|Marlee Matlin on Why ‘Switched at Birth’ is Breakthrough TV
From the Wall Street Journal, 1/2/12
Oscar-winning actress Marlee Matlin is back in the spotlight on ABC Family’s “Switched at Birth,” which will have its winter premiere on Tuesday.
The hour-long drama, about two teenage girls who discover they were accidentally switched at birth, finds Matlin, who is deaf, in good company with a new crop of young and talented deaf actors. Katie Leclerc plays Daphne, one of the teens, who is deaf. Leclerc, who is hard of hearing, can speak and is fluent in American Sign Language. Sean Berdy, a deaf actor, plays Emmett, Daphne’s best friend. Matlin, in a recurring role, plays Emmett’s mom. The show’s other major characters learned sign language, which figures prominently in the story lines.
The show made ABC Family’s No. 1 series debut of all time in June 2011 with over three million in total viewers, according to the network. Matlin, who at age 21 became the youngest actress to win an Oscar for Best Actress when she made her film debut “In “Children of a Lesser God,” isn’t surprised by the show’s popularity. “It adds a great deal of dimension to the public’s perception of what deaf people are like,” says the 46-year-old Matlin. “Because you really understand that there’s more than just a deaf person who happens to move their hands…. there’s a language, there’s a culture, there’s relationships between deaf people, deaf people and hearing people, there are obstacles, there is happiness and joy, and people are watching this all flow into their living rooms.”
How did you get involved in “Switched at Birth”?
My agents had told me that the producers wanted me to see the pilot. They were very thorough. They wanted to see if they got it “right” with the pilot and seeing as I was experienced in playing deaf characters and with story lines involving deaf characters, I, along with my producing partner, Jack Jason, went to see it. I was very impressed with how they wove the elements of the deaf community into the pilot so well, how they were able to subtitle scenes that had sign language. I had tried many times in the past to get deaf characters on screen without having translated/spoken dialogue with no luck, so I was very impressed they were able to do it. By the end of that first meeting, I told them “If you’ll have me, I’d love to be part of the show!”
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