Archive for April, 2008

For those interested in watching a captioned video in which Jeff Daniels talks about learning sign language for his role, check out this link: http://www.hallmark.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/article|10001|10051|/HallmarkSite/HallmarkHallOfFame/HHOF_SCENES

I was curious to learn more about what Jeff Daniels thought about his role in “Sweet Nothing In My Ear,” in which he played the part of Dan, the hearing husband of a Deaf woman and the father of a Deaf son. It must have been quite a challenge for him to take on a role of this dimension, and I wanted to find out what prompted him to take such a role, what it was like to work with Deaf actors and actresses, how he went about learning ASL for his part.

After doing a little Googling, I found the following article, which you can read by clicking on the link (there are other articles listed, but they are all basically repeats of the same thing):


It appears from this article that Jeff learned to sign his lines from watching videos of Linda Bove. While this was not a bad idea, I wonder if he made any effort to find a Deaf person locally that he could practice with in order to get feedback and help improve his signing, instead of waiting until he got out to California and met with Linda personally.

I’ve read a number of comments that his signing really sucked. Admittedly, if he was married to this woman for nine years and she was a strong ASL user from a Deaf family, I would have expected the husband’s signing skills to be better. On the other hand, we have to be realistic… can we really expect Jeff to have such expert signing skills in the short amount of time he had to learn the language? Probably not. While his signing skills may not have been accurately portrayed for the role, for someone who had been signing for a matter of months, I didn’t think he did that bad. He acknowledges that it was a challenge that he knew he could fail… I don’t know if I would compare it to “juggling three peaches,” but it might make people think twice about the idea that learning sign language is easy.

True, maybe Jeff could have done more to prepare for the role, but we have no way of knowing what more he actually did do, or what conflicts he might have had that prevented him from doing so. But at least he was willing to take on the role and give it his best shot, and I think that says a lot. I suppose it could be compared to William Hurt learning ASL for his role in “Children of a Lesser God”… you know these actors will likely never become fluent signers, but at least you can appreciate the effort they put into it.

I thought it was kind of funny in this article how Jeff reacted to trying to sign while carrying a cardboard box. At the same time, I think this demonstrates some of the issues that hearing people often have with learning sign language – if you’re not used to thinking in ASL, things like this can really leave you flustered. We in the Deaf Community think nothing of trying to sign with a baby in your arm, a drink in your hand, or while carrying a box; but if you’re a “foreigner” used to thinking that you’ve got to sign everything exactly proper with both hands…

One thing that bothered me a bit about the article… it states

A crew of sign language interpreters were on the set to assist Matlin and the company’s other deaf actors, including Valencia, Ed Waterstreet and Phyllis Frelich, who play Laura’s parents.

Ahem… excuse me, but why are the interpreters specified as helping the DEAF folks on the set? Interpreters are there to facilitate communication between signers and non-signers – they help EVERYONE, not merely those who are Deaf. I assume the hearing people needed them just as much as the Deaf people did!

I praise Jeff for his comment on

There’s a whole deaf culture that wants to be considered normal – and they are…

That’s the message that we want to get out, and it’s good to see that a member of the Hollywood community recognizes it. It’s not easy constantly trying to teach this lesson, but all we can do is continue to educate… one person at a time.

I am a little confused by the article’s statement about how Matlin

…had never played a character who signed solely in American Sign Language, which has a different syntax than spoken or signed English.

But then it goes on to say she won an Academy Award for Children of a Lesser God. It’s been a while since I saw this movie, but didn’t she sign solely in ASL and didn’t use her voice in the role of Sarah for this movie? She may not have played such a character SINCE that role, but that’s not the same as saying she NEVER has.

And the fact that she does speak, lipread, and use hearing aids in real life doesn’t mean she isn’t capable of playing the role of a non-speaking, ASL-using individual when the role calls for it. Challenging? Certainly… and she admits to such. She also admits that she realizes the expectations of the Deaf Community who would be watching this movie:

“I’ll have a very tough crowd watching me.”

Indeed, the Deaf Community has been tough… and brutally honest in its opinions.

As for my own opinion… well, I thought the movie had its strengths and weaknesses. There were parts of it I liked, and parts of it I didn’t like. For the most part I thought it was pretty well balanced and tried to show all sides of the situation. It took a universal issue – the challenge of being a married couple trying to communicate differences of opinion and make appropriate decisions regarding raising children – and gave it a unique slant.

I’m not sure I can give it two thumbs up, but it definitely gets an A for effort. If it at least taught people a thing or two and got them thinking, then that’s a good thing.

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