Paul Raci found the role of a lifetime with “Sound of Metal,” the new Amazon Prime film starring Riz Ahmed as Ruben, a heavy metal drummer who loses his hearing. In the film, Raci plays Joe, who lost his own hearing during the Vietnam War and now serves as a mentor to Ruben at a sober house for the Deaf. The role in part mirrors Raci’s background as a veteran and child of Deaf parents who is fluent in American Sign Language. “If I had to wait all this time for the most perfect role for me, it’s kind of worth it,” says Raci in an exclusive new interview with Gold Derby. Watch the webchat above.
The inextricable link between Raci and Joe was strengthened further by a particular spirituality within the character. Joe is intent on making a restless Ruben believe that he can find stillness and peace from within rather than looking for it on the outside. Raci had gone through a similar struggle in his own life, growing up as a Roman Catholic and later finding centeredness through a spiritual mentor. “When I first read the script,” he recalls, “I thought, ‘Oh my god, this is so close to me, so close to what I believe right now as a man in my life and my journey, I’ve gotta do this role.'”
Raci is keenly aware of how the Hollywood system prevents Deaf actors from getting a chance to authentically portray Deaf roles onscreen, calling out past examples of hearing actors, like Jane Wyman in “Johnny Belinda” and Julianne Moore in “Wonderstruck.” “Hollywood needs to do better,” the actor proclaims. “Deaf people want to see themselves up on the silver screen but they’re not.” While he has admittedly received a bit of flak for playing a Deaf character himself, Raci clarifies that Joe is a latent Deaf person, which is a different experience than being culturally Deaf. “Had this character been culturally Deaf like my parents, who grew up with no hearing and all they know is the world of Sign Language, I could not have accepted that role,” he explains. The response within the Deaf community to “Sound of Metal” has mostly been positive, though, praising the film for showing them in a three-dimensional light rather than being defined by their deafness.
Meanwhile, Raci is earning nominations and awards left and right from critics groups in Boston, Chicago and more for his deeply-felt performance. It is a surreal experience for the actor, having mostly taken on bit parts in TV shows before “Sound of Metal.” “It’s heartwarming,” admits Raci, of the sudden swell of awards attention. “It’s gratifying on so many different levels.”
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