Paul Raci, the veteran actor who received an Oscar nomination at age 73: “This is all a miracle”

Milagros Amondaray

As a kid, Paul raci He was constantly going to the movies with his parents, Laurel and Mitchell. His experience, however, was not similar to that of any Chicago kid. Raci sat next to her mother -who lost her hearing at age 5- and, so that she could enjoy the film, she acted as an interpreter. Paul acted as the characters in each of the films they shared together and thus, unconsciously, his love for acting was born. “My father, who was deaf from birth, was sometimes observed as a strange, rare being, and my role was to accompany him, as I did with my mother, and establish a connection between the world of hearing people and the world of deaf people ”, Raci tells THE NATION, in an interview via Zoom.

The 73-year-old actor was nominated for an Oscar this year for his work on The sound of metal Darius Marder’s debut feature in which a drummer, Ruben (played by Riz Ahmed) he loses his hearing and joins a community of deaf people who, like him, also struggle with addictions. There he meets Joe (Raci), a lucky leader of the place, whose serenity and temperance help this man not to lose his sanity in the face of the sudden change in his life. “Riz broke my heart with this movie, but because he worked from a place of naturalness that is what defines Darius’s film, there is honesty there, “says Raci, who got the most important role of his career after decades of struggle and television appearances in series such as Baskets Y Parks & Recreation. “It is not an easy industry, I have seen many talented colleagues who never get that defining role, so I feel very lucky”, he adds, with a calm equal to that of Joe. Ultimately, there is a lot of Joe in Paul (and vice versa).

United States Army Physician, Vietnam War Veteran, Musician, frontman from the Black Sabbath tribute band, Hands of Doom ASL ROCK (who performs her songs using sign language), Raci lived many lives in one and has just started another. “The sound of metal It is a miracle, everything that it caused, now other projects have come to me … I think that when you work from a real place, it shows ”, the actor tells THE NATION using sign language -something that has been incorporated since childhood-, while smiling when he remembers what was it like to be in that night of the Oscars so atypical. “I couldn’t believe big stars knew who I was,” he says.

-What did you feel when you read the script of Darius and Abraham? Was it a mobilizing experience?

-Yes absolutely. The first time I read it, I remember that when I got to the final scene of the movie I was very emotional, and I started crying. I thought a lot about my dad, who probably would have stopped to applaud if he had seen the movie. He was completely deaf, and did not want any kind of operation. I remember when the implant came out years ago, we were watching the presentation of that new invention together and I asked him if he wanted it. “No, no, I don’t want it,” he answered categorically. My mother, on the other hand, lost her hearing at the age of five, so she remembered listening to music, she was interested but she never had surgery. They are different philosophies.

-Your love for cinema came from your parents …

Paul Raci, Olivia Cooke and Riz Ahmed, in The Sound of Metal
Paul Raci, Olivia Cooke and Riz Ahmed, in The Sound of Metal

-When I was a kid, in the 1950s, in Chicago, my mother took me to see an Elvis Presley movie called Love me tender [dirigida por Robert D. Webb, estrenada en 1956]. I was eight years old, and when I was there I realized that I was going to have to interpret all the characters for her, the love story, the western, everything I was seeing. On the way home I noticed that every character in the movie had acted. And I like. Then I was a singer in a rock band, and I didn’t think about it anymore, until years later I remembered how interesting acting seemed to me, the fact of becoming someone else. It’s an art. That is why I started studying.

-Now you also continue with your band; Did cinema and music always intertwine?

-The tribute band was formed in California when I came back from Vietnam. There I wanted to make music. But I also wanted to tell stories, so when I returned from the war, I began to venture into the world of theater and was amazed. I thought, “Hey, I can do that!” (laughs)

-I read that a theater teacher you had wrote to you after she found out that you were nominated for an Oscar, and she told you that you were an inspiration for so many actors who fight it. It’s a very complex industry …

Raci as Joe in Darius Marder's debut feature
Raci as Joe in Darius Marder’s debut featureCourtesy of Amazon Studios – SMTL-Still_1.1.104

-Yes, she was a teacher for many years, now she retired. She told me how excited she was, because think about the number of actors who fight her … I came to Hollywood 34 years ago, I never had a great role, they were always very small roles. There are many actors who, if they do not find a way to survive when they arrive in Hollywood, they return to their homes, be it Chicago, Seattle, Ohio, wherever they came from. It’s very difficult, that’s why I feel very lucky that, after so many years, I found that role with which I was able to break a barrier and have some recognition and nominations. It’s a miracle! (laughs)

-It is very unusual for indie to break that barrier that you mention and for a film like The sound of metal get to the Oscar, and also win two awards. How did you feel when you found out about your nomination?

-It was very surprising, because the movie came out in the middle of a pandemic, and nobody knows who I am, so they told me that since my name was so small and I was not known, they probably weren’t going to nominate me. I accepted it like that, I understood it. People told me “we don’t want you to feel bad” (laughs). After all, it was my first movie in years. Finally, what they said did not happen. I started to win prizes in other circuits, and that led to talk about the possibility of being nominated. Another miracle!

Paul Raci, who was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in The Sound of Metal, arrived on the red carpet at the Oscars with his wife, Liz Hanley Raci; "it was a surreal experience", he told LA NACION
Paul Raci, who was nominated for best supporting actor for his role in The Sound of Metal, arrived on the red carpet at the Oscars with his wife, Liz Hanley Raci; “It was a surreal experience,” he told LA NACIONCHRIS PIZZELLO – POOL

-How surreal was being at the Oscars? Not only at the Oscars but in the context of the pandemic, with a production so different from other years …

-I know … well, we all had to be vaccinated so I felt safe, we all had to have the chinstrap on, so it was fine, but yeah, it was surreal because, hey … I’m sitting at the table and Glenn Close approaches me and greets me, Joaquin Phoenix shakes my hand, Rita Moreno asks me how I’m doing. I’m sitting thinking “Do you know my name?” Another miracle, it was crazy, but very exciting. They were all so nice, I couldn’t believe I was there, my wife and I had huge smiles on our faces.

-It is not easy to be nominated, not only for not being such a ‘well-known’ figure, but also for the kind of acting that you provide, that Riz provides, more natural interpretations that are not usually recognized because to their detriment they are nominated …

-Shit is nominated sometimes! (laughs) The typical Hollywood stuff, yeah. I appreciate what you say because I have been acting for a long time and worked in the theater to a great extent, a very intimate, very quiet, small stage, where you do a more realistic work. So I am grateful for having been able to bring that dynamic to the world of cinema, in a crude and realistic way with someone like Riz Ahmed, who is an incredible actor.

-There is a scene in which your character and Riz say goodbye, how was the rehearsal process for that special moment in the film?

The sound of metal wins the Oscar for best edition

-Everyone talks about that scene, it is “the scene”, yes. Since the film was on a low budget, we shot each sequence no more than three times. That was all. So there wasn’t much pre-rehearsal, as an actor you had to be prepared. Also, Darius shot the film in chronological order, it is a film that was shot in sequence, so you could feel how everything was evolving as you went. That was a genius of Darius, very smart.

-And unusual …

-Yes, I know, later I found out that it doesn’t happen often. The first sequence I filmed with Riz, when I met Ruben, I just arrived at the scene and an hour later, we were already inside the scene. We met in real life and as characters at that moment. And as for the scene in which we said goodbye, it was also as people and as characters. It was beautiful. Many emotions. Real connection. Nothing of bullshit. Riz Ahmed broke my heart with this movie. Darius is also a brilliant director, full of love, very kind. If you have a good leader, that’s it.

-It is interesting that the film addresses a very specific world such as the communities for deaf people with addictions. Could you contribute ideas taking into account your family history?

-Darius was always very open to contributions, and he told me: “I’m not Shakespeare, so if you want to change something, let me know.” Sometimes we improvised and that ended up remaining in the scenes. Yes, I was able to contribute ideas, because I was wondering about my life, about my parents. Deaf people who saw the film told me that they thought it was wonderful that the focus was placed on those communities because it was a way of showing the world that they have the same problems as everyone else, they suffer from addictions, there are good people, bad people, weak people. , loud, everything, the only difference is that they cannot hear. It felt real.

Trailer The Sound of Metal

-As your character says: “You do not have to solve what is in your ear but in your head.” How do you think this film helps bring two worlds closer together, as you mentioned?

-Yes, there is the world of those who listen and those who do not, as the film shows. When I was a kid, my dad had to go to pay the rent one day, and I had to act as an interpreter and negotiate with the landlord. I mediated between one world and the other. I met many people who behaved as if my parents scared them, because they moved their hands, they made strange sounds, and that made them feel intimidated. People are scared of what they do not know. But people do not have to fear deaf people, they are not different from us, they have the same feelings, they want to fall in love, they want to have a family, they want things that people with hearing do too. They should not be pushed aside as if they don’t matter. They matter a lot. They want to communicate with other people.

I met many people who behaved as if my parents scared them, because they moved their hands, they made strange sounds, and that made them feel intimidated. People are scared of what they do not know. But people do not have to fear deaf people, they are not different from us, they have the same feelings

With The sound of metal a door opens, we must take advantage of this moment. There are a lot of deaf actors who are brilliant, so you can give them a chance, show them, it doesn’t make sense that they’re not on screen.

-What’s coming from here on in your career and how much can you say?

-I can’t say much, but I got five scripts that I’m reading, I’m going to shoot another movie, I can’t tell too much but it’s going to be very good. They will continue to see me.

-So I guess you’re happy.

-Ah, yes, very happy.

The sound of metal is available on Amazon Prime Video.

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