Oscar nominee Paul Raci: We need films where characters just happen to be deaf

Laura Harding, PA Deputy Entertainment Editor
·3-min read

Oscar nominee Paul Raci has said there needs to be more films where a character “just happens to be deaf”.

The actor, 72, has been working in the industry since the 1980s, but has received critical acclaim for his role in new drama Sound Of Metal, which has landed him an Academy Award nod.

Raci, who is the child of deaf parents and has worked as a sign language interpreter in addiction programmes for deaf addicts, plays Joe, the deaf mentor to a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing, played by Riz Ahmed.

He said the role felt very personal to him because of his own history with the deaf community and it was crucial the representation in the film was as accurate and truthful as possible.

He told the PA news agency: “It means everything to me. It’s my life. I’m a Coda, a child of deaf adults.

“I belong to an international organisation. There’s Codas all over the world. And American Sign Language is my native tongue. I learned to speak English second.

“And so growing up in the deaf community, I had so many deaf aunts and uncles, because it’s a community, and it is a culture.”

He added: “Darius (Marder, the director) did his homework for 15 years, trying to make this movie. He knew it needed to be authentic, so all the deaf actors in the sober house, they’re all deaf.

Paul Raci with Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal (Amazon Studios)
Paul Raci with Riz Ahmed in Sound Of Metal (Amazon Studios)

“They’re not just hearing people playing these roles. So authenticity was his main goal, and when I saw something I didn’t feel was right, he bounced it off of me.

“He had three deaf advisers on the set. But, I think, from the beginning, he knew that he wanted this to be an definite intimate look into the deaf community, and a lot of people have even said this looks almost like a documentary, in a way, the way he shot it. There’s a lot of improvisation in there that he let me do and that he let all the deaf actors do. So I just felt so at home there.”

Raci said he hopes the film opens the door for more films about people with different abilities, adding: “I think that what we’re going to see now, because of the awareness that’s been piqued by this film in particular, is we need to see more protagonists that just happen to be deaf, or blind, or a person who uses a wheelchair, from their point of view, so that you can see more of who and what we really live with, rather than just a bunch of white guys on the screen.

“The consciousness is changing.”

He continued: “Growing up in the 50s, there was no wheelchair access to sidewalks ramps, there was nothing like that. Nobody thought about that – that slowly changed.

“There was no sign language interpreting profession. So things are shifting, things are expanding. And that’s what I’m excited about.”

Sound of Metal is on Amazon Prime Video from April 12 and will be in cinemas from May 17.