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May 27, 2003

Deaf and proud of it

From: Straits Times, Singapore - May 27, 2003

Landing a role to play a real- life deaf agent has renewed deaf actress Deanne Bray's hope in acting

By Samuel Lee

GETTING a deaf actor to play the lead role in a television series centred on a deaf person's trials and triumphs sounds logical.

But it was never done on the small screen until Deanne Bray did it in Sue Thomas: F. B. Eye last year.

The family-friendly crime drama is inspired by the true story of Sue C. Thomas, the American Federal Bureau of Investigation's first deaf surveillance and lip-reading expert.

It has been showing on Channel i since May 6.

On the big screen, Marlee Matlin - who is deaf - set the precedent, acting as a troubled deaf student who falls in love with her sign-language teacher (William Hurt) in 1986's Children Of A Lesser God.

The role won her a Best Actress Oscar.

Bray's portrayal has yet to win any awards, but critics find her performance riveting.

The show is also going on to its season this year.

The real Sue Thomas has also been introducing Bray as 'the new and improved' version of herself.

In fact, the 53-year-old had a hand in casting her.

Amid a sea of actresses - some of them deaf - auditioning for the part, Thomas saw in Bray's eyes 'a loneliness and separation which held inner strength' and told the producers to look no further.

Thomas' reading was totally spot-on, Bray reveals during a phone interview from Los Angeles last Thursday.

Describing herself as a 'proud member of the deaf community', the 32-year-old says in a slow, if somewhat loud, voice: 'I had given up trying to reach out and prove myself in the hearing world because it's so hard.'

She is using a special telephone with a built-in amplifier and she can hear in her left ear with a hearing aid.

'I'm more fortunate than Sue, who cannot hear anything. She had to rely on a specially trained dog and on operators to type out what people say over the phone for her to read.'

Already an accomplished actress in the deaf theatre scene with more than a decade of experience, Bray has also made cameo appearances in such television series as C.S.I. and Ellen.

Formerly a mathematics and science teacher for the hearing-impaired in east Los Angeles, she holds a bachelor's degree in biology and a master's in education.

What drew the jaded Bray to the Thomas audition was the fact that the series was created and being produced by brothers Gary and Dave Johnson - the men behind another wholesome series, Doc.

The medical drama's spiritual dimension, with its core of family values underpinned by faith in God, was a plus point.

Another was the fact that Thomas, like Bray, is Christian.

'I had wanted to stop acting because doing other television and film productions was affecting me in a negative way,' she has been quoted as saying.

'Working with people like Dave, Gary and Sue is making me stronger and helping me become more educated about God.'

Having an understanding husband - deaf actor-director Troy Kotsur - who shares her faith has also made her stronger.

He also appears in episodes six, 16 and 22 of the first season as a car thief.

'It's a lot of fun working with him,' says Bray. 'We 'talk out' our scenes, using American sign language, my first language. English is my second.'

Catch Sue Thomas: F. B. Eye on Channel i tonight at 8.30pm.

Copyright @ 2003 Singapore Press Holdings. All rights reserved.