Millicent Simmonds is a fighter. The breakout star of A Quiet Place is known for battling alien monsters as Regan in the horror-thriller film series, but it’s another courageous act that’s setting the 19-year-old Deaf actor apart from her peers. Namely, the fight for a more inclusive society and entertainment industry, especially when it comes to authentic Deaf representation on the big and small screens.
And, despite her tender age, Simmonds’ advocacy for the Deaf community and acting talents are starting to be fully recognized. The 2021 Hollywood Critics Association’s Midseason Best Actress winner is among the 2022 BAFTA EE Rising Star award nominees – an achievement Simmonds describes as “really overwhelming”. Not only that, but Simmonds is already taking on dual actor-producer roles in True Biz, an upcoming TV adaptation of Sara Nović’s book of the same name. Add in her roles in the recently announced A Quiet Place 3 and Helen & Teacher – a movie adaptation of Joseph Lash’s biography about iconic Deaf author and activist Helen Keller – and Simmonds’ star is certainly on the rise.
Still, even if she triumphs at this year’s awards ceremony on Sunday, March 13, Simmonds knows there’s a long way to go before there’s truly notable change in the industry. Award-winning movies, including The Sound of Metal and CODA, are breaking the stigma surrounding the Deaf and hard of hearing community. But, as Simmonds insists: “More needs to be done – we need greater assistance to access certain spaces and navigate them.”
Ahead of the 2022 BAFTAs, TechRadar sat down with Simmonds to talk about greater inclusivity in the film and TV industries. We also discussed her EE Rising Star nomination, what she knows about A Quiet Place Part 3, and how she plans to use future projects to continue pushing for better representation of Deaf communities.
TR: Congratulations on the nomination. How does it feel to be among this year's nominees? Have you spoken to your A Quiet Place co-stars since the announcement?
MS: Thank you so much. It's a huge honour and really overwhelming. I never would have expected to be in this position, but I feel so lucky to be here. John [Krasinski] congratulated me on Instagram – he's super sweet. Both John and Emily [Blunt] have said they’re very proud of me.
TR: We’ve seen movies like Apple TV Plus’s CODA and Prime Video’s The Sound of Metal win big at other awards ceremonies. How do you think they’ve helped to challenge the industry’s outdated stereotypes concerning the Deaf community?
MS: In the last five years, I’d say there’s been a huge shift. It’s slowly coming, but it is there, and so we're seeing a lot more deaf actors on the scene. So I'm glad to not be here by myself. I think it's really important for not just the industry, but for the general public to see that. I think it's allowing people to learn some signs – you're seeing more American Sign Language being taught in schools, and to make sure that captioning is available so that movies become accessible for Deaf audiences and foreign audiences. I think it all contributes to having more empathy and more open mindedness.
TR: What specific changes have you personally noticed in the industry? And what more needs to be done to make workplaces more inclusive and welcoming?
MS: For Deaf people to have more sign language interpreters, to have more captioning, and for people to have more empathy and patience. We can't expect things to be perfect overnight, but we do need to be listened to and we need the assistance in order to access certain spaces and navigate them. But it's great to see that people are being much more mindful about access – not just for Deaf people, but for hard of hearing people, or for seniors who have lost their hearing and struggle to understand. It's helpful to everyone.
TR: A Quiet Place 3 was recently announced by Paramount, but it won’t arrive until 2025. Do you have any ideas about its plot, or has John spoken to you about Regan’s character arc?
MS: I haven’t heard anything from John or anyone else about A Quiet Place 3, but I’m excited for it to happen. I'm excited to see where it goes, and I think that Regan needs her own spa day. She's got a lot on her plate.
TR: You’ll soon be starring in a movie adaptation of Helen & Teacher. How do you think portraying an iconic historical figure in Helen will challenge you as an actor?
MS: Yeah, definitely. She's a real person, right? It's not a character that you're making up, so there's no flexibility in terms of that – she was an actual genuine human. So we’re taking our time with this project and doing as much research as we can. We’re reaching out to people who knew her personally, making sure we've read books about her life, and to see how she's done things.
TR: Do you feel a sense of pressure to ensure your portrayal is as authentic as possible?
MS: Absolutely, but I think that pressure is a good thing, right? Because that's just going to make me work harder to make sure I get this right. And not just for me – this is for the whole community. So I want to do her justice, and I want people to feel proud of her and what she's done.
TR: Moving away from movies, do you see yourself re-entering the world of television again after your Andi Mack and This Close appearances?
MS: I'm actually working on a TV show called True Biz. We're trying to develop this as me being the main character and producer, so I'm really excited to have a completely different experience. I've been learning a lot and working with a lot of amazing people. It's harder work than I thought it would be, but I’m excited and super motivated. I love being involved with creating something beyond the acting role, getting to engage with the writers, and being able to provide my input as well.
TR: What other opportunities would you like to pursue in the future? Could you see yourself directing, or taking on theatrical stage roles?
MS: Yeah, I'd be really up for those two opportunities. I actually started out in drama club at school, so I do miss the theatre and being on stage. It's quite different so, hopefully, I'll be able to come back to the stage at some point in my career.
Public voting for the EE Rising Star Award is open at ee.co.uk/BAFTA until Friday, 11 March. The winner will be announced at the EE British Academy Film Awards on Sunday, 13 March 2022.
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