|04-17-2008, 03:54 AM||#1 (permalink)|
Join Date: Apr 2004
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Marlee Matlin stars in Hallmark drama focusing on the deaf community
Ellen Gray: Marlee Matlin stars in Hallmark drama focusing on the deaf community | Philadelphia Daily News | 04/15/2008
OSCAR-WINNING actress Marlee Matlin steps away from the sequins this weekend for something a little more serious than ABC's "Dancing With the Stars": CBS' Hallmark Hall of Fame presentation, "Sweet Nothing in My Ear."
Based on Stephen Sachs' play of the same name, "Sweet Nothing" stars Matlin and Jeff Daniels as Dan and Laura, the parents of an 8-year-old named Adam (Noah Valencia) who's been deaf since the age of 4.
Their marriage is tested when a doctor suggests to Dan, who's hearing, that a cochlear implant might allow Adam both to hear and to speak again, something Laura, who's deaf herself, considers unnecessary.
Matlin, 42, who lost all but 20 percent of the hearing in one ear at 18 months, recently took time to respond to questions by e-mail.
Q: There's probably nothing you've done in your career, from "Children of a Lesser God" to "The L Word," that hasn't educated someone, somewhere, about deafness, but "Sweet Nothing in My Ear" seems like a bit of a departure for you in that this character's not a political consultant (or a ballroom dancer) who happens to be deaf: She's a deaf mother of a deaf son, the daughter of deaf parents, a teacher of the deaf. Is that something you've avoided in recent years, or is it just that there aren't many projects that look at the deaf community this closely?
A: It's true in that I've not had the opportunity to be in a story that looked at the Deaf community so closely as "Sweet Nothing in My Ear." These kind of scripts don't come along very often, probably because Hollywood doesn't quite know how to handle a script with that many Deaf characters in it. I thought it was time to jump back back into a story that looks at aspects of the Deaf community within the context of a drama, particularly because the producers got this one RIGHT.
So many other storylines about Deaf people lately have gotten it wrong. I was glad that Hallmark and the producers of "Sweet Nothing in My Ear" did their homework. In the end, it's perfectly plausible to create scripts and stories featuring Deaf characters that celebrates who they are as opposed to dwelling on the pathology of Deafness and make it entertaining for ALL audiences, hearing and Deaf.
Q: Often, when deaf actors are signing, those of us who don't understand American Sign Language are clued in by interpreters (or by hearing characters who conveniently repeat all the important things the deaf person has said before replying). This film, though, often dubs the voices of the signing characters. Is this preferable, in your mind, to subtitles?
A: I pushed for subtitles, but I also understood the desire of the producers to create a viewing experience that would be accessible to all. From what I discovered while advocating for subtitles was that an entire movie of subtitles on Sunday night network television is not something America is ready for. It works in small pieces on network TV shows like "Lost" and "Heroes," but the only place where you'll probably see that much subtitling would be in a premium pay cable network movie on something like Showtime . . .
I do hope that someday, in the near future, that a Deaf character or characters could be featured, much as foreign language speakers are featured on other TV shows and audiences would be comfortable watching subtitles rather than hearing voiceovers. Imagine a Deaf character on "Lost." (Are you hearing this, J.J. Abrams? I'm a fan!) For now, the voiceovers work and I think CBS and Hallmark did a great job with the challenge they were given.
Q: You learned to speak before you learned to sign and you use hearing aids. But you've chosen not to get a cochlear implant yourself. Do you feel as strongly about the issue as Laura does in "Sweet Nothing," or is it just something you don't feel the need for?
A: I'm the product of a hearing family and mainstreamed schools and have hearing children and a hearing husband. Though I speak AND sign, I am unlike Laura who has a stronger political agenda when it comes to cochlear implants. For Laura, it's about her cultural identity, how she is viewed as a Deaf person. Though I share that feeling as well, for me it's more about the fact that I am not an appropriate candidate. I lost my hearing before I acquired speech, I have a successful career, family and friends and I function quite well with signing, speaking and hearing aids.
A cochlear implant for me would mean having to remove the little residual hearing that I've come to depend [on] when using hearing aids (I am profoundly deaf without hearing aids). I'm not prepared nor do I want to learn to "hear" all over again at this stage of my life. That's not to say I condemn cochlear implants. They're just not for me.
Q: I loved the April Fool's reel about the contestants' hobbies on "Dancing with the Stars," particularly yours about being a volunteer police officer working narcotics. Looked pretty real. Did your husband help you arrange that? Whose idea was it?
A: It was the producer's idea, but it was my idea to film it at the police station where my husband [Kevin Grandalski] works. And we did it without him knowing! I had a blast dressing up in a police uniform (it was a costume rental, not a real uniform) because at one time in my life I had studied criminal justice administration and wanted to be a cop, police car and all. But when I realized it would be impractical, I switched my studies and thought about becoming a probation officer for Deaf criminals - that is until I realized there weren't enough Deaf criminals out there to keep me fully employed. Which was good for me because that's when I auditioned for and got the lead in "Children Of A Lesser God." Perfect timing!
I had so much fun watching my husband with the surprised look on his face in the audience when he found out what we had done. And I must say I got the biggest kick out of the fact that some people on message boards thought that the bit was real! A Deaf cop who reads lips in the dark? Come on, people! April Fool's! Ha!
Q: Now that you've clearly proven you can compete on "Dancing with the Stars," were you happy that Carrie Ann Inaba, at least, no longer seems to feel the need to preface her remarks with one of those "it's just amazing what you're doing" speeches? And did you ever figure out what she meant about your hands and pancakes a few weeks ago?
A: I think I know what she meant by pancake hands, but I was surprised to find out something new about my hands, since I use them every day to communicate. I appreciate that they are moving away from the "isn't it amazing that she's Deaf and can dance" comments. Deaf people have been dancing forever and I am particularly proud of my innate sense of rhythm. But there are things which are tough, like the jive, which is fast and furious. And I must say it was hard for me to move in perfect time with Fabian without the benefit of hearing the music. But that meant I had to work harder to do it right, as I always have with everything else, and I think I pulled it off.
I'm not going to feel sorry about myself or ask to be given special consideration just because my underarm passes weren't sharp or that my timing was a little off. I'm going to rehearse harder and longer to do it and I want "10s" next time. I'm just going to have to kick butt to get them! *
"Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light."
- Helen Keller