• Television

Marlee Matlin Speaks About Her Directorial Debut on “Accused”

Golden Globe and Oscar Winner Marlee Matlin made her directorial debut with an episode on Fox’s Accused, which aired earlier this year.

At the London Hotel in West Hollywood, the actress addressed some of the myths about directing hearing actors; what surprised her about being behind the camera despite her years in front of one as an actress; and why, although she is tired of talking about being deaf, she continues to do so.


Most recently celebrated for CODA (2021), and still holding the title of youngest actress to receive an Oscar (for Children of a Lesser God in1987), Matlin was dressed in a steel blue, short-sleeved pants suit, her blonde hair in a chic blunt cut, her gold platforms echoing the crew neck sweater beneath her jacket. She perched on a director’s chair before an audience hosted by THR Presents Live and explained why it was not an automatic ‘yes’ when her agent alerted her that Howard Gordon wanted her to direct an episode of Accused. “There was no history there. I’m a huge fan of his, but I’d never directed before, so why specifically me?”

The show focuses on individual stories that open in a courtroom with no information about the case. The audience experiences the case through the perspective of the defendant.

When the mother of four learned that the story involved a deaf character on the witness stand, she realized that she could bring authenticity as a director. “The story itself was very sensitive,” she continued. “It’s actually based on events that happen in real life. I was able to understand where Ava was coming from as a woman, as a deaf woman, as a surrogate mother. There were so many layers that I identified with. I was able to feel protective of the deaf community, of the deaf baby, and of everyone in the story. There were so many cultural references in it. I understood every one of them.”

Casting was important, but Matlin also worked on informing the script and characters. She had the role of the attorney which had been written as a hearing lawyer changed to a deaf lawyer, creating a bond of empathy and understanding between the lawyer and client. She was also able to change the dialogue of sign language to make it more authentic to how deaf people communicate. For instance, deaf people do not call someone by name while talking directly to them as naming them becomes superfluous.

“I had a blast!” She laughs at her history-making moment of a deaf director helming an episode with hearing and deaf actors. “I had no idea what to expect working behind the camera. What surprised me really was that as an actor you’re always waiting in your trailer. As a director, time goes by really fast. I love how quickly it went by. I was also reminded of the work that everyone put into it to create one great episode. Every member of the crew, the art department, the costumes, even craft services, whatever goes into making a show worked so hard. They were creating a painting for me, and I was there to create the frame. Watching them paint, putting it together, creating the vision and working collaboratively was really amazing to me. I will never see a set the same way again.”

The most unexpected and emotional moment was a scene that evoked a personal moment she was too young to experience in a memorable way herself. “The hearing actors who played the parents really reminded me of my own parents who are hearing, who had to learn what it was like when I was diagnosed as deaf when I was 18 months old. The story was the same journey. It was very heavy for me. Watching the hearing characters act as parents to their deaf child, and try and understand what they were going through, and what was best for their child.

“Watching that in the monitor, the close-up on the hearing actors – I started to lose it and cry, because it reminded me of my parents and what they had to go through when they went on their unexpected journey, never having met or even seen a deaf child before.”  She gathered herself as she signed, the emotion visible. (Her words are relayed to the audience through a sign language interpreter.) “There were lots of layers in the episode. I got to go through it every day. I’m very proud of it.”

Matlin feels a responsibility to continue to address the topic of being deaf. “We have to keep speaking about it,” she communicates passionately. “We have to use our allies. People like Howard Gordon who encourage us to raise our voices the way we want to raise our voices. I’ve been deaf all my life. I’ve seen all the barriers, all the rejection, I’ve seen the oppression – all the isms that come my way. I’ve learned to just knock each one down and say ‘fuck them all.’  Sorry.” She laughs at the expletive that slips in so aptly. “I spoke last year at the first Hollywood Reporter event. It was very powerful to be there because people were listening. Obviously, I’m tired of talking about it, but yet I cannot stop talking about it. If I get through to two or three people, people in the industry will allow me to work as an actor, as a director, then I’m good.