One of the films I am most excited about this fall is “Wonderstruck,” based on the award-winning book by Brian
Selznick, who also wrote the screenplay. It is directed by Todd Haynes (“Carol”) and stars Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams. The story alternates between two time periods, following two children who ultimately discover their connection.
I realized that with a silent section in our movie it gave us the opportunity to hire deaf actors to play hearing characters. Deaf actors were hired all the time in the silent movie era because they were so expressive. They knew how to tell a story without spoken language. And so we used six deaf actors as hearing people. We had these amazing days on the set with hearing actors, deaf actors, sign language interpreters. The rest of the cast, the crew and everybody worked together.
We can recognize when a deaf person is speaking. But in a silent movie, all we’re seeing is the lips moving. But a deaf actor can’t hear their cue. So Todd very quickly understood that we had to devise visual cues for the hearing actors to give the deaf actors so they knew when to speak. It had to be part of what the character would do. So a character would say a line and then put his hand on his hips so when the deaf actor saw the hand go on the hip he knew that it was time to say his line. So when you’re watching the movie you cannot tell who’s deaf and who’s hearing.