The thriller film is the stuff of nightmares, as two parents fight to keep their children safe in a post-apocalyptic world while creatures hunt by sound and slaughter anyone who makes a noise.
But for deaf Bountiful actress Millicent Simmonds, it’s been more a dream than a nightmare.
Regan’s parents have survived in a world that demands silence because they learned sign language to communicate with their deaf daughter, but Regan still struggles to be understood in a place where a single sound could cost her her life.
“I really loved the story and thought it was unique,” Simmonds told KSL.com. “I also really loved the character Regan. She was brave, tough, a little rebellious, but really just wanted to contribute to the family. She was really complex.”
Unlike Regan, Simmonds wasn’t born deaf, but lost her hearing as an infant after an accidental medication overdose. She learned American Sign Language and attended a school for deaf students until she decided to start regular high school in her teens.
At 14 years old and with no film credit to her name, Simmonds beat out 250 other candidates to land a leading role in the film “Wonderstruck,” starring Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, after a former drama teacher prompted her to audition. Simmonds played Rose, a young deaf girl trying to discover more about her past.
“I wanted to show other deaf people that they can do anything, even be in a movie,” Simmonds said when KSL.com first profiled her in May.
Though Simmonds works with an interpreter on set, she believes the hardest part about being a deaf actress isn’t her lack of hearing, but the lack of opportunity for those in the deaf community.
“I feel extremely lucky that I've filmed two movies in two years,” she said. “I didn't have anyone deaf to look up to in movies. I never saw deaf characters. I hope that changes. I think it is.”
Krasinski, who both starred in and directed the film, was adamant about casting a deaf actress, according to a Hollywood Reporter interview with the film’s screenwriters.
"We always had a deaf character in the script, but John really pushed for them to hire Millicent," co-screenwriter Scott Beck told the Hollywood Reporter. "She came to set and taught everyone sign language. It was really amazing and brought an extra depth to the film."
Simmonds said Krasinski, Blunt and the rest of her on-screen family were eager to learn sign language and worked hard to get it right. The A-list stars would also often invite the cast over for dinner at their house, making it easy for the co-stars to portray a loving family.
For her audition, however, Simmonds had to record an emotional scene where Regan becomes angry with her father for treating her like a child.
“I had to scream at my dad. I've never screamed at him. It was harder than I thought,” she said — though she was ecstatic when she got the part.
The hardest scene to film during production was a tense moment at the end of the film with her on-screen mother, Blunt, as the two huddled in the basement of their house while the creatures hunt them down.
“It was summer, and … I had a turtleneck on, and Emily was in a sweater. It was really small, the whole film crew was cramped in this small room. So it was really hot and just grueling to shoot,” she said.
The first day of shooting was a dream come true, however, and Simmonds said she was thrilled to be filming again. The process has been both unexpected, overwhelming and exceptionally rewarding, her mother, Emily Simmonds, said.
“We will support her as long as she wants to do this. She is a sweetheart and deserves it all.”
Simmonds is now currently working with the United States Agency for International Development on a campaign called Sign on for Literacy that focuses on making sign language accessible to kids all over the world.
“I'm excited and honored to be a part of it,” she said.
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