History-Making Deaf Actor Troy Kotsur on 'Once-in-a-Lifetime' Oscar Nom, Marlee Matlin as 'Mentor'

The CODA star talks his historic nomination and the joy of success after years struggling as an actor

troy kotsur
Photo: Gregory Pace/Shutterstock

It's possible that Troy Kotsur has not stopped smiling since Feb. 8, the day this year's Oscar nominations were announced.

On that day, the CODA star, 53, received a Best Supporting Actor nod for his moving performance and made history as the first deaf male actor to receive an Oscar nomination. (The first deaf female actress nominated was his costar Marlee Matlin in 1987, who is the only deaf winner).

Speaking to PEOPLE via interpreter Justin Maurer, the actor says he jumped for joy when he saw the news.

"I was on FaceTime with my wife [Deanne Bray, 50], because we were both in different states," recalls Kotsur. "We both jumped up and down and I hugged my cell phone. Of course I would prefer to do that in person, but it was really nice to celebrate with my wife simultaneously in that moment because she's been such an important part of my life and given me so much support. That moment was really important to me."

Kotsur says that his journey with CODA (an acronym for Child of Deaf Adults) has been a dream come true. In the film, he plays a deaf fisherman opposite Matlin, who plays his wife. They rely on their hearing daughter to interpret for them. Kotsur says he's received wonderful reactions to the film from the deaf community and is proud to represent it alongside Matlin, who for a long time was considered a lone pioneer for deaf actors.

troy kotsur
Courtesy Apple

"Marlee has been my mentor," he says. "She was alone for many years. I understand what Marlee went through and I'm more than happy to support her. And so now I'm becoming more familiar with the industry and all the politics through my experience of the last 30 years. So, I think now I can support Hollywood in opening their mind to gain a new perspective."

He continues: "Bottom line is I'm so happy that I've had the experience and the training so that young, deaf people on stage and TV and film can have more opportunities. I'm excited to help them. And so CODA has been a game-changer and Marlee too, in that way."

Although success has come later in life, Kotsur's attraction to storytelling began as a kid.

"When I was much younger, we watched Tom & Jerry, that old timey cartoon [with] no dialogue. I loved watching Tom & Jerry because they didn't speak and I didn't speak either," he recalls. "And so after I watched an episode, the next morning I would repeat the story on the school bus. And I saw my fellow deaf students reacting and laughing to that story. Because of course back then we didn't have closed captioning, and many of those deaf kids didn't even have a TV. And so I became inspired with storytelling and I wanted to grow my talent as a storyteller. And so that in short is what led me to be here today."

After CODA, Kotsur will soon begin production on the film Flash Before the Bang, based on the real story of an all-deaf high school track and field team, where he will star with eight young deaf actors. And for those interested in seeing some of Kotsur's work, he personally recommends three other projects.

"One is called Wild Prairie Rose and that's on Amazon right now streaming. That was the first independent film that I worked on before CODA. And secondly, I directed a film called No Ordinary Hero: the SuperDeafy Movie. And there's a lot of sign language in that film. And then the TV show Criminal Minds, episode 801 called Silencer. I play a villain and the police are chasing me. That was a very fun role."

Looking ahead to the Oscars on March 27, Kotsur hopes he'll be able to attend in-person with his wife and daughter Kyra, 16.

"I would definitely love to bring my wife and my daughter if I can, if it works out that way," he says. "My wife has always been there to support me through 25 years. I've struggled as an actor and I feel like she really deserves to be with me there. This is all new for us but we're so excited. This is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for me."

CODA is now streaming on Apple TV+. The 2022 Academy Awards will be broadcast live on Sunday, March 27.

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