The only deaf actor to win an Academy Award discusses going to rehab, speaking out about William Hurt and starring in deaf drama Coda

When early financial backers of Marlee Matlin’s new film, Coda, expressed their preference for hiring big-name actors to play the roles of two major deaf characters – her onscreen husband and son – she threatened to quit. She told them that deaf actors should play characters written as deaf. “I said: time out. This is not right. It’s not authentic and it’s not going to work. If you go down that route, I’m out, because I don’t want to be part of that effort of faking deaf. I’m glad they listened.”

I can’t imagine anyone not listening to Matlin. Speaking from her home in Los Angeles, she is funny and warm, but there is something intense about her, almost intimidating. She sits straight-backed, her focus sharp. She is not a woman to mince her words – which are translated from American Sign Language (ASL) by her longtime interpreter and producing partner, Jack Jason, who is also on the call from his front room. The pair have been working together since 1985, just before she won the best actress Oscar at 21 for her first film role, playing a young deaf woman in the 1986 drama Children of a Lesser God – beating Sigourney Weaver (who was up for Aliens), Jane Fonda, Kathleen Turner and Sissy Spacek.

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