Marlee Beth Matlin (born August 24, 1965) is an American actress.
She is notable for being deaf and frequently cast as deaf characters. She won the Academy Award for Best Actress for her debut film performance in Children of a Lesser God. Apart from being the first deaf winner, she was also the youngest person to win in that category at the age of twenty-one, a record she still holds. She also made history at the Tony Awards in 2016 for being the first deaf presenter for a show's performance, introducing the show in which she was making her Broadway debut, a Deaf West production of Spring Awakening.
Although Matlin (almost) always plays deaf characters, usually they will speak English for at least part of their screen time, either for dramatic or comedic effect as appropriate. This (naturally) reflects Matlin's own fluency in spoken English.
- Children of a Lesser God (1987)
- Walker (1987)
- Reasonable Doubts (1991-1993)
- Hear No Evil (1993)
- Seinfeld (1993)
- Picket Fences (1993-1996)
- Its My Party (1996)
- The West Wing (2000-2006)
- Kiss My Act (2001)
- Blue's Clues (2002-2003)
- Baby Einstein (2005-2007)
- My Name Is Earl (2006-2007)
- The L Word (2007-2009)
- Dancing with the Stars (2008)
- Celebrity Apprentice (2011-2012)
- Switched at Birth (2011-2017)
- Family Guy (2012-2020)
- Some Kind Of Beautiful (2014)
- The Magicians (2017-2019)
- Quantico (2018)
- CODA (2021)
Tropes that apply to Marlee Matlin's filmography include:
- Disabled Character, Disabled Actor: Matlin is probably one of the most well-known examples of this trope. Every character she's played has been deaf, just like her. Because she is one of the most well-known disabled actors in Hollywood (and arguably the most well-known deaf actor), she has been a longtime advocate for the deaf community, and many deaf actors (such as Troy Kotsur, her co-star in CODA) cite her as an inspiration. She does occasionally express some irritation with people who insist on using the term "hearing impaired" to refer to her, as in her own words, "I'm deaf. Deaf is deaf."
- Disabled Love Interest:
- As she is deaf, this falls into any category where she has a love interest, in works like My Name Is Earl and The L Word.
- Joey Lucas on The West Wing, a pollster and Temporary Love Interest of Josh Lyman who remains good friends with him even after she points out that Josh is already head over heels for Donna. She continues to lend her services to the Bartlet and Santos campaigns on a regular basis for the entirety of the show's run. Like the above example, Lucas also happened to be deaf.
- Disabled Snarker: She is not at all shy about making jokes surrounding her deafness or appearing in works with humor based around it.
- Getting Crap Past the Radar:
- In a scene during Children of a Lesser God, Sarah signs "fuck you". Said scene was then used frequently in the media to promote the film as the marketers were unaware that she was making an obscene gesture.
- She openly wondered to Stephen Colbert if she would be censored by the network if she signs obscene language...then proceeds to teach Colbert the sign for "fuck you", which did indeed get her hands blurred.
- Older Than They Look: She's in her mid fifties but barely looks any different than she did in her mid thirties.
- To that point, in 2020 she posted on Instagram that the dress she wore to the 1987 Academy Awards still fits.
- Star-Making Role: Sarah in Children of a Lesser God.