Marlee Matlin with Betsy Sharkey. I’ll Scream Later. New York: Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2009.
The author lost her hearing at the age of 18 months. She became the youngest woman to win an Academy Award for her performance in “Children of a Lesser God”.
Matlin started dating actor and co-star William Hurt when she was 19. Over the next two years, she became wrongly attached to a life of cocaine and marijuana addiction. As her life was crumbling around her, she was a Golden Globe award. Instead of doing the interviews that were part of publicity for awards voting, Matlin declined participating in them. She quietly entered rehabilitation for her addictions, something that actors could do without notice in 1987. William Hurt helped convince her that she needed to go into rehab.
Matlin’s parents chose to have her live at home and attend mainstream schools. She learned to read lips. Matlin learned to speak and sing, feeling the music’s vibrations. She appears in a Billy Joel video and appeared with Billy Joel on “Sesame Street”.
When Matlin was 12, Henry Winkler and his wife Stacey visited the Creative Arts Festival where Matlin was part of a singing group called Traveling Hands. The Winklers saw that Matlin was a natural actor and moving singer and encouraged her to pursue a career in entertainment. Matlin’s mother disagreed and objected to Matlin going into acting. Henry Winkler became a mentor and advisor to Matlin.
Martlin started smoking up to 20 marijuana joints a day in high school.
Matlin auditioned for the Immediate Theatre Company in Rogers Park, Illinois for “Children of a Lesser God”. She got the role. Her portrayal attracted interest and she flew to New York to audition for the movie version with William Hurt. She was offered
$50,000 and asked if she would do a nude scene. She agreed and got the part. Many deaf actors, who were a small group fighting for rare parts, were upset that Matlin, an unknown, got the film role.
Matlin learned the details of film. She learned not to eat prop food, as it is meant to be filmed, and to eat the catered food instead.
Matlin and costar William Hurt often fought. They both were intense actors and their emotions while acting were absorbed by each other. This worked well on film but the emotions spilled off screen and created problems. Her cocaine use and his alcohol drinking made things worse. Hurt went to the Betty Ford rehab center for his drinking.
“Children of a Lesser God” wsa the first English speaking movie to be close captioned. “Three’s Company” in 1977 was the first TV series to be close captioned. This opened film up to 24 million people. In addition it helped people learn to speak English. Matlin testified before Congress in favor of a law that would place closed captioned circuits in all new TVs. The bill passed and the law became effective in 1993.
Matlin stopped using drugs on January 10, 1987. Matlin also went to Betty Ford Center for 26 days.
Matlin filmed the movie “Walter” for a month in Nicaragua. An American embargo required shipping all props and supplies from other countries.
Matlin worked with Lee Remick. Yet she naturally didn’t move her lips much so Matlin had trouble following where in the script they were.
Matlin advises actors to keep pushing their careers forward. It can be a struggle but she calls on actors to use their desires to keep fighting. She recommends to always do your best and to seek to learn something from every role.
Matlin dated David E. Kelly, noted TV show producer and writer. She found his devotion to his work drove them apart.
Matlin portrayed a deaf attorney on the TV series “Reasonable Doubts”. A network executive commented “that Marlee Matlin is terrific. Is she going to be deaf the entire series?”
Matlin was upset while filming the movie “Hear No Evil” when a bubble bath scene she filmed showed her nude, which she was not expecting. She now has clauses in her film
contracts that there be no nudity nor any body double without her consent.
Matlin worked with Melissa Gilbert in the movie “Against Her Will: The Carne Buck Story”. She found Gilbert a talent who could easily switch emotions in sales.
Matlin appeared on “Seinfeld. It is noted for its memorable line where she misread Seinfeld’s “six” for “sex”. She was nominated in 1994 for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Comedy for that role. That same year, she was also nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama for an episode of “Picket Fences” written by her former boyfriend David E. Kelly. Ironically, she gave birth the same night television showed her character giving birth on “Picket Fences”.
Matlin appeared on the TV series “The West Wing”. She credits the realism that writer Aaron Sorkin created for the show’s success.
Matlin received another nomination with a guest appearance on “The Practice”, another show done by David E. Kelly.