Oscar and Bafta nominee Troy Kotsur has said he was almost not cast in award-winning film Coda because of pressure to feature a bigger star.
The actor, who has made history as the first deaf male performer to be nominated for an Academy Award, and the second deaf performer ever, won a Screen Actor’s Guild (SAG) award on Sunday night for his turn as the father of a hearing teenage daughter in the heartwarming film.
However, he said he only landed the role two years after he auditioned, following a long history of hearing performers playing deaf roles in Hollywood.
He told the PA news agency: “I understand the general politics behind that decision making, you have marketing, you have investors, you want to make this investment back by having A-listers, and sometimes actors want a challenging role to hope to get nominations.
“Not only deafness, but other disabilities as well, have been portrayed by non-disabled actors.
“And so I feel like I’m an outsider as an actor, and people don’t know who I am, but I’m well known in the deaf community and Marlee Matlin (his co-star in Coda who was the first deaf performer to win an Oscar in 1987) had known my work on stage through the years.
“When this role came up it was interesting. I auditioned for the role and about two years later, it came forward with an offer.
“And it took so long because behind the scenes they were arguing over who would play the role of Frank Rossi and concerns and so I’m so grateful to our director, Sian Heder, and Marlee Matlin who really had to fight for that authenticity, and the producers who supported this project and made sure that that we would get to this point, and that really made a difference.”
The film is based on a French movie and Kotsur said he hopes the US version marks a significant sea change for representation of deaf actors in Hollywood.
He said: “The French film was like planting a seed and there were these improvements made through the years, and now this seed has blossomed into a lush garden.
“And so now Hollywood can have this new perspective of the garden that we’ve built together, and it’s really time for strong deaf roles.
“I don’t want them to feel limited, they need to begin to think outside of the box, because there’s so many interesting stories to tell out there.”
Kotsur is nominated for both a Bafta and an Oscar for his role in Coda and says Matlin has been giving him advice on how to navigate awards season.
He said: “Everything is new to me, I’ve never been through this red carpet experience before.
“She has warned me that there’s going to be so many flashbulbs it’s going to feel like you’re blind because I’m deaf, so I need to be able to use my eyes to see people asking questions.
“If I was hearing, I could close my eyes and just listen questions but with all these flashbulbs, I can’t even find my interpreter sometimes. and so Marlee said, be aware of that and you have to just adapt to these situations.”
Kotsur has made history as the first deaf male actor to receive an Oscar nomination and he said the thrill of his various awards nods has not yet sunk in.
He added: “I feel so honoured because of course Bafta and the Oscars are historical, whether you win or lose, you’re in the history books as a nominee, so even after I’m dead and gone, I’m a nominee.
“When you look at these history books, you can see nominees from the 1930s, the 1940s, and so on and it’s such an honour and it’s so exciting.”
Kotsur is streaming on Apple TV+ now