There’s a great deal of restraint behind A Quiet Place and its subsequent Part II sequel. The silence that permeates a lot of the film is not only a fantastic stylistic choice, it frequently winds up carrying equal character importance as well. Much as any run-of-the-mill slasher relies on big sound stings, A Quiet Place revels in its resonance. But more importantly than that, the film normalises deafness in a way that few other major Hollywood productions have before it. And that’s thanks in no small part to one of its stars, the incredibly good Millicent Simmonds.
At just 18, Simmonds commands the screen in A Quiet Place with all the assuredness of a lifelong veteran. And in Part II, the story she tells is as gripping as it is fascinating.
Cast as Regan Abbott, Simmonds portrays a deaf teen with all the defiance of your standard formative years, but in a world where even the slightest sound results in horrible death at the hands of a murderous alien race.
Director and star John Krasinski, along with co-star and wife Emily Blunt, made a point of seeking out a deaf actress to play Regan, not only as a means of faithful, representative casting, but as a guide for the story itself.
Speaking to Variety in 2018, Krasinski stated that casting a deaf actor was “a non-negotiable,” and that “the more important reason to me was I needed a guide.”
“I was writing a movie about a family who had a deaf child, and I know nothing about that. I needed someone to walk me through, ‘What do you feel when you wake up in the morning to be the only person who can’t hear in your family?’” he stated.
In Simmonds, they found that and then some. Fierce on screen and just as passionate off, Simmonds is just as proud of Krasinski and Blunt as they are of her.
In an interview with PEDESTRIAN.TV that took place in New York last year, Simmonds stated that “John and Emily have done an amazing job. They took on a fight for me and for deaf actors.”
“They wanted to make it authentic, and they wanted the story to be real. And I think that what we’re presenting is a real deaf perspective,” she said.
The set of A Quiet Place both I and II took things a step further by bringing in a coach to teach the cast and crew American Sign Language (ASL), which Simmonds singled out as a particularly inclusive experience.
Of the scenes in A Quiet Place that do feature sign language, Simmonds stated that “we’re using and presenting our language, ASL, in the right way. We hired an ASL coach on set. And I hope that that will continue in every other film that’s made in the industry.”
Beyond that, Simmonds sees A Quiet Place as the first step in a long road towards better representation for deaf actors and crew in Hollywood. “We already see a lot of advancements in this area,” she says, “but I still want to encourage more deaf talent out there to be a part of the industry – both in front of the camera and behind the camera.”
Simmonds, with the conviction of someone far more seasoned, says that the industry needs to be “more open-minded.”
“I think these stories can bring compassion when they hear what people have to say. I think we just need more.”
A Quiet Place Part II is in cinemas nationwide now.
The author of this article travelled to New York City in March 2020 as a guest of Paramount Pictures.