TV Show Changes Role From Hearing to Deaf to Nab Deaf Actor in ‘Cyrano’

Troy Kotsur

A remarkable thing — perhaps even historic — happened in a Hollywood casting office last week. The team for the TV show “Criminal Minds” took the extraordinary step of rewriting a character in an episode from a hearing role into a deaf role solely so they could hire a deaf actor. The “Criminal Minds” casting director  had seen deaf actor Troy Kotsur on stage in our smash hit production of Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre and was so blown away by his performance that he convinced the TV team to change the role in the upcoming episode from a hearing character to a deaf character just so they could hire Kotsur.

Video Trailer for ‘Cyrano’ at the Fountain

click “cc” if you need captioning

As Troy tells it:

I walked into the casting director’s office and saw about 10 hearing actors in the waiting room.  They were auditioning the same role as I was going for.

After I auditioned, I felt great with the choices I made to present the character and how I went with the flow with the Criminal Minds team in the room.

At first, I assumed they did not know much about Deaf people.  During the process, I thought: Did they understand anything I signed? Could they tell if I played the way they wanted the character to be?  Did they see the details I brought with my face, eyes and body language for the character?  Could they tell the difference between hearing actors and Deaf actors?  Is there a difference?  Or could only an expert, who knew both cultures, catch the differences? Did the team know what they were looking for? Most teams don’t know until they see what the actors bring in the room.

Deep down inside, I was hoping they wouldn’t hire me because I was Deaf.  I wanted to believe they would hire me because of the skills, nuances, and the specifics of what I was able to give for my character, for their story.  Good acting.

After I auditioned, I felt that it was possible that they did see the specifics and moments.  It was a positive experience.

I learned later that originally the character had lots of action and no speaking lines.  They gave the character to a hearing actor, Matthew Jaeger.  Matthew has worked with Deaf West Theatre in the past with Deaf and hearing actors.  He asked the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance to show their work because they can do this character just as well.  I’m grateful to Matthew Jaegger who encouraged the Criminal Minds team to give Deaf actors a chance.  This all wouldn’t have happened if it wasn’t for Matt.

I also learned that the casting director saw Cyrano at the Fountain Theatre.  I had no idea.  It’s wonderful to have casting directors and writers see plays at the Fountain and Deaf West for the opportunity it gives for more jobs for Deaf actors.  It’s challenging for Deaf actors to get jobs because there aren’t many written roles for Deaf actors to play.  Non-speaking roles or Deaf characters are roles I usually audition for.

The Criminal Minds team decided to give it a shot.  They did a re-write after they saw my audition.  What a journey and a blessing.  I am curious to know how the writers will write, to dive into a Deaf person’s mind!”

Troy’s agent, Liz Hanley with Bicoastal Talent, is thrilled.

“I have had the pleasure of repping many deaf artists over the years,” she says. “I always count it as a great success when a deaf client lands a ‘hearing’ role. I have always submitted deaf actors for roles they were right for, whether the breakdown called for a deaf actor or not. Through hundreds of submissions, I have only convinced a casting office or producer four times to see a deaf actor for a role that wasn’t labeled “deaf”. All four times resulted in a job.”
“If only Hollywood was more willing to see deaf actors on all roles. Thanks to the awesome Cyrano production,a Hollywood mind was opened.”
Troy will continue dazzling audiences (and casting directors)  in the lead role of Cyrano until the run ends with a final extension on July 29.

Troy Kotsur and Erinn Anova in “Cyrano”

“I’m happy that Cyrano got extended twice so that more people have the chance to experience opening their minds and souls to what this show is about” says Troy. ” It gives many people a new perspective or a new light with depth, having two cultures and languages on stage.  We’re all basically the same. The ability and skill to communicate can either bring you closer or farther away.”

“I hope this play and more plays like it can continue to inspire writers to create more stories for Deaf actors to get more work.”

Cyrano  Final Extension to July 29  (323) 663-1525   More Info

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6 responses to “TV Show Changes Role From Hearing to Deaf to Nab Deaf Actor in ‘Cyrano’

  1. Way to go, Troy! I’ll be watching for you in Criminal Minds. Does anyone know the air date? I hope Cyrano goes on tour (same as “Big River” did) and it comes to the East Coast. From a Connecticut fan and Total Immersion Sign Language Program “old lady” participant. Vicky

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  2. Kudos to Troy!

    Actually, though, I think this isn’t the first time this has happened with a TV role being rewritten in order to accommodate a Deaf actor who was cast for it…I’m thinking of Marlee Matlin’s lead role in the “Reasonable Doubts” series which, I recall, was converted into that of a Deaf ADA (even with a part-time ASL interpreter role that was also seen on-screen).

    In any event, yes, this is a great thing that “Criminal Minds” folks went to the trouble of making the role Deaf once a Deaf actor was cast for it. Here’s hoping for more of that!

    Sincerely,
    Bram Weiser, MS, CT

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  3. When is the airdate of the Criminal minds?

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  4. Please correct Matthew Jaeger’s name. 🙂

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