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September 16, 2003

Deafness part of Stern's TV character

From: Go Erie, PA - Sep 16, 2003

By MARK WASHBURN Knight Ridder

There seems to be an elegant enchantment to everything about Shoshannah Stern, from the singsong lilt of her name to the way her lithe fingers flute out her words.

"I've wanted to be an actress since I was born. People said, 'No, we already have Marlee Matlin. I talked to an agent who said a deaf role only comes along once every two years or so."

When it came time for Stern — part of the fourth generation of her family born deaf — to attend college, she decided to major in English at Gallaudet University, the only liberal arts college for the deaf.

During her senior year, she got a casting e-mail looking for deaf actors for a guest role on the WB comedy "Off Centre." She auditioned and got it.

Petite, poised and endowed with haunting eyes, Stern soon landed guest roles on "Boston Public" and "ER," then a spot on "The Division," where she worked in an episode with Matlin, her idol.

"She is the founder of everything," says Stern, signing her words at a recent gathering of TV writers in Hollywood. "I am able to follow in her footsteps."

Now Stern is a regular on "Threat Matrix," a promising new show on ABC.

She plays security analyst Holly Brodeen, whose computer wizardry speeds the mission of her spy unit at the National Security Agency.

"I've been watching deaf characters on TV and film all my life And so far, almost all of the deaf characters that I've seen are characters about what?

"About deafness or about their deafness, how other people accept their deafness," she says.

Stern's role reflects a reality at the NSA, says Michael Edelstein, executive producer of "Threat Matrix." The spy agency recruits people with extraordinary sensitivity stemming from a disability, like a blind woman he learned about who was hired for her acute sense of hearing.

"If she was listening to a phone call that they had taped and it wasn't even a good copy of a good quality recording, she could tell how many people were in the room," Edelstein says.

"She could hear people breathe. She could hear traffic, identify cars, the types of cars."

Likewise, Stern says her sharpened observation skills have been useful in developing her acting.

"Being deaf has actually helped me," she said.

© 2003 Times-News