Matlin Makes an 'L'-ectrifying Debut
Jodi and Bette clash almost immediately, but in short order they embark on a torrid affair, despite some wildly different priorities and prejudices (for one thing, Jodi doesn't care much for little kids, and Bette is, of course, a new mother herself with ex-partner Tina).
Along with Cybill Shepherd, who also joined the show recently as a married woman who is coming out late in life, Matlin gives "The L Word" a much needed infusion of new energy as the show enters its fourth season. Matlin says the experience has been nothing but a joy, although the show's Vancouver location meant she had to make some adjustments as far as her family was concerned.
"They were really nice and flexible about giving me time to come home every week to be with my family, and this was probably the best decision I have made as far as work I have done. I have been nothing but happy," Matlin says in an interview facilitated by her business partner and translator, Jack Jason.
"All the writers sat down with me and asked me all the different things about what a deaf artist might be like. The last thing I wanted to do was a TV show about being deaf. As this character, I happened to be deaf, like if I happened to be African-American or happened to be heterosexual or homosexual, or whatever it is. They couldn't have been more understanding or receptive. It's absolutely been the best experience I've ever had working on a television series."
The actress says she is very happy with how far things have progressed since her Oscar-winning film debut in "Children of a Lesser God," a movie in which her character's deafness was at the very core of the story.
"'Children of a Lesser God' was a film that answered all the questions about what it was like to be deaf, with all those stereotypical things like 'Oh, she lives in a world of silence,'" Matlin says, "but that was 1980, and we are so, so far beyond that now.
"David E. Kelley on 'Picket Fences' wrote a character for me that was the mayor, and that was fun. In my first episode on 'The West Wing,' there was some fun made of the fact that Bradley Whitford's character was having trouble understanding who was talking, me or the interpreter. And they played on that, but it was never about 'Why is this deaf woman working in the White House?' or 'Why is this deaf woman the object of this guy's affection?' It was like real life. On 'Seinfeld,' the deafness was a part of it, but it was used for satirical humor, and it worked out absolutely great. I'm lucky that I am able to be picky about the roles that I take."
Matlin also has been seen recently in two very funny episodes of NBC's "My Name Is Earl," where she guest starred as the lawyer representing Earl's caustic ex-wife, Joy (Jaime Pressly), gamely enduring a string of politically incorrect jokes about hearing impairments.
And she wouldn't have had it any other way, Matlin says.
"They wrote those episodes especially for me, because I told them I was a huge fan of that show," she says. "I love that kind of edgy comedy, like in (the movie) 'Little Miss Sunshine' or 'The Office' or 'My Name Is Earl.' That's what I am interested in doing. I think Steve Carell is probably my favorite comedy actor these days, and Jason Lee is great, too. I was lucky that [the 'My Name Is Earl' team] were fans of mine and they played around with it, because I have absolutely no interest in playing that pitiful, sad, 'Woe is me, I'm deaf!' character."
When she isn't acting, Matlin looks for ways to help her children understand the importance of doing charitable work, which is one of the reasons she has hosted ABC's "Extreme Makeover: Home Edition" on more than one occasion. She also recently published "Nobody's Perfect," the second of three children's books largely drawn from her own experiences.
"That's something I have been wanting to do since I was 10 years old," Matlin says. "I told myself back then that I wanted to tell the world that it was OK to be deaf. When I had my first daughter, I realized now is the time to do it, because I wanted to share this experience with her, so I wrote the first book, 'Deaf Child Crossing.' There's a third one coming out next year called 'Leading Ladies,' loosely based on my growing up in Chicago, although the names and the places have been changed to protect the innocent.
"What's interesting is that on a page there is no barrier to communication for someone who is deaf. You can get into the mind of a deaf person without having to learn sign language. That to me is perfect."