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January 29, 2003

Deaf actress at home in FBI action role

From: Daily Yomiuri, Japan - 29 Jan 2003

Makoto Tanaka Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer

A groundbreaking TV series from the United States, which premiered there on Oct. 13 on the cable channel PAX TV, is being shown in Japan on Mondays at 8 p.m. on TV Asahi.

Sue Thomas: F.B.Eye (titled F.B.EYE!! in Japan) is modeled on a real-life Federal Bureau of Investigation agent, Sue Thomas, who is profoundly deaf. Her parents encouraged her to learn to read lips, a skill that came in very handy when she joined the FBI. Assigned to the field with her hearing dog, Levi (played by Jesse), she sees more action than she ever thought she would when she was stuck on fingerprint detail.

Deanne Bray, the actress who portrays Thomas, is herself profoundly deaf. She became interested in acting when she was a student at California State University in the 1990s. She has performed in several movies, TV dramas and plays, and, in addition to her acting, has been involved in teaching math and science to deaf and hard-of-hearing students. She established a literacy program--the Little Bookworm Club--and serves on the council board of the Greater Los Angeles Council on Deafness (GLAD) and the Non-Traditional Casting Project.

On a recent trip to Japan, Bray told The Yomiuri Shimbun: "I didn't know what the character was when I took the audition, but when I read the script, I knew the part was meant for me. Just reading the scripts made me laugh and cry in turn. We shared so many of the same experiences."

This was her first starring role, but, she says, "It felt very natural to me. Because I'm deaf myself, there were many things I could show the director about how deaf people act."

Thomas, who served as a consultant for the series, said, "When I saw the audition tape, there was something in the back of her eyes that told me she knows what it's like to live in a world that's totally isolated."

Like the character she plays, Bray appears to be a very open, optimistic person, but, she says, "There was a time when I really withdrew into myself. I didn't want to have any more contact with the world than I absolutely had to." The thing that lifted her out of her gloom and propelled her into acting was the children she was teaching. "They pushed me into a new journey," she says. " I was able to grow, and to enjoy the work I do."

In the United States, where the series is already in its final half, it has been a big hit. The reason for this success, according to Bray, is that "it concentrates on what the deaf can do, rather than what they can't do."

"Viewers are able to learn a little bit about what it's like to live in a hearing-impaired world. And they learn that we're all the same. Everyone has some kind of disability, even though it may not be apparent a first glance. We all just have to learn how to complement each other's abilities," she said.

Copyright 2003 The Yomiuri Shimbun