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Acting Up: Millicent Simmonds

Gregg Rosenzweig

Welcome to ACTING UP, the place where we celebrate standout performances in TV, streaming, and film. Other than spotlighting exceptional work from recent projects, this feature also shines a light on how certain actors got where they are today. Have a peek and then check out these notable performances to help hone your craft.

 

The Snapshot:

Millicent Simmonds plays a young deaf woman quietly running from aliens who hunt by sound in the thrilling sequel to the sci-fi blockbuster, A Quiet Place Part II(*In theaters as of May 28th, 2021, after a year-plus delay due to the pandemic.)

 

The Performance: 

Considering movie theaters have collectively been a quiet place the past 15 months (since A Quiet Place Part II’s delay after its world premiere in March 2020), it was great to re-enter a Regal cinema to finally see the long-anticipated sequel to the 2018 horror hit. It’s actually the perfect movie to see in a movie theater — one that reminds you why theaters are so important — with sound being an important character and without the parade of distractions to derail viewing. 

A Quiet Place Part II picks up where the original left off, with the human race essentially wiped out save for a few pockets of people. With an alien species hunting humans based on the noises they emit, it’s a film that relies largely on watching in a silent setting, and Millicent Simmonds is the star of this one, reprising her role as the deaf daughter (Regan) to two hearing parents.

But with only one left — her mom (Emily Blunt), who must now navigate a new world alongside her other two kids after losing her husband (writer/director/star John Krasinski), the family must now fend for themselves. Just one reason why it becomes Simmonds’ movie as Regan sets out on her own to eviscerate a species based on their weak spot, as discovered in the original. With only a cochlear implant (hearing device) attached to her ear to bring sound into her life, the film aptly shuttles between silence, sign language and sporadic noise to illuminate the plight in Regan’s new world, one in which people must tiptoe around for fear of setting off a series of deadly events. 

Simmonds shines in this role, as the actress (who’s deaf in real life) must communicate with her family and other people via American Sign Language (ASL). Sometimes that goes swimmingly — other times, not so much, such as when the new-to-the-franchise character played by Cillian Murphy (Emmet) gets frustrated and must be told by Regan to enunciate his words as he speaks.

In taking the torch in her father’s absence, Regan manages to find solutions that could help the family’s plight — maybe even the world’s. Don’t want to spoil anything, but know A Quiet Place Part II is a fun watch, an able-bodied sequel with more than a few well-timed jump-scares. And watching Simmonds navigate the quiet yet highly precarious world on screen reminds us how important our aural senses are in life. Without any real spoken dialogue, Simmonds is forced to express herself in other ways using heightened expressions, her eyes, and her hands. As an actor, it’s an art form few can relate to — though one who can might be Kaylee Hottle, the young deaf actress who shined in Godzilla vs. Kong earlier this year.

 

The Career:

Hailing from Utah originally, 18-year-old Simmonds (often called Millie) got started early in life, telling stories in her native American Sign Language during her theater/drama club days in elementary school. After Simmonds lost her hearing in the first 12 months of life, Simmonds’ mom eventually taught her ASL. However, the idea of being an actress was not one she took very seriously — as she rarely saw characters like the one she plays in the Quiet Place films on screen.

In 2016, Simmonds’ drama teacher received a casting call for the film, Wonderstruck (2017). Legend has it that Simmonds’ one-take audition brought the film’s director Todd Haynes to tears — and her career was off and running. She played a frustrated deaf girl living in New York City in the late 1920s in this touching film.

After a performance that left some critics wonderstruck, Krasinski cast Simmonds in A Quiet Place. He had specifically asked for a deaf actress to play the role of his daughter in the film, despite many deaf roles going to performers with hearing. The film became a huge success and led Simmonds to book other roles such as Libby on Disney Channel’s Andi Mack (2017-2019), a role that Simmonds agreed to speak on camera for for the first time ever. Eventually, all roads led back to A Quiet Place Part II, where her performance has already reverberated with many.

Another place Simmonds has made an impact? As an advocate for people with disabilities. According to Deadline, during the pandemic, Simmonds and a speech-language pathology clinical fellow “designed a face mask that includes a transparent panel to allow lip-reading and facial expressions to be seen.” Net proceeds went to deaf and hard-of-hearing organizations. 

Worthy of praise, as it sounds like Simmonds’ journey as an activist/actress has only just begun.

 

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Gregg Rosenzweig has been a writer, creative director and managing editor for various entertainment clients, ad agencies and digital media companies over the past 20 years. He is also a partner in the talent management/production company, The Rosenzweig Group.
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