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How a deaf girl with no acting experience ended up as the star in ‘Wonderstruck’

Actress Millicent Simmonds at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Actress Millicent Simmonds at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images
Actress Millicent Simmonds at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Actresses Millicent Simmonds and Julianne Moore with screenwriter Brian Selznick as they leave the "Wonderstruck" screening at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images
Actress Millicent Simmonds at the 2017 Cannes Film Festival.
Actress Millicent Simmonds uses sign language to answer a question during a press conference for the film 'Wonderstruck' at the Cannes Film Festival.

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Before Millicent Simmonds was cast in the upcoming Todd Haynes movie, "Wonderstruck," she had no ambitions to be an actress.

The only performing she'd done was in school productions back home in Utah. But the filmmaker was determined to find a young deaf girl to play Rose, who is also deaf, in his adaptation of the Brian Selznick book — and Simmonds won the part.

The Frame met Millie at the Telluride Film Festival where "Wonderstruck" made its North American premiere. She and interpreter Lynnette Taylor joined us for a conversation on the lawn outside The Frame's condo.

You can watch that conversation in the above video. Or you can hear an edited version that ran on our podcast by clicking the play button at the top of this page. Some highlights are below.


On communicating with the cast and crew on the set of "Wonderstruck":

There were several deaf actors in the film besides me. And a lot of extras also who were deaf. We communicated using an interpreter. Lynnette is one of the interpreters on set. She worked with me and Todd [Haynes] and she is amazing.  

On learning that Brian Selznick, author of "Wonderstruck," isn't deaf:

I'd read the book before I auditioned — I think I was in fourth grade when I read the book — and I fell in love with it. I just loved the illustrations. I loved the story. I loved the pictures. And it was a different way of telling a story that I thought was really cool. And I first I thought, You know, the writer has to be deaf. They couldn't possibly understand the life of a deaf person. And I started to research him and I found out that he wasn't deaf and I was so surprised. I read the intro to his book and he talked about his research that he had done. He has a lot of deaf friends, he met with a lot of deaf people and really did his background research. And he really found it.

On what she hopes people learn about deaf people from the film "Wonderstruck":

There are a lot of hearing parents that have deaf children and they can't communicate — even today. There's still a belief that children should not learn sign language and that if they learn to lip read and speak that they'll be able to become more like hearing people, more assimilated. And I see many of my friends who can't communicate with their parents and I see their frustrations, their sadness. I have a lot of friends like that in school. So I hope what this movie shows is that parents should learn sign language. And if you have deaf children you should learn sign language so you can communicate with your children. You can still always treat them to lip read and always teach them alternative methods of communication, but start with sign language. That's their natural language. That's every deaf child's natural language. And it's okay to be different. 

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