The Story of Cape Coral's Tal Anderson
In a way, Tal Anderson feels like she’s been acting her entire life. Growing up with a high-functioning form of autism called Asperger syndrome, she often used that kind of role-playing technique to navigate social situations. “There was constantly a need for me to ‘try to act like everyone else’ to fit in,” she recalls.
Anderson, 22, has always been something of a storyteller, writing scripts for her favorite characters and filming videos while growing up in Cape Coral. She didn’t speak until age 3 and later struggled with a reading and math disability; recording the world around her helped her express herself when other methods were challenging.
She began acting formally when she was 15, taking classes and working with an acting coach. “I started acting as a tool to help me learn to be more social, but while doing this, I fell in love with it,” Anderson says. She spent some summers in Los Angeles further developing her skills and learning about the business of being an actor.
She’s now turned her passion into her profession, most recently appearing in a recurring role on the third season of the Netflix coming-of-age dramedy Atypical. The series follows the life of 18-year-old Sam Gardner, who is on the autism spectrum. Anderson played Sid, a quirky college student who befriends Sam.
“It is always very important for me to have a personal connection to a show, because I want to be proud of the work I do,” she says. “I am an actor, so I don’t have to be like my character. But if we have things in common, it is always a good thing, because it helps to make the story more natural and believable.
“Atypical tells a lot of different stories and viewpoints and promotes acceptance, friendship and love. … Sam is a son, brother, student and friend. He just happens to also have a disability. I appreciate that the show tells his story so we can see Sam’s awesomeness. I think this is what everyone wants, including me: for people to accept me for who I am and recognize my awesomeness.”
Creating a Career
Anderson attended high school at The Cape Academy, where she benefited from the individualized instruction offered by the Cape Coral private school. It was during her time there that she began pursuing acting.
“She was struggling with being social, so she asked for books to help her,” says her mom, Vickie Anderson. “After reading them, she told me they didn’t help her understand what to do. We found an acting coach to come work with her one-on-one, who used improv techniques to act out typical teen situations. It helped her understand, and we found that she was really good at it.”
Anderson had been bitten by the acting bug, and her parents supported her as she sought out opportunities at places like Florida Rep in Fort Myers. She also began working regularly with a private coach and traveling to Los Angeles for more intense instruction. After high school, she earned a bachelor’s degree from Full Sail University in Winter Park, Florida. “I wanted to go straight to Los Angeles, but my parents wanted me to try college first,” she says.
Her program was designed to prepare students to work in the industry, giving them experience with things like long hours on set and ever-changing schedules. She explains, “It was hard at first, but it has prepared me to expect the unexpected. … [It] was not a typical college experience. The entire campus was filled with creative minds and students who, on the day they walked onto campus, 100% knew what they wanted to do for the rest of their lives.”
Anderson was definitely one of those students. After graduating (as valedictorian of her class) in June 2018, she moved to LA to dive into her career: “I had wanted to live there since my first visit to Los Angeles in the ninth grade.”
While doing a video editing internship, she also auditioned, wrote and filmed her own web series and made short films that were screened at several festivals. Her first film, Joy, was nominated for several awards and won her a best director of an experimental short award. She then signed with talent agency Kazarian/Measures/Ruskin & Associates in North Hollywood and began landing roles in independent films, TV shows, commercials and web series.
Anderson first auditioned for a small role in Atypical but didn’t get a callback. “I assumed I didn’t get the role. But when the producers and writers saw my screen test, they loved it so much that they created a new character for me.”
Atypical was created and is written by Robia Rashid, who’d worked as a writer and supervising producer for How I Met Your Mother and as co-executive producer for The Goldbergs. The show was nominated for a Peabody Award in 2019 and has added more actors with autism to its cast over its three seasons. Anderson says, “Working on this show was an amazing experience. Robia Rashid is like a brilliant superwoman, and all of the writers are so creative and supportive.”
Anderson especially enjoyed talking with Keir Gilchrist, who plays Sam. “I don’t do well with small talk … Keir is serious and focused and not super-talkative either, but he went out of his way to find things that we had in common and talked to me about them. Not everyone can do that, and not everyone is interested in working that hard to connect with people, so I really appreciated talking to him. After season three wrapped, I felt like family—and I still do.”
That Atypical family is now waiting to hear if Netflix will be filming a fourth season. Anderson says, “Like all the other Atypical fans out there, I have my fingers crossed for seasons four, five, and six!” In the meantime, she’s navigating pilot season in LA, has a few projects in the works and is setting up a freelance video editing business. “So stay tuned!” she says.
Anderson first started acting to help manage her autism. But she’s found over the years that her neurodiversity can also be a benefit when it comes to her passion and profession: “My autism makes it challenging sometimes, but it also sometimes helps me with my work. I’m good at memorizing lines. … I have been told by directors and producers that my attention to detail makes their jobs easier, because I am able to consistently deliver verbal and physical continuity in multiple takes of a shot.”
Her mom notes, “Acting started out as a way to help Tal express herself in ways she did not naturally understand how to do. But over time, her acting has molded her into who she is. … She is now, after a short seven years, a very confident, happy, funny and expressive young woman … She does not see limits. Every challenge and opportunity she has set her sights on, so far, she has achieved, and she just keeps pushing forward.”
Anderson’s role on Atypical has been especially meaningful because it connected two major facets of her life. “I believe that for people with disabilities, it is really critical to have representation in the media, because I think it can lead to more inclusion in real life,” she says.
To further that mission, Anderson also was recently a part of advertising and PSA materials for Delivering Jobs. It’s an inclusion campaign aimed at increasing employment and leadership opportunities for people with autism, intellectual and/or developmental differences. “The message of the PSA was important and very close to me. I’m really proud to be part of delivering such a positive message. I hope it will be successful in spreading awareness of the benefits of including neurodivergent employees in the workforce. We can be great employees.”
Anderson gives her parents lots of credit for helping her achieve her dreams. Her family still lives in Cape Coral, but her mom spends a lot of time in LA with her and serves as her manager. That arrangement can be hard on the rest of the family but they all enjoy visiting California whenever they can.
As Anderson takes each step in her career, she’s learned to deal with the rejection that comes with the acting profession. “People always ask me how I handle the rejection, but it took me awhile to understand this question, because I have never felt rejected just because I didn’t get a role,” she says.
“I sometimes have felt bummed because the role was really awesome. But as long as I am taking classes and auditioning and going to callbacks, I am still acting, and I am happy. It helps that I have the best parents in the world, and they are helping me while I figure all of this out. I might be more stressed if they weren’t so supportive.”
“Tal tends to take life one step, one day, at a time,” says her mom. “She loves being an actor, and she loves the journey she’s on. When she doesn’t get a role, she simply moves on. I wish I could take credit for that, but this attitude is all her.”
Anderson has come a long way from the social struggles of her teen days: “As an adult I realize that fitting in is less important than being yourself. Acting helps me with my confidence and has taught me to be and stay present in the moment. In different situations in my life that I am uncomfortable with, I treat it like a role, and this helps me manage it and be more sociable.”
She knows that she is doing exactly what she’s meant to be doing. “I love everything about what I do, and mostly I love how much I learn every day,” Anderson says. “You really have to love doing this, because if you do, you are never discouraged.”
Beth Luberecki is a Nokomis, Florida–based freelance writer and a frequent contributor to TOTI Media. Learn more about her work at bethluberecki.com.