Frank Stephens Stars on the Runway, on the Big Screen and in DC

The self-advocate has been in the spotlight at the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Global Down Syndrome Foundation DC Gala, on the big screen as an actor and a screenwriter, and in Washington, DC, where he’s met the president

Frank StephensFrank uses his gifts to be a spokesperson for himself and others similarly situated. In October of 2012, he was at the center of a very public debate over the continued power of the “r-word” to casually demean people with intellectual disabilities. Frank wrote an open letter to political commentator Ann Coulter after her use of the term to describe the president. As a result of his letter “going viral” and his appearance on “Piers Morgan Tonight,” Frank has made more than 3 million new friends via social media. He is an actor, screenwriter and model in the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Global Down Syndrome Foundation DC Gala. He recently sat down with Global to talk about what drives him to succeed.

1. You had the chance to have dinner with President and Mrs. Obama back in July – what was your favorite part of that evening?

Frank and Pres. Obama!

It was all pretty magical. The White House is a beautiful and special place. I enjoyed just talking with all the guests before dinner. The food was wonderful. I knew they must be taking us seriously; they used the Nancy Reagan china. Seriously, it was pretty cool sitting 5 feet from Katy Perry while she sang “Baby, You’re a Firework.” I enjoyed spending some time after the dinner with Hannah Teeter, the Olympic Gold Medalist. (She’s really hot!) But, the very best was hearing the President quote me as he introduced me to the other guests. I will never forget that.

2. Tell us a little about the film you wrote titled “Common Dreams.”

It’s a short film very loosely based on the first time I spoke publicly as an advocate. It is about acceptance – earning the acceptance of others, and learning to accept oneself. In the film my main character has an alter-ego who appears in what are sort of like dreams. My main character has Down syndrome but he dreams of himself doing big things without Down syndrome. In the end, he is only able to actually to do big things when he accepts himself as he really is – Down syndrome and all.

3. You have rocked the runway each year as a model in the Be Beautiful Be Yourself Global Down Syndrome Foundation DC Gala. What do you love so much about that event?

Frank at the DC Gala

There are lots things to love. I get to see my favorite TV reporter Kyra Phillips each year. Along with my peers, I get to stand out even among the Washington celebrities. I love great clothes that make me look suave and sophisticated. I especially loved being paired on the runway one summer with actress Virginia Williams. She really is as sweet as she is beautiful, and believe me, that means she is really, really sweet. Most of all, I love seeing the younger models get the audience’s love and respect. You can see them get more confident with every step down the runway. That is a miracle that they will take home with them.

4. How important do you think the work of the Global Down Syndrome Foundation is for kids and adults with Down syndrome?

Very important, because of the discoveries that will occur involving soft tissue cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. People with Down syndrome may lead the way to cures for everyone. The work on drugs that may make us smarter is very exciting as well. I speak all the time about how far we have come in just one generation. Can you imagine where we will go in the next? In one generation we have gone from being placed in an institution to being invited to the White House. Maybe, in the next generation, we will go from an invitation to the White House to an election to the White House. It never hurts to “Dream Big!”

5. You were a hit in the film called “Touched by Grace.” (Facebook) Tell us a little about your character.

Touched by Grace

“Ben” is a happy young man with Down syndrome who is a bit of a jokester, with a big heart for others. He has a great relationship with his brother who sets him up with a date to Homecoming with a cute young woman who also has Down syndrome. The role was fun and challenging because I had to play comedy and tragedy in the same film. For a first role in a feature length film, it was a great role.

6. If you could work in a film with any actor or director, who would it be and why?

I loved working with Donald Leow, the director of “Touched by Grace,” and my co-star Ben Davies. If I let myself dream about others, I would really like to be directed by Woody Allen or Martin Scorcese. Their sense of imagination in films like “Midnight in Paris” and “Hugo” really excites me. As for actors, I have said since I was 8 years old that I wanted to go to the Oscars someday with Jennifer Love Hewitt and it would be a blast to be around Virginia Williams for that long.

7. You are so close with your parents, John and Cornelia. Tell us a little about how important they are to you.

Stephens family

They have given me structure and love and support in whatever I want to try to do. They have shown me that they believe in me and what I can do. We don’t focus on what I can’t do because of Down syndrome. I should say that my brother Nick has been the same. He has protected me at times when I needed that, but he shows me all the time how proud he is of what I have done. He also won’t let me get away with acting like I can’t do something.

8. What do you want people to know about you?

I really want people to know that my life is worth living. As recently as this year, a Nobel Prize winning scientist, Richard Dawkins, expressed the opinion that it is “immoral” to have a child with Down syndrome. He said he believed that our lives bring more “suffering” into the world than “happiness.” I just don’t know what rock he has been under for the last 50 years. We no longer lead the short, unhappy lives in institutions that he seems to imagine. I really am the “Actor, Author, Advocate” that is described on my business card. I speak to over 50 audiences a year with a motivational message of hope. I just returned from a promotional tour of the United Kingdom with my co-star from “Touched by Grace,” Amber House. I have been to the White House twice (and I didn’t have jump the fence either time), I have debated Ann Coulter on national TV, and I teach people all the time not to underestimate others just because of how they look. God didn’t put me in the world to increase suffering. He put me here to increase acceptance. My life is worth living.

9. What is the best advice you were ever given that you would like to pass on?

A wise, old man … I’m going to get in trouble for that because I’m talking about my Dad … told me that “You shouldn’t expect other people to accept you, unless you can accept yourself.” It’s good advice. Everything starts with being proud of yourself.

10. Do you have a girlfriend? If so, what is she like? If not, what is your perfect woman like?

I’m currently not dating anyone special, but if I were, I would want to be with someone beautiful, intelligent, funny, and flirtatious. In the words of a very old song, “I want a girl, just like the girl, that married dear, old Dad.”