With just two feature film credits to her name, Millicent Simmonds is still very much in the infancy of her acting career.
But, thanks to her work in “Wonderstruck” and now John Krasinski’s mostly silent horror film “A Quiet Place,” the 14-year-old actress has already brought an authenticity, rawness and integrity to each of her roles that has made her stand out as one of the most promising young performers in American cinema.
This is not just because Simmonds is deaf, though, something that she incorporates into her performances in a subtle yet powerful fashion. Her talent runs much deeper than that.
I recently had the chance to speak to Simmonds, who talked to me about “A Quiet Place” and explained why embracing her deafness while working on a film set was such a huge challenge.
What most appealed to you about your character in “A Quiet Place”?
She was just so courageous. And she is willing to stand up for her beliefs. And she is strong willed. Which is the opposite of me. Because I am very sensitive. If someone tells me to do something I do it right away. I learned a lot from this character. It helped me understand her feelings and her guilt and her experiences because of her deafness. Because she doesn’t know that the things she does make noise. And in this film that is a danger. She feels a burden because of her deafness.
Were you surprised to learn so much through acting?
I was surprised that in acting you don’t just act the role. And that’s it. But I now know that you learn so much from the character. From their point of view. From their beliefs. And that helps me become richer as a human being. I was very shy. I didn’t really hang around with hearing people very much. Mostly I had deaf friends. I was in a deaf school. Here I am hanging around with a crew and in New York City. When I was younger I didn’t want to hang around with anyone. But now I feel so comfortable. I convey my thoughts, my emotions, I can communicate better, I have a better understanding of the world. Now I have a sense of purpose. It makes me think a lot more about things.
Did it take a while to adjust to being on set?
It was different to what I expected. At first I thought they would judge me. That they would think I was weird because I was deaf and they would leave me alone. But no they welcomed me in. In “Wonderstruck” as well. Todd Haynes was incredible, he treated me like an adult, communicated with me, was supportive, he treated me as any director would an actor.
Talk about your first meeting with John Krasinski.
The first time I met John I was just struck by how tall he was. Because I was only looking at his back. Then when he turned around I was immediately like, ‘That’s John Krasinski from ‘The Office’.’ He is so strong. He has such a presence and energy. Which is nice. But then he is able to speak to you directly and that was really important and made me feel at ease.
Did you have a bonding experience with John, Emily and Noah?
One of the rehearsals was just us getting into a trailer to talk about the characters’ relationships. And how they impact each other. The first time we spoke we did it for an hour and a half. Emily as a mother, and her vision of the future and how it needed color, but the father just wants to get through things and survive. Love is not his priority. Which stops all three of the characters getting close to him. Noah’s character is complicated because he wants to bring the family back together, he is the negotiator. Noah and Emily have a closer relationship in a funny way. Because they can communicate. But me and John are stubborn. Those were the perceptions of the roles. Then on set John would pull me to one side to remind me of our roles and that helped to add an edge and keep me in the scene.
It is a stunning performance and one that highlights why representation is required in Hollywood.
We do need more deaf people in Hollywood. But I don’t think that deaf people always have to play a deaf role. I think we can play different roles. We need to see more diversity period. More people of color. More disabled people. More gender diversity. All kinds of diversity.
Any roles you want to play in the future?
I want to be a spy. I want to be a double spy.
"A Quiet Place" is released on April 6.