“This movie’s a unifier at a time when we really need it,” says Paul Raci while discussing Sound of Metal, for which he is a best supporting actor Oscar nominee, during a THR Presents Q&A Powered by Vision Media alongside the film’s three writers who are nominated for best original screenplay: Derek Cianfrance (who co-wrote the story upon which it is based), Abraham Marder (who co-wrote the script) and Darius Marder (who co-wrote both, and also directed the film).
The tale of a young heavy metal drummer who begins to lose his hearing (played by best actor nominee Riz Ahmed) was inspired in part by Cianfrance’s own experiences, and was originally intended for a short docudrama called Metalhead, which Cianfrance was to direct but ultimately abandoned following his breakout film, 2011’s Blue Valentine. “I couldn’t do it anymore,” he says, and ended up handing it off to his co-writer on 2012’s The Place Beyond the Pines, Darius Marder, with his blessing to try to turn it into a feature script and Marder’s directorial debut.
Darius Marder, in turn, enlisted his brother Abraham to help him with the screenplay, at a time when Abraham was grappling with what his brother describes as a “hellish” physical ailment. Abraham says he relished “just being able to have an excuse to be around each other,” and Darius says that the creative process seemed to heal his brother: “Life started coming into you, Abe.”
Once a script was locked in place, the casting process began. Among those who sent in audition tapes for the part of Joe, a recovering alcoholic who lost his hearing during the Vietnam War and now runs a shelter for deaf recovering addicts, was Raci, a veteran LA-area theater actor. Raci’s wife, who is also his agent, followed up with the production to confirm that they had received his tape, and was told that it could not be located. “She actually begged them to please look for it, at least,” Raci recounts. “Five minutes later, they called back and said, ‘Darius wants to talk to Paul.'”
Raci, himself a child of deaf adults (CODA), a Vietnam vet and a recovering addict turned counselor, was wowed by the the character. “I’ve met so many Joes over my lifetime,” he says. “Everything seemed to be things that I had experienced.” He also praised Darius Marder’s “very loving presence” as a director with helping him to deliver a performance that has engendered considerable acclaim and already changed his life and career.
“I’m turning things down now,” Raci says with a smile as his colleagues cheer, and he emphasizes, in what could be a preview of an Oscar acceptance speech: “To anybody who considers themself a struggling actor, which is every single guy out here writing their own screenplay, don’t give up. Just do the thing that’s in front of you and keep on going. Don’t give up.”
Darius Marder says he is proud of Raci and of “the inclusivity” of Sound of Metal, which — as a tribute to his and Abraham’s late grandmother, who lost her hearing after taking an antibiotic, and to all deaf people — features open captioning from start to finish. He says that doing so was a no-brainer: “Can you imagine making a movie involving the deaf community and then saying, ‘By the way, you’re not welcome’?”
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