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Children Of A Lesser God
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Children Of A Lesser God

Life imitates art in Randa Haines' film adaptation of Mark Medoff's Tony-award-winning play, Children Of A Lesser God (1986). Marlee Matlin, a 19-yr-old newcomer at the time, stars as Sarah Norman, an embittered graduate of the Governor Kittridge School for the hearing-impaired. William Hurt plays James Leeds, the unconventional speech therapist at the school, who teaches Sarah about survival, trust and love in a world she has never known. And like the two main characters in Children Of A Lesser God, Matlin and Hurt embarked on a real-life romance during filming.

By the 1980s, William Hurt had established himself as the most promising dramatic actor of his generation. While he was heralded for his performances in Altered States (1979), Body Heat (1981), and Gorky Park (1983), it wasn't until his Academy Award¨ winning performance in Kiss Of The Spider Woman (1985) that he really was touted as a great actor.

Marlee Matlin was hearing-impaired before she was two as a result of infantile measles. Despite her handicap, she was fiercely determined to become an actress and at the age of nineteen won the title role in Children Of A Lesser God after a six month talent search throughout the U.S., Canada, Sweden, and Great Britain. The story goes that Matlin was spotted in a video of a Chicago theatrical production in which she played a minor role and her performance captivated the producers.

In an interview with the New York Daily News Matlin said: "I guess I have a Zorba spirit because I like being free and doing what I want. I used to be a very angry deaf person, like Sarah in Children Of A Lesser God...I even wrote a letter to President Ford asking why he didn't have closed captions for his TV speeches. He didn't answer." This outspoken nature was also indicative of Matlin's formidable presence on a film set. The actress recalled the struggle she had with director Randa Haines during the making of Children Of A Lesser God in a New York magazine article. The two had a major altercation about Matlin's unwillingness to learn to smoke for the film. Haines won the argument and ordered Matlin to practice smoking two months prior to production. In sheer defiance, Matlin chose to begin smoking a week before shooting commenting that, "[Haines didn't] control [her] life, [she didn't] control [Haines']."

On the other hand, Matlin did feel she had a lot to learn from her real-life lover and teacher, William Hurt, and moved into his Central Park West apartment as soon as filming was completed. Ironically enough, during the 1986 Oscar® ceremony, Hurt was the presenter of the Best Actress Oscar® and was delighted to announce Matlin as the winner. (Her competition included Sissy Spacek in Crimes of the Heart, Jane Fonda in The Morning After, Sigourney Weaver in Aliens, and Kathleen Turner in Peggy Sue Got Married). With the aid of an interpreter, Matlin thanked the cast and crew of the film, "particularly William Hurt for his great support and love." Columnist Army Archerd later wrote, "the audience at home could not see the warm and long embrace she received from William Hurt as she came offstage."

Children Of A Lesser God (1986) was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Actor (Hurt), Best Supporting Actress (Piper Laurie), and Best Adapted Screenplay. The title, by the way, comes from a line in an Alfred Lord Tennyson poem, Idylls of the King.

Director: Randa Haines
Producer: Patrick Palmer, Burt Sugarman
Screenwriter: Hesper Anderson, Lloyd Fonvielle, Mark Medoff
Cinematographer: John Seale
Composer: Michael Convertino
Editor: Lisa Fruchtman
Production Designer: Gene Callahan
Art Director: Barbara Matis
Costume Designer: Renee April
Cast: William Hurt (James Leeds), Marlee Matlin (Sarah Norman), Piper Laurie (Mrs. Norman), Philip Bosco (Dr. Curtis Franklin), Allison Gompf (Lydia).
C-119m. Letterboxed.

by Kerryn Sherrod

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