Meet the deaf, teen actress making major waves in Hollywood and beyond

Interview by Suze Myers
Photographs by Alida Rose Delaney

 

You may recognize Millicent Simmonds, a Utah native, from her breakout role as a 12-year-old deaf girl alongside Julianne Moore in 2017’s luminous Todd Haynes film Wonderstruck, which garnered her a Critics Choice Award nomination, or most recently, from her star turn in John Krasinski’s near-silent thriller, A Quiet Place. So while Utah extends the boundaries of this issue beyond the South, Constellation art director Suze Myers nevertheless leaped at the chance to talk with Simmonds, one of this year’s most memorable young actresses. (As it turns out, Suze herself made her producing debut this year on a short film also starring a young deaf girl, rising talent Gabriella Banda.) Earlier this year, the 15-year-old chatted with Suze about expanding the visibility of American Sign Language, working with Krasinski and Emily Blunt, and the surprising humor found behind the scenes of a horror film.

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Suze Myers: In the last year, you've starred in two huge movies and received rave reviews for both—and this is just the beginning of your career! What's next on the docket for you (that you can tell us about)? What kind of projects would you like to work on in the future?
Millicent Simmonds: It's pretty hard for me to believe, even still….I've partnered with a group called USAID that started a campaign called Sign On For Literacy, which is focused on bringing language to Deaf and Hard of Hearing kids all over the world. I'm excited to be a part of it. I'd love to keep acting, as well, and I guess just see how far that takes me.   

SM: Your most recent film, A Quiet Place, marks John Krasinski's directorial debut, as well as the first time he and his real-life spouse, Emily Blunt, share the screen together. What was it like working with John and Emily?
MS: It was great. They were both very welcoming and eager to learn ASL. They were very generous, as well. We had BBQ’s at their house. They really wanted the cast to feel like a family, and it was easy to do after having met them. They are both amazing actors, but really great people, as well.

SM: Given that A Quiet Place is a horror film, was it ever frightening to be on set? What was your reaction when you first saw the finished movie?
MS:
It really was never scary filming it. We always felt safe, and anytime we were supposed to be acting around the monsters, it was someone dressed in a green suit or John acting as the monster, which actually made us laugh. Seeing it for the first time was so much scarier than I thought it would be! It was amazing to see everyone's perspective and not just my own. I thought it came together beautifully, and John did an amazing job.

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SM: You also have your own Youtube channel, where you upload ASL sign tutorials, and you've often expressed your love for the language. What do you hope people gain from your videos? 
MS: Yes I did. I need to make more. I haven't had a lot of time. I started the channel to help friends and family start learning the language. I guess, at the very least, I hope it teaches people enough to interact with someone who is deaf. Even if it's just to say “Hi, how are you?” or “What's your name?” That would be awesome.

SM: Finally, what’s one thing you hope a hearing audience can grow to understand about the deaf experience? 
MS: I guess just how isolated we can feel. Regan [Millie’s character in A Quiet Place] still felt isolated, even though her whole family could sign. And that’s actually pretty rare that a family with a deaf child learns sign language, which I think is so sad. 

I feel so lucky that my immediate family learned sign language for me. I hope it inspires more hearing families to sign with deaf family members. ★