Nik Sanchez has had a busy few years. The actor, who refers to himself as “awesomely autistic,” starred in a movie for Lifetime and an episode of the ABC series The Rookie. He also graduated high school with honors and started a bachelor’s degree.
Recently Sanchez starred in a movie that will be featured in the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge. The competition, which is in its 10th year, showcases work by writers, actors, and crew members with disabilities.
In “Safe Place,” Sanchez stars opposite Amber Patiño, who plays a young woman suffering from depression. Sanchez, whose character in the movie also has autism, is the one person she can rely on when her parents fighting and her urge to self-harm become too much to bear.
Sanchez was diagnosed at a young age with autism and ADHD. His mother enrolled him in acting classes at the age of five because he enjoyed role-playing.
“The instructor told me I wouldn’t do well because I had the attention span of a gnat,” Sanchez said.
While accompanying his younger sister on a casting call, Nik was discovered by an agent. Soon after, he booked his first role as a recurring character on the ABC series The Rookie.
The experience taught him a lot.
“..I didn’t realize we’d have to do the scenes over and over and over again, because of the angles and the camera changes,” he said. “I gained a much higher respect for the actors.”
In 2021, Sanchez starred opposite Holly Robinson Peete and Lyriq Bent in the Hallmark movie Our Christmas Journey. He played the first character in a Hallmark movie to have autism.
In an interview before the film premiered, he said he liked the script for Our Christmas Journey because it was an accurate portrayal of life with autism.
“In real autistic families, everybody is affected,” he said. “Everybody plays a role and this movie really portrays that.”
Easterseals Disability Film Challenge
The Easterseals Disability Film Challenge was founded in 2013 by actor, comedian, producer, and disability advocate Nic Novicki in response to the under-representation of talent with disabilities both in front of and behind the camera.
“I created the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge to help accelerate change within Hollywood and to provide filmmakers and actors with tangible work experience and with an opportunity to tell authentic stories. We are proud of the amazing films produced over the past 10 years—viewed around the world—and the successes our participants have gone on to achieve.”
Since the Film Challenge was launched in 2013, aspiring filmmakers have created and submitted more than 500 short films (a record 95 last year) from nearly every state and from around the globe, including submissions from Austria, Canada, England, Egypt, Finland, France, Germany, India, Ireland, Timor Leste, and The Netherlands.
During the Film Challenge, registered filmmakers are given five days to write and produce short films (three-to-five minutes), based on the year’s announced genre. Submitted films are judged in six award categories: Best Film, Best Director, Best Actor, Best Writer, Best Editor, and Best Awareness Campaign.
Sanchez was handpicked to star in Safe Place by the film’s writer, Jennifer Msumba. In an exclusive interview with TV Cheddar, Sanchez said he was impressed with not only her vision but also by the fact that she and the film’s director, Scott Klumb, were also on the autism spectrum.
“It was really amazing for me to see other autistic adults living their lives and doing so well,” he said.
Sanchez met his co-star, Amber Patiño, over a Zoom call. They hit it off immediately, he said.
“She is a really good actress and an even better person,” he said.
Taking part in the Film Challenge was an amazing experience, Sanchez said.
“Especially after working on this project I would want people to know how capable we are of anything,” he said. “I also want to thank all the cast and crew for being so kind. It’s nice to not have to constantly think about my autism because I’m around people who don’t think my autism is a bad thing.
I was just Nik, not the guy with autism.”
Safe Place will premiere on Saturday, April 8 on the Easterseals Disability Film Challenge’s YouTube channel, which can be accessed here.