5 Astonishing Performances By Physically Disabled Actors

3. Marlee Matlin - Children of a Lesser God

Marlee Matlin

This performance earned Matlin both the Academy Award and the Golden Globe for Best Actress at the ripe old age of 21, and she actually still holds the record for the youngest performer to win the Academy Award (21 years and 218 days) as well as the only deaf performer to have won the award.

Add to this the fact that the film was her onscreen debut, after being spotted by Henry Winkler in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz, and you've got a pretty outstanding performance.

In film Matlin plays opposite William Hurt (also Oscar nominated for the film) in a passionate although tumultuous love story between a cleaner (Matlin) and a teacher (Hurt) at a school for the deaf. Matlin's character is damaged and insular, yet in the process of Hurt's character trying to bring her out of her shell by convincing her to use her voice, the two fall in love.

The complicated romance that develops between the two central characters is the focal point and technically the film was remarkable, with its use of sign language and strength expression more than spoken words. This created the kind of atmosphere felt in silent movies, in which expression was key, and gave Marlin the opportunity to shine.

Matlin herself has been almost completely deaf (she has around 20% of natural hearing levels in her left ear) from the age of 18 months old and is an excellent lip-reader as a result.

Since winning the award she has remained in acting and has appeared in numerous TV shows and films over the years such as Desperate Housewives, The L Word, My Name is Earl and a particularly memorable appearance in the Family Guy live special. She is also an active campaigner regarding issues affecting deaf people such as closed captioning on TV.

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