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Celebrating Deaf Communities

Q&A with Academy Award-Winning Deaf Actor Troy Kotsur


What drew you to pursue a career in acting?

When I was younger, back in the ’60s and ’70s, there was no closed captioning, and most TV shows were just dialogue or talking heads. I finally found a cartoon called Tom and Jerry with a lot of action and no dialogue. I could really connect to those — I would watch an episode of Tom and Jerry and memorize it. The next day I would tell the entire story to other kids and see their eyes light up. They really enjoyed my storytelling. Then I saw the original Star Wars in 1977, which changed my life. I just wanted to dive into that world.


What does Deaf culture mean to you?

It’s really taken many years to get our culture recognized. In the film CODA, you can see a bit of Deaf culture in this Deaf family. One of the wonderful moments from the film is the scene with 30 seconds of silence. It was an excellent experience for hearing people to enter the Deaf world for just 30 seconds and to experience our culture. I’m glad to see perspectives begin to change — we can work, have sex, and communicate. The only difference is the language we communicate in.


As a member of the Deaf community, what are some barriers you faced breaking into the film industry? 

I felt like a complete outsider because I worked hard for so many years and was overlooked. It just required a lot of sacrifices. I often took on side jobs and did a one-person show to earn money. Opportunities for Deaf actors were mostly in low-budget small theatres. Being in LA, I was hoping that some people would see our plays, and that’s exactly what happened with Sian Heder, the Director of CODA. She came and saw me perform at the Deaf West Theatre. It was a good gamble, but it was hard.


How do you think your success will help Deaf actors pursue more diverse roles that were unavailable in the past? 

As a Deaf community, we have such a rich history of stories. For example, in my new production on Disney+, I play head coach of a football team with several young Deaf actors. So now we’re able to create opportunities for the next generation as well as interpreters, ASL consultants, and hearing and Deaf crew members. I remember the first day of a shoot — everyone was nervous about working with Deaf people. And by the last day, everyone loved each other and had a great time, and there was an attitude shift. And so I love that process from beginning to end and see how perspectives change.


Having won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in CODA, what’s the next step in your career? 

I really want to do something hearing people haven’t thought of, like portraying a Deaf historical figure. For example, many people aren’t familiar with William “Dummy” Hoy, who was one of the first Deaf professional baseball players. He was the one that invented and taught umpire signals. Later on, an umpire stole credit for it.

There are thousands of Deaf historical figures, so this is just the beginning. I’ve had lots of meetings, and I’ve shared some of this history, and maybe some of these production companies will be interested. But most importantly, I want to have a story that will reach out to as many people as possible.

Follow Troy on Instagram @troykotsur.

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