Troy Kotsur’s Path to History at the Oscars

NEW YORK – In his Oscar-nominated play. “CODA”, Troy Kotsura has one conversational line, but she’s good. Encouraging his daughter, played by Emilia Jones, to fulfill his dream of singing and studying in college, he says out loud, “Go!”

For Kotsur, this one line meant a lot of rehearsals plus the courage on the set to speak dialogues that he himself could not hear. But Kotsur has done it before. Many years ago, as Stanley Kowalski in Fr. Deaf West Theater “Tram of Desire,” he exclaimed, “Stella!” night after night.

“Sometimes I will ask the audience how my voice sounds,” Kotsur signs. “One person described it as a feeling that he was comfortable and in bed.”

Kotsur, who really radiates the battered heat, is only the second actor to be deaf, nominated for an Oscar. And so “Go!” The 53-year-old Kotsur hopes his achievement is inspiring.

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“I hope that young people who are deaf or hard of hearing will be able to gain more confidence and be inspired that they will be able to realize their dreams,” says Kotsur. “I want these kids not to feel limited.”

The release of Apple TV + “CODA”, nominated for the best picture of Sian Heather, raised 53-year-old Kotsur to the biggest stages of Hollywood, making a story for the deaf. He is the first deaf actor ever singled out Actors Guild Award. The influx of awards was unpleasant. When he was nominated for a BAFTA award, he celebrated so much he fell out of his chair. Taking Gotham Prize for the best performance of the background, he told the crowd that he was not speechless, but “absolutely armless now.”

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“It’s just stunning,” Kotsur says of the confession. “It’s weird. I feel like I can die happy, with a smile on my face. ”

The only one who ever experienced something like this was Kotsura’s partner on “CODA” Marley Metlin. In “CODA” they play the parents of a deaf Gloucester fishing family with a hearing daughter. Kotsur remembers watching Metlin become the first deaf actor to win an Oscar in 1987 for “Children of a Lesser God.”

“I felt I could have hope as a deaf actor,” Kotsur recalled in an interview with Zoom from his home in Mesa, Arizona, through an interpreter. “Of course, I didn’t understand what a difficult path it would be to go through show business.”

Kotsura’s long journey to the Oscars began, he said, in elementary school. With little availability of television programs, Kotsur loved very visual cartoons such as “Tom and Jerry,” and animated them to his deaf classmates on the bus. His father, a police chief, later fondly called Kotsura “risky” for continuing to speak. He studied acting at the University of Gilead and then toured with the National Theater of the Deaf.

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With few opportunities in television and film available to deaf actors, Kotsur has found freedom on stage. Since “About Mice and Humans” in 1994, Kotsur has appeared in about 20 productions at Deaf West, a nonprofit Los Angeles theater company founded in 1991. In one of the shows he met his wife, actress Dean Bray. He played Cyrano de Bergerac and starred in “American Buffalo.”

DJ Kurs, director of Deaf West, recalls how he first “captured the magnetism of Kotsura” in “Tram”. Since then, he has seen the process of immersing Kotsura up close many times.

“Working with him in rehearsals is like being in the presence of a mad scientist,” the Course said via email. “He always crafts and refines, bringing in different elements of character. This process does not end until the curtain rises on the opening night. ”

On stage, Kotsur honed all the physicality of his acting. “It’s very important for me to show emotions on stage through sign language,” says Kotsur. “Sometimes sign language can be more three-dimensional and meaningful than conversational dialogue.”

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Heather first saw Kotsur in a pair of Deaf West plays: “Zoo Homes” and “Our City.”

“And they were very different characters,” she said. “He’s so charismatic, especially on stage. He just has an amazing presence and he’s so funny. ”

Kotsur has long been accustomed to seeing one-dimensional and victimized deaf characters, but “CODA” represented something he rarely saw. Rossi from CODA may have to work a little harder, but they are a family like any other, with funny conversations at the table and casual quarrels. Frank Kotsura is also a bit randy and a bit profane. In one scene in which he instructs his daughter about safe sex, he imitates a soldier wearing a helmet.

Kotsur, long accustomed to hearing the swearing of actors, admired the vulgarity of Franco; he proudly recalls how the film moved away from the MPAA after “CODA” nearly received an R rating. But for Kotsur, Frank is like a real deaf-mute – “a hard-working deaf-mute who just achieves.”

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“I want the audience to have a different view. I want them to get rid of their preconceived notions about what deaf people are, ”says Kotsur. “There are deaf doctors. There are deaf-mute lawyers. There are deaf firefighters. Many people who hear do not notice it.

Perhaps Kotsura’s most exciting scene is the moment he shared in the bed of his truck with Ruby’s daughter. Unable to understand Ruby’s singing talent, he listens as she sings, tenderly feeling the vibrations of her neck. The scene has a deep echo in Kotsura’s own life; he and 17-year-old daughter Bray are also CODA (a child of deaf adults) who is attracted to music.

“When my daughter is into music, she doesn’t know I’m behind her. I will come up, touch the body of the acoustic guitar and feel the vibrations of the guitar, ”says Kotsur. “I can do the same with the piano. I can lean my hands on the piano and feel the vibrations when she is engaged.

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“I had to go to a music store, and I thought, ‘What the hell is the difference between an electric and an acoustic guitar?’ So I decided to buy both and give them to my daughter, ”he adds. “I really enjoy watching her as motivated by music as her hobby. I can’t take that passion away from her. I just need to encourage her. “

For the first time, when Kotsur read the script for “CODA”, he took it as a warning sign, because he, like his character, is not quite ready for his daughter to leave home. It was such personal connections that made it difficult for Frank to let go of the actor.

“It took me about six months to break away from Frank,” says Kotsur. “My wife said,‘ Troy, would you please shave that beard? I can’t even kiss you. “

For Course Kotsur is no less than a pioneer. Because of him and Matlin, he says, there will be more work for deaf actors.

“Watching the recognition confirms what we’ve known all along that Troy is one of the greats,” says Course. he deserves it so much, and that future deaf actors will not have to wait so long to be recognized at this level. “

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Now more neatly trimmed Kotsur has since appeared in the Disney + series “Mandalorets” as the Tuscan raider, for whom he developed his own sign language. Other parts are waiting, as is the expected tour with lectures in which they talk to deaf children and future actors. But for now, he absorbs it as much as possible.

“I try to enjoy every day and every moment,” he says. “I’m in no hurry. I’m not thrilled with the win. These days are gone. I will never survive them again. “

To sum up what it all meant, Kotsur holds on to his chin and compares himself to just one hair in the thick beard of talented deaf-mute actors who didn’t get the chance he did.

“I feel so happy to have been able to take this step forward. I think it’s time for Hollywood to be more open, more creative and more diverse, “says Kotsur. “Everyone has a story.”

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Follow AP filmmaker Jake Coyle on Twitter at: http://twitter.com/jakecoyleAP

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