Oscar nominations: Deaf ‘CODA’ star Troy Kotsur makes history

If “CODA” star Troy Kotsur wins an Oscar this year, he plans to carry the trophy to the cemetery where his parents are buried.

“My parents were always worried about me,” Kotsur said Tuesday in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“They were really nervous that I was working as a Deaf actor. They thought it wouldn’t even be possible. But I’d like to bring the award there … to let them know that I did it.”

Kotsur scored an Oscar nomination Tuesday morning for his powerful supporting performance in “CODA,” which also collected nods for adapted screenplay and best picture. In the family drama about a hearing child of Deaf adults (CODA), Kotsur plays patriarch Frank Rossi, a formidable fisherman with a tender heart and a raunchy sense of humor.

Before starring in the Apple TV+ film, Kotsur had established himself as a renowned LA stage actor, appearing in numerous Deaf West and Fountain Theater productions, as well as on Broadway.

Nominated alongside him in the supporting actor category are Ciarán Hinds of “Belfast,” Jesse Plemons of “The Power of the Dog,” JK Simmons of “Being the Ricardos” and Kodi Smit-McPhee of “The Power of the Dog.”

Troy Kotsur, left, and Marlee Matlin sitting at a dinner table

Emilia Jones, left, Troy Kotsur, Marlee Matlin and Daniel Durant in “CODA.”

(Apple TV+)

After the nominations were announced, Kotsur hopped on a FaceTime call with his wife. Since Kotsur is in Los Angeles and his wife is in Arizona, the newly minted Oscar nominee had to settle for hugging his phone — though he’d “rather have a kiss.”

“But you can’t use a phone for that,” he said.

With his supporting nod, Kotsur made history Tuesday as the first Deaf male actor to be nominated for an Oscar. His onscreen wife in “CODA,” Marlee Matlin, became the first Deaf performer to receive an Oscar nomination and the first Deaf actor to win an Academy Award for her leading performance in 1986’s “Children of a Lesser God.”

Kotsur, who was in his late teens when Matlin was crowned best actress, remembers jumping for joy at the time because he knew that her victory would create opportunities for himself and other Deaf actors. More than three decades later, Kotsur is now the second Deaf performer to be nominated for an Academy Award.

“When I received the nominee information, I knew that I wasn’t alone because Marlee had inspired me,” Kotsur said.

“It’s a tough journey as a Deaf actor,” he added. “There’s so few opportunities out there, and she kept on going. She was persistent. And then so was I with my own career as a stage actor. So here I am today.”

Directed, and adapted from a French film, by Sian Heder, “CODA” also stars Emilia Jones, Daniel Durant and Eugenio Derbez. Without spoiling anything, one of the most moving scenes of the film depicts an intimate moment between Kotsur and Jones, who plays Frank’s hearing daughter, Ruby.

While filming that sequence, Kotsur said, he “felt like the world … just disappeared.” He forgot about the camera. He forgot about the production crew. Looking back on his BAFTA, Indie Spirit, Golden Globe, Critics Choice, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award-nominated performance, it’s a scene he’s “extremely proud of.”

Emilia Jones and Troy Kotsur embracing in the back of a truck

Emilia Jones, left, and Troy Kotsur in “CODA.”

(Apple TV+)

“I knew it was so important to have that connection, and it’s just a brief moment of showing the love between father and daughter,” Kotsur said.

“There was such a positive message … to remind people to cherish their kids because you can’t put the clock on pause. You have to let your kids go.”

The relationship between Frank and Ruby struck a chord with Kotsur, whose daughter is a CODA in real life. After the release of “CODA,” Kotsur has witnessed some of his daughter’s friends “become more accepting and understanding” of their family and “even motivated to learn sign language.”

“I see my daughter beginning to feel proud,” Kotsur said.

“Sometimes CODAs are scared or even embarrassed because a lot of their hearing peers don’t understand what having Deaf parents is like. … ‘CODA’ has been a game changer, not [just] for her, but for all CODAs out there in general to feel finally recognized.”

“CODA” has also increased onscreen representation for fishermen, whom Kotsur shadowed in Massachusetts to prepare for the role of Frank. While studying their “physically demanding,” “dangerous” craft, Kotsur gained deep respect for the fishing community, which works tirelessly on “a vampire sleep schedule.”

“I’m grateful to that community in Gloucester,” Kotsur said. “I hope they feel good and celebrate along with us. … I’d really love to hopefully bring my award and share it with them — if I happen to win, of course.”

Now that movies centering Deaf characters portrayed by Deaf actors, such as “Sound of Metal” and “CODA,” have drawn back-to-back Oscar nominations, Kotsur hopes the entertainment industry will take the hint and open more doors to the Deaf community and other marginalized groups.

“People always think about the audio, but they forget that ‘CODA’ can really give a great balance for everyone to enjoy — not only Deaf and hard of hearing people,” Kotsur said.

“With subtitles and sign language, it’s an inclusive story that can give the folks a new perspective. … So don’t limit yourselves, Hollywood. You need to break down these barriers and be fearless and do something new. There’s no rules in art, are there?”

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