Marlee Matlin recalls being reticent about her role model status

Marlee Matlin says she's spoken openly about past abuse because

Marlee Matlin says she’s spoken openly about past abuse because “I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. It’s that simple.” (Photo: Getty Images)

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Marlee Matlin has solid skills in front of the camera. But she’s also a pro at using her voice behind the scenes, where she has long campaigned for a more authentic portrayal of the deaf in Hollywood Subtitle Requirements by people watching on streaming platforms at home, and for women and girls who, like her, have suffered abuse.

“I’m the kind of person who doesn’t hold back when I know it’s important to talk about it [just] because it might be taboo,” Matlin, 57, tells Yahoo Life through her longtime interpreter, referencing incidents she has gone public with, including inside her Memories 2010over the years – from child sexual abuse at the hands of a babysitter to partner abuse at the hands of William Hurt, as she dated the late actor and starred with him for her Oscar-winning performance in 1986 children of a lesser god.

“I knew if I spoke about her, about my time with William Hurt, I would inspire women… to have the courage to go out and ask for help,” she says. “And that was my intention to tell the story. I wish I had had that back then. I didn’t have it.” She recalls finding out about Hurt’s death on Twitter when she arrived at the Critics Choice Awards in March 2022 that it was surreal.

“I was shocked. And two minutes later I got out of the car and everyone looked at me differently. And the first question I got was, ‘What do you think of William Hurt’s death?'” Inside, she says, “People looked at me with hugs and sympathy and I wasn’t sure what they were thinking. I wasn’t sure if they were expressing sympathy for the fact that “You’re free, Marlee, from that memory!”. It was so strange, so strange. I’m still digesting it.

Marlee Matlin is directing behind the scenes in an upcoming episode of Accused. (Photo: Fox Media LLC. CR: /FOX)

Marlee Matlin is directing behind the scenes in an upcoming episode of accused. (Photo: Fox Media LLC. CR: /FOX)

But she adds: “Yeah, I’m talking about it. I don’t want anyone to go through what I went through. As simple as that.”

Now Matlin, a mother of four, is helping to shed light on more of the subjects she’s passionate about by trying her hand at directing – for an episode of the Fox series accused Airing January 24, the film tells its story from the perspective of a young deaf woman named Ava (played by Stephanie Nogueras, who is deaf) who serves as a birth substitute for a couple after their childhood in a hearing family was cut off from communication who didn’t teach her to sign. Although the character’s experience was very different from Matlin’s, Matlin admits she can relate to it.

“Communication was always a barrier,” she recalls growing up with parents and siblings who could hear after losing her own hearing at 18 months. “They had no intention of excluding me. This was before they were really attuned to the importance of accessibility and involving me in everything that was going on and representation… We didn’t even have those words available. If I asked [what I missed]they said, ‘Oh, it doesn’t matter’… and there was no ill intent.”

Her world changed completely, she recalls when she was first introduced to American Sign Language at the age of 5. “It meant I could understand who I am,” she says. “When I was exposed to sign language, my world opened up and that was my true, authentic self … and then as I became an actor in the industry, I really used the media to speak about my authenticity, which I had to see.” be done and how things could be improved.”

KODA, Best Picture of 2022 at the Academy Awards — which starred Matlin as a deaf mother of two alongside Troy Kotsur, who was deaf in real life and won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor for his role as her husband — was, in a way, a culmination of it all , for which she has worked as an industry role model. That was initially forced on her, she says, and it put enormous pressure on her.

Marlee Matlin signs,

Marlee Matlin signs “I love you” backstage after her historic 1987 Academy Awards win. (Photo: Bob Riha, Jr./Getty Images)

“I remember when I got the Oscar and all the attention I got was a bit overwhelming,” she recalls, recalling that she was the first deaf actress to win an Oscar (and was the only one, until Kotsur won) and the most recent – ​​Best Actress of All Time award in 1987. “A lot of people in the deaf community said, ‘Okay, now you represent us.’ And I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m 21 years old. This is my first film. This is a whole new world. I can’t do this all by myself. I have a lot to learn on my side…’ And they said : ‘You could do it. You shall represent us.’ And I said, ‘Good.’

“So I did my best, I maneuvered my way through the business. And the older I got, the more I realized that it really isn’t just about me. It really takes a lot of us… And now I’m lucky that there are so many voices out there.”

Having to learn so much along the way, she says, gave her the foundation to build a really solid career, “not to sit back and say, ‘Well, that’s the way it is.’ … So when I came to this KODA…It was great for me to be able to watch [other deaf actors] bloom to see them thrive.” But it’s also important to remember that, like her, they’ve struggled to find job opportunities.

Marlee Matlin with CODA co-star Troy Kotsur after her film won Best Picture at the 2022 Oscars. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

Marlee Matlin with KODA co-star Troy Kotsur after her film won Best Picture at the Oscars in 2022. (Photo: FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP via Getty Images)

“I think that’s something we still need to focus on that it’s just not available right now,” she points out. “People still come up to me and say how much they love KODA, and it reminds me how much they really loved children of a lesser god. But we’re talking about two films that were separated by 35 years. So what took so long to get to this point? I mean listen, I won’t look back. I won’t go into that. But I think we have to keep the momentum going.”

This is the approach she personally takes to her decades-long career in which she has served as a television and film producer and has starred in an exhaustive array of on-screen roles, including films In her defence (1999), Kind of nice (2014) and multiverse (2019) and in television series such as The West Wing, Nip/Tuck and the l word, in which she broke new ground as Jodi Lerner, the artist friend of cult favorite Bette Porter (Jennifer Beals).

Marlee Matlin with L Word co-star and longtime friend Jennifer Beals in 2008. (Picture: Lester Cohen/WireImage)

Marlee Matlin with L word Costar and longtime friend Jennifer Beals in 2008. (Picture: Lester Cohen/WireImage)

“The character was so intriguing to me. For one thing, we’d never seen a deaf lesbian on TV before, that’s for sure… It was fun playing gay. And who wouldn’t want to play with Jennifer Beales?” She says, noting that they’ve been good friends off-screen for 35 years. “I loved every moment on this set,” including the deep immersion into LGBTQ culture, which she was already familiar with because she had a gay brother.

“And my son just came out last year,” she adds, “and it’s just beautiful. It’s a beautiful relationship with your partner.”

While diversifying her roles and skill sets has been a way of staying relevant as an aging woman in Hollywood, she says, “I’d be lying if I said I had no insecurities, that’s for sure. I have insecurities in every aspect of life.”

Being a mom of four — Sarah, 27, Brandon, 22, Tyler, 20, and Isabelle, 19, with husband Kevin Grandalski — has mostly kept her out of her own head. “My focus was on my children and their education,” she says. “They’ve gotten to the point where they’re adults and I look at the life choices they’re making. So it’s a bit of a reawakening…I have moments where I look at myself and go, huh, I wish I’d started running a long time ago, I should’ve put more emphasis on sunscreen [but] There are so, so many things going on in my life where I can’t focus too much on my looks.

“What’s important today, I think, is more the things that are outside of me — my kids, my husband, my mental health issues, which I think might be related to my kids. That’s more important to me than obsessing about my looks.”

For anyone affected by abuse who needs assistance, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, or if you cannot speak confidently, you can sign up or text LOVEIS to 22522.

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