Lauren Ridloff is one of the biggest symbols of diversity in Hollywood. She is breaking down barriers and showing that disability is not inability. Compared to other actors, Lauren’s breakthrough in the acting industry came relatively late.
However, she looks and feels right at home among the stars of the film industry. She carries a level of boldness and confidence that you don’t see every day. Lauren’s has quite the success story. Keep reading to find out more about her.
She credits her parents for giving her a strong sense of identity
Lauren was born on 6th April 1978 to a Mexican-American father and an African-American mother. Initially, her parents thought that her deafness was a developmental delay, but they later realized that she was deaf.
Lauren’s parents were determined to offer her the best opportunities to succeed in life. They rejected the notion that her disability would hamper her education and professional career. Lauren’s parents initially sent her to a Catholic school with hearing children. The school was very accommodative of Lauren, and it offered a translator to allow Lauren to follow in class.
As a child, Lauren didn’t think that deaf people became adults. She hadn’t encountered deaf adults in her life, and it was confusing. Her parents weren’t deaf, and so she didn’t have anyone to look up to. It caused her to develop a shy personality. Lauren’s perspective changed when she attended the Model Secondary School for the Deaf in Washington DC.
Ridloff said in an interview with NowThis Entertainment;
“My parents made a very difficult decision to send me away to school… I grew up in Chicago and they sent me to Washington D.C. The reason, again, was that they wanted me to develop a strong sense of identity in an environment where everyone signed. And that was the first time I really saw deaf adults. I saw Deaf people who were professionals, who were teachers, who were scientists, who were researchers. And that blew my mind.”
It was during her time in high school that she realized that she didn’t have a singular identity. She was a deaf woman who didn’t fit into any particular ethnic group. She said;
“We were all taking a practice test, and we had to fill out the driver’s license request form and I remember I got to this box and I was supposed to select my ethnicity. There were only a few boxes and I couldn’t choose one…I remember that day I picked the word ‘other’ for the first time, and it was a big realization. ‘Other’. I am an ‘other’. What does that mean? So I realized that I had more than one identity. And there was a way to label that: It was ‘other’. That wasn’t ideal, but it was a first step.”
She landed the role of Sarah Newman in Children of a Lesser God after tutoring the director for a year
After high school, Lauren went to the University of Illinois, where she earned a degree in Creative Writing. Lauren won the Miss Deaf America crown during her time at University. The title was about ambassadorship and not about modeling. After that, she moved to New York to study education.
She worked as a teacher in New York, before taking a break to take care of her young son. It was during this period that she met with Children of a Lesser God director Kenneth Leon. Lauren was Leon’s American Sign Language instructor. Over the next year, Lauren taught Kenneth all there was to know about sign language and about being deaf.
The lead male actor for Children of a Lesser God was Joshua Jackson, but Kenneth was struggling to find a lead female character. Kenneth asked Lauren to try out the role during an early table read. Lauren booked the role without auditioning. According to the New York Times, Kenneth said;
“If you didn’t know her resume, you’d swear she’d been doing this her whole life. You’re dealing with an actress that doesn’t know what she’s doing, and communicating with her in a language she doesn’t speak, and trying to connect another actor to her – but she had a presence that I thought could transfer easily to the stage, and she has instinct enough that she can’t make a false move.”
Children of a Lesser God wasn’t a huge hit, but it served as Lauren’s big break. She played the role of a cleaning woman who falls for a teacher at school. Lauren earned a Tony Award nomination for her role in the Broadway play. Marlee Matlin won an Academy Award for the same role in the 1986 film adaptation. She praised Lauren’s performance in an email sent to the New York Times;
“The play had a huge impact on the growing awareness of the deaf community, its culture and American Sign language. Ms. Ridloff brings a fluidity and lightness to the role that I hadn’t seen before.”
She is set to play a key role in the upcoming Marvel movie, The Eternals
Lauren never imagined that she would one day become an actor. She always believed in creative expression, but acting always looked like a step to high. She said in an interview with NowThis Entertainment;
“My dream was to write books. I never once thought I would end up on stage. I mean – me? When I was nine I was voted the quietest camper when I went to a sleepaway camp. I am really shy, so I never thought that I would end up on stage, acting and get nominated for a Tony.”
Lauren’s breakthrough as an actor might have surprised her, but it wasn’t much of a surprise to the people who knew her. Gary Wellbrock, her co-teacher told The New York Times;
“Other teachers would come down, just to see her sign a book, because of the beauty of how she would read. What she did in the classroom is very much what she is doing onstage – even if you don’t know sign language, she is setting something up that is drawing people in to her, and you want to watch.”
After her breakthrough performance, Lauren landed a recurring role in The Walking Dead. She then played the role of Margot on NBC’s New Amsterdam. Lauren had to adapt quickly in an area where she had no training or significant prior experience. According to Lauren, her Broadway performance was easier because she could rely on other deaf actors for guidance.
However, she found herself mostly alone when she started working in television. Lauren said in an interview with respectability.org;
“I had to learn how to work the camera, what kind of working relationship I wanted with the creative team, the crew and my castmates. And I has to navigate the fast-paced world of television and accessibility – each day presented something different, so I had to learn on my own what my specific television actor needs were.”
Lauren adapted quickly, and she is set to make her first major film appearance in Marvel’s The Eternals. The movie is about a group of superheroes that were created as an experiment by aliens on early humans. The heroes look like normal humans, but they possess supernatural abilities such as flight and mind control.
Lauren will play the role of Makkari. Makkari’s abilities include superhuman speed and a keen eye for invention. Ridloff will feature in The Eternals alongside stars such as Salma Hayek, Liam McHugh, Richard Madden, and Angelina Jolie.
She believes that Hollywood is changing to include the marginalized in society
Lauren’s casting as Makkari in The Eternals sent shockwaves throughout the acting industry. She is set to play the first deaf superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. During a Comic-Con event, Lauren was asked what it meant to play the role of Makkari. She said;
“I do have a son. And he asked me after he read Greek mythology, he was reading through that, and he’s like, ‘What does honor mean?’ This. This is what honor means. I’m so honored to be here.”
In the original comic book series, Makkari was a white man. However, the role has been handed to a deaf Mexican Black woman, and people are loving it. The decision to cast Lauren shows that Hollywood is taking steps to include the marginalized and disabled in society. In an interview with respectability.org, Lauren explained why it is important to let such people tell their stories;
“It is so important to showcase people with disabilities with intersectional identities because that allows viewers to see beyond disability. People with disabilities are multi-layered – we are complex breathing human beings defined by more than just what we lack.”
Lauren has shown that having a disability doesn’t define who you are. The disability is just a part of your identity that you have to embrace to figure yourself out. Lauren is a beacon of hope, and she is determined to show that no human being is limited.
As for the future, Ridloff told respectability.org that she is keeping her options open;
“I currently am involved with a couple of very exciting and empowering projects, so right now that’s what I’m looking forward to. I wouldn’t object if Broadway came knocking again…”
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