Since his first experience acting at just nine-years-old, Daniel Durant has worked to build his career on stage and on screen. Now, the award-winning actor is part of a cast increasing visibility of the deaf community around the world
Before Daniel Durant was starring in films and tv dramas, he was on stage at his local town theatre and making YouTube videos using American Sign Language (ASL). A member of the deaf community, Daniel always knew he wanted to pursue acting.
“I started at a young age and fell in love with the act of becoming another character,” remembers Daniel. “I love learning what others go through by becoming them, and putting myself in their shoes as an actor.
“I have always felt at home on stage or in front of a camera, and I love working with people.”
At just 31-years-old, Daniel has become a well-known name in the industry, winning awards for his work on stage and starring in American drama series Switched at Birth, hit Netflix show YOU, and now the Apple TV original CODA.
Throughout his diverse career, Daniel has learnt to communicate with audiences in different ways, drawing on his personal experiences to tell stories.
“When I act on stage I have to sign as large as possible,” explains Daniel. “I have to exaggerate my emotions and expressions to make sure I reach everyone in the audience down to the last row. When I started working on camera for Switched at Birth, I learned that film work is much more subtle, it lends to a very different way of expressing emotion.”
In 2021, Apple TV announced the release of CODA. The film’s title stands for child of deaf adults and follows teenager Ruby Rossi, the only hearing person in her family, as she tries to balance her ambitions to attend Berklee College of Music and helping her family with their struggling fishing business. The film shows the family connecting with their community and each other, and increasing visibility of the deaf community within the hearing community.
Written and directed by Sian Heder, known for writing the first three seasons of the Netflix original Orange Is the New Black, the acclaimed film has proved impactful with viewers and film critics around the world.
Daniel stars as Leo Rossi, Ruby’s older brother, alongside Troy Kotsur and Marlee Matlin who play their parents in the film.
“I first heard about CODA from Troy, he was excited about this movie being produced,” recalls Daniel. “When I heard about the audition from my manager and I realised it was the same movie Troy was talking about I was blown away. I have never wanted to nail an audition so badly.
“Finding out after that Marlee and Troy were going to play my parents, you can only imagine my excitement.”
The process of auditioning and being cast only took two weeks, with Daniel then especially excited to work alongside Marlee. To date Marlee is the youngest Oscar winner in the best actress category and the only deaf recipient of an Academy Award since her win in 1987.
“It was a dream come true. I grew up wanting to be an actor so of course I admired Marlee,” enthuses Daniel. “She was like a real mother to us on set, she was so caring and was always making sure we were alright
“She definitely made our family feel real, not to mention the acting. She was amazing and I learned so much about myself as an actor and how to work on set watching her.”
Alongside Marlee and Troy, Daniel had the opportunity to work with Emilia Jones who plays Ruby in the film. Before being cast, the Welsh actress had little knowledge of the deaf community and no basis of ASL.
“She got to have a CODA experience with us in her own way,” reveals Daniel. “She dove right in and became part of us. She had to learn how to sign, how to sing, how to fish, and how to speak with an American accent.”
With a diverse cast and the relatable story of a family in need of support, it’s unsurprising that CODA has resonated with audiences, winning awards at the Sundance Film Festival, Gotham Independent Film Awards and more.
For Daniel, the film’s accurate representation of the deaf community is a key part of its success.
“When I first read the script, I was so amazed at how authentic it was,” explains Daniel. “Sian did a great job studying deaf culture and I immediately knew this story was going to be great.
“For so long the Deaf community has been overlooked by the hearing community so it was important to see us on screen communicating in our way.
And at the end of the day, it is just a story about a family and everyone can relate to that.”
The film is now earmarked for more awards and a favourite for the upcoming Oscar nominations, but for Daniel, greater awareness is the best reward.
“It is less about the awards and more about getting people to see the movie,” stresses Daniel. “I think it’s a very special film and I want it to be seen by as many people as possible.
“I hope doors continue to open for deaf actors. I know many talented deaf actors who could use their own opportunities to shine. I also think that Hollywood thinks it is difficult to have a deaf actor or actors on set, but actually it’s really easy.”
As Daniel prepares to star in the Netflix series Florida Man, he is sure that this growth will continue, he concludes: “I’ve definitely seen more diverse casts in general in streaming and production companies, and I think after CODA it will only continue to grow.”
Keep up to date with Daniel on Instagram @danielndurant
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Featured Image: Apple TV