CODA star Troy Kotsur this morning became the first deaf male actor ever to earn an Oscar nomination, and spoke with Deadline about what the watershed moment means for the deaf community, as well as his upcoming film Flash Before the Bang and more.
Kotsur said that he was “extremely thrilled” by his nomination, along with the Apple film‘s noms for Best Picture and Adapted Screenplay, given the role the Oscars play in bringing recognition to deserving work and the artists behind it. “I feel like it’s wonderful to be able to share this experience with the deaf community and with the hearing community,” the actor said via an ASL interpreter. “It’s so exciting and such a blessing.”
CODA is a comedic drama based on the French film La Famille Bélier, which tells the story of Ruby (Emilia Jones), a CODA (or “child of deaf adult”) who serves as an interpreter for the members of her Boston family, including her mother Jackie (Marlee Matlin), her father Frank (Kotsur) and her brother Leo (Daniel Durant). At a pivotal moment in her life, the character finds herself torn between the role she plays, in connecting her loved ones to the outside world—above all, with regard to their fishing business—and her pursuit of an education in music.
From the perspective of Kotsur, the importance of CODA’s recognition by the Film Academy and other awards bodies can’t be overestimated. “I just felt so touched that so many deaf people all over the community are so excited and they’re all celebrating. It’s so important for the group of people in our ensemble who just happen to also be deaf,” he said. “It tends to just be one deaf role in a film, like many of Marlee’s roles in the past, and so I hope that Hollywood is beginning to be more open-minded and gives more diverse artists an opportunity to tell their stories. The awareness of ASL and deaf culture is such a positive.”
Kotsur says that he can “feel the positivity out there” right now, with regard to the effort to increase onscreen representation of all underrepresented groups, and has also seen significant progress of late, as far as opportunities for deaf actors, citing the A Quiet Place films and Marvel’s Eternals as examples. “It’s exciting to see because everyone has their stories to tell. We have such a rich storytelling tradition in the deaf community, and I hope that folks are motivated to be creative together,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we’re deaf or hearing; we’re just people.”
Up next for the actor is Flash Before the Bang, a film telling the underdog story of the all-deaf track team at the Oregon School for the Deaf, which won the state championship in 1986 while competing with an assortment of hearing schools . In the drama from director Jevon Whetter, Kotsur will play the team’s leader, Coach Farrior. “I’m thrilled that both the producer and the director are deaf, and we’re working with a deaf and hearing cast and crew,” Kotsur said of the project. “It’s a new challenge and I’m really looking forward to it.”
Looking ahead, Kotsur also hopes to pursue directing, after attempting it in the past and realizing “Hollywood wasn’t quite ready.
“As an actor…I don’t want to feel that I’m limiting myself. I want to be able to wear different hats and have different responsibilities,” he said. “I would love to be a director, a teacher, an actor, and it’s really important to do what I can and have options, depending on what’s available out there, rather than limiting myself.”
Kotsur’s Oscar nom follows that of his CODA co-star Matlin back in 1986 for Children of a Lesser God, which saw her become the first deaf actor to both secure a nomination (in the category of Best Actress) and take home a statuette. He also recently became the first deaf actor to garner an individual SAG nomination for his performance, sharing a nom for Outstanding Performance by a Cast in a Motion Picture with Matlin and the rest of the film’s ensemble.
“I think to see someone like Troy, who has worked in the theater for 30 years and struggled and persevered and been so committed to his craft, even though the odds are so stacked against him…to see him have this moment is just so joyful,” the film’s writer and director Sian Heder told Deadline.
CODA is the first Best Picture contender from Apple, and the first film featuring a predominantly deaf cast to secure that nomination. It garnered critical acclaim upon its premiere at the 2021 Sundance Film Festival, winning its Grand Jury Prize, as well as its Audience Award, Directing Award and U.S. Dramatic Special Jury Award for Best Ensemble. Apple acquired the film out of the festival for a record-setting $25 million, releasing it in theaters and on Apple TV+ on August 13. Over the course of the 2021-2022 awards season, the film has also been recognized with noms at the BAFTA Awards, the Critics Choice Awards, the Artios Awards, the Independent Spirit Awards, the PGA Awards and the WGA Awards. Kotsur was awarded the prize for Outstanding Supporting Performance at the 2021 Gotham Awards, with Jones claiming Breakthrough Performance, and Matlin scoring an additional nom for Supporting Performance.
Kotsur’s Oscar nom came in the category of Best Supporting Actor. His competition includes Ciarán Hinds (Belfast), J.K. Simmons (Being the Ricardos) and the Power of the Dog duo of Jesse Plemons and Kodi Smit-McPhee. The ceremony is set to take place on March 27.
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