The character is literally just an amputee. It’s not explained.
What kinds of movies do you really like? Have you always been a big fan of science fiction movies? Action movies?
I like the action ones with a bit more depth, where there’s an underlying story that’s really good. So I loved Avatar when I was a kid. I remember the first time I saw it, I watched it in the morning. And then I watched it again later that night, on the same day. I watched it twice because there was so much to it. There were really good action scenes, but then there was a moral component as well.
Are there any actors who you really admire?
Daniel Craig is one. I really like the way he showed that he can change character. He went from being Bond for so many years—this stone-faced Brit who does all this action stuff—and he switched to this guy in Knives Out who’s got a French name [Benoit Blanc] and a strong American accent. I was really impressed with how he showed that can do other types of roles.
I’d also say Robert Pattinson, because I thought the new Batman was so good. I just loved everything about that movie. And Joaquin Phoenix is another one, with the way he played The Joker. I’ve heard how he got into method acting and put in this crazy amount of work. That’s something I really admire, how he really immersed himself into the role.
If you could write a role for yourself, what kind of character would you love to play?
I’d like to play a villain, to be honest. I feel like when everyone hates you, that’s kind of the ideal character for me. All my friends say I’ve got the perfect look for a villain anyway—I’ve got the blonde hair and whatever. All the James Bond villains are blonde and that sort of thing.
You could pull it off for sure.
It would also be cool to play a character like Jason Bourne or even James Bond. But I don’t know, we’ll just see what happens in the future.
Between acting, modeling, and athletics, you’ve been advocating for people with limb difference and other disabilities for a pretty long time—more or less half your life. Does it feel to you as if society is moving toward more accurate perceptions and representations of amputees?
it’s definitely gotten better over the past eight or so years that I’ve been doing this. And there’s definitely been more opportunities for people with a disability. More brands are trying to include models with disabilities, and they’re making products that are easier for someone with a disability to use. But to be honest, and I’m sad to say it, I feel as if Australia is lagging behind the rest of the world.
Why do you suppose that is?
I don’t really know. I just think there’s a big difference between here and overseas in representation. Australia is definitely not as far advanced as, say, the USA. I think one of the worst things is that people still tend to feel sorry for you if you have a disability. I get this all the time at swimming competitions. People will say things like, ‘Good for you! You swim so well, considering you’ve got one arm.’ They’re trying to be nice, they’re trying to be generous, but that is not a compliment. What they’re really saying is that they don’t expect you to be very good at anything.
I’m one of those people who doesn’t really care—I’m not too sensitive about those sort of things. I’m a very competitive person, so if someone tells me I can’t do something, I’m going to try my hardest to do it. But I also know there are people in the disabled community who really are hurt by those kinds of comments. There will always be people out there who don’t know anything about disability and really don’t understand certain things. We need to educate the young people, and maybe some of the older generations who were brought up in a different environment. If we can keep working at that, we’ll get there eventually.