Northvale, NJ – Just 20 minutes north of New York City, the town of Northvale, NJ, with its tree lined streets and well preserved Colonial homes, looks like something out of a Thomas Kincaid painting.
Nothing seems out of place. Not even the trailers and production trucks that crowd the parking lot at the bowling alley, which has been converted into the fictional town of Stuckeyville, Ohio, home of the NBC series Ed.
It is fitting then when nobody on set notices anything unusual about actor Daryl "Chill" Mitchell as he arrives to shoot a scene.
"We've got a busy day today," says director Timothy Busfield, the former star of Thirtysomething. "We've got two crews going, Daryl Mitchell and all the stars of Ed on the set, lots of stuff."
Mitchell is about to film a scene where his character Eli, struggles to get out of bed and dress himself. You see the character, like the actor who plays him, is confined to a wheelchair.
In November 2001, Mitchell became paralyzed from the chest down after a horrific motorcycle accident in South Carolina.
"It was dark and I didn't know the roads really well," said Mitchell, who goes by "Chill." "I went around a bend and on the other side there was gravel and loose pavement and bam, the bike shot right underneath me. I woke up five days later in the hospital."
Mitchell, who made his name as a rapper and by playing wise cracking characters on TV's Veronica's Closet, The John Laroquette Show and in movies like Black Knight, was not about to give up his thriving career just because of his accident.
Shortly after the accident, he auditioned for Ed.
"We weren't looking to hire someone else on our show," said Ed star Tom Cavanagh, recalling that the show already had a full cast of characters. "But then we met this guy and we thought we'd be crazy not to have him on, with his ability and the outlook he has on life."
Mitchell got full support from his family and friends, including Denzel Washington and Chris Tucker, to continue his career. He and his wife have three children, ages 8, 5 and 3, and he says they get a kick out of playing with his wheelchair.
"I'm Dad, so that's the way we play," he said.
Cavanagh, who has also directed on the show, says Daryl's an inspiration to be around, both on and off the set.
"Chill has a way of disarming you with his approach," he said. "He puts you at ease with his situation by explaining that there are people out there with worse disabilities than he has. It's one of the most incredible things I've ever seen," he said.
Mitchell says the toughest days occur when he's not on the same page as everybody else, and vice versa. "I can do this [acting]," he said. "It's just all the other things that I can't do and that's what's frustrating."
Daryl advises others confined to wheelchairs to hold on to something they believe in. "You cannot do this by yourself. You need your family, your friends, faith, and love," he said.
So what's next for Mitchell? He says he'd like to direct an episode of Ed, and he'd also like to do action movies.
As far as the wheelchair goes? "One way or another, I'm going to get out of this chair. I'm going to defy science."